Thursday, January 07, 2010

Intimidating Terminology

The Republican Party generally seems to be exorcised about President Obama's terminology when he addresses the issue of terrorism.

On the Today show on January 5, RNC Chairman Michael Steele criticized the President:

If you can't call a thing what it is, then there's a question about what do you think it is? You, you can't look at this as, as a, as an intervention. You can't look at this as dealing with criminals as you would the guy who robbed the 7-11, you know, where you're trying to hijack a plane or bomb a plane or something like that....

I think the American people know full well what it is, they view it as a war against terrorism.

And Steele argued that the former

Vice President has, has made it very clear and I think he's been very consistent and correct in saying that the inconsistency in, in the Obama administration's approach to foreign policy, particularly with respect to terrorism is a concern. If you can't, if you can't call a thing what-

After the President's statement on January 6, New York's Peter King, ranking Republican on the House Homeland Security Committee, told the New York Daily News

He seems to be genuinely angry and I would think that's paving the way for someone to go (but) "He still refuses to use the word 'terrorism.'"

President Obama does seem to prefer the appellation "extremist" but does not ignore the term "terrorist" or "terrorism."In his remarks, Mr. Obama had referred to "suspected terrorist" and "individuals with terrorist ir suspected terrorist connections" and to the "list of state sponsors of terrorism" and the "terrorist watch list system" (twice).

The tendency of some conservative Republicans periodically to make things up is curious. But of particular interest as applied to terrorism is their tendency to use the word "war"- against terrorism, against Islamic extremists, or just plain "war."

Because it's not. George W. Bush consciously decided not only not to declare war against Iraq (securing an authorization to use force instead) or against Afghanistan (fought with one hand tied behind our back) but also against Al Qaeda. President Obama has followed suit.

And it's not as if we are precluded by morality or legality from declaring war against terrorists or, specifically, Al Qaeda. Three days after the attack on the World Trade Center 8-9 years ago, Slate's Dahlia Lithwick wrote:

If Osama Bin Laden's group al-Qaida proves to be responsible for the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, can the United States declare war on him and his organization?


Under Article I, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, Congress is constitutionally empowered to declare war on terrorists and is not obligated to name a host country. Article I authorizes Congress to "define and punish Piracies, Felonies committed on the High Seas, and Offenses against the Law of Nations.

Lithwick might have been right when she contended declaring a "war" on terrorism sounds as toothless and vague as declaring "war" on drugs." But it is not as toothless, vague, and evasive as dishonestly claiming the President does not use the word "terrorist" or that he wants to treat terrorists as common thiefs. Or that we are in a war. If Obama's opponents believe that the President is insincerely claiming that he is appalled by terrorists and terrorism, they can call his bluff and introduce a resolution to declare war, or call upon Congress to do so.

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