War and terminology

One of the topics I’ve written about on this blog quite a bit is terminology (see here and here) and how differences in terminology can shape the political debate. I also had another post which among other things discussed the difference between health vs. health care, the key point being that the health of a nation (or of an individual for that matter) is not equivalent to, and in some cases is not even closely related to, the use of health care services.

On the occasion of the president’s recent speech on the way forward in Afghanistan, it seems fitting to address: are we at “war” in Afghanistan? Are we also at war in Iraq? And finally, what about Libya?

Let’s first take Iraq. According to Barack Obama on August 31, 2010, we ended the combat mission in Iraq. So, at least according to the current administration, the “war” is over. Of course there were at least 50,000 troops still stationed in Iraq when the war was over, but since we still have troops in Germany, Japan, and other countries with whom we are not at war, we will assume for the moment it is true that the Iraq war really has ended.

What about Afghanistan? Well, in the president’s speech on Afghanistan, he said “This is the beginning — but not the end –- of our effort to wind down this war.” Part of his strategy for Afghanistan last year was a “surge” modeled after the Iraq surge to attempt to bring things under control. Although we are now supposed to begin drawing down the number of troops in Afghanistan, it appears that we are still officially at war, but with whom we are at war is not quite as clear.

Finally, in Libya, according to Bob Gates, we are not “at war with Libya”. He characterizes it as a “kinetic military action”, as does Ben Rhodes, the Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications, according to this press briefing conducted aboard Air Force One. The implication seems to be that if we don’t send in ground troops, it doesn’t really count as a war. Now the administration is also saying that our actions in Libya don’t even amount to “hostilities” (see this response from the President to the Speaker of the House on the War Powers Resolution).

It is getting late so I will not editorialize too much on the above except to say that it doesn’t take much of a partisan to believe that playing word games when we are bombing other countries and trying to make an end-run around laws like the War Powers Resolution is dangerous territory.

Gene Healy of the Cato Institute has a good article on the Libya situation.

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