In the Arena

What War on Terror?

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One of the more interesting decisions Barack Obama has to make is what he’s going to call the struggle against terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda. Bush called it the Global War on Terror (GWOT), which gave him rhetorical leave to do all sorts of warlike, over-the-top and inappropriate things, like invade Iraq–an act that aggrandized Al Qaeda, enabling it to set up, for a moment, an Iraqi branch.

In a speech today, Britain’s Foreign Minister David Miliband says not only that we shouldn’t call it the GWOT–the Brits stopped doing so in 2006–but that the whole thing was a big mistake, creating more potential terrorists than it eliminated.

I have a feeling–no reporting, just a feeling–that we’ve heard the last of the Global War on Terror on this side of the Atlantic as well. Not that Obama won’t continue the campaign against Al Qaeda, including the successful predator strikes against terrorist leaders along the Pakistan border (which are proceeding despite the public “dismay” of the Pakistani government because the Pakistanis are privately cooperating with and approving the targeting).

But the era of grandiloquent “terrorism is the greatest existential challenge of the twentieth century” rhetoric is over. The terrorist challenge will resume its more natural place in the heirarchy of foreign policy problems–at the top of the list, but not overwhelmingly so. We’ll see whether Obama tips his hand in this direction in  his Inaugural speech.