Thursday, January 25, 2007

SOTU on Threat from Terrorism

President Bush's SOTU address pointed the way toward continued un-resolved tension in the U.S. public diplomacy on terrorism.

One unresolved tension is how to deliver a message of ongoing, grave threat, while suggesting that current actions - whatever they amount to - are mitigating that threat.

Replacing the "war on terror" rhetoric with "decisive ideological struggle" doesn't quite seem to convey a full message, especially when the response to that has been military action, legal realignment (in eye-popping ways), and various homeland security initiatives, still in whatever state of implementation, which themselves are non-ideological per se (as I understand it, first responders do not have coordinated frequencies for communications in many locations still).

Notwithstanding, "Freedom" seems to be what the Administration suggests will be the decisive ideological weapon, but is that enough of an engagement, at this time? That's a very hard question to answer; but even if it is presently sufficiently sparse, one hardly has the sense that the US Government has a plan, let alone a phased plan, for how to combat the rhetoric of radical Islam that vies for legitimacy, in various ways at various stages of its own political development. What about other tie-in issues, like anti-americanism, education, and informational assymetries (imposed or natural)?

"Bring the fight to the terrorists" is somehow component, in an undescribed way. Does that mean Gitmo? Aren't people simply divided on how best to accomplish that goal, mostly? What's more, how does such a physical "fight" fit alongside defeating an ideology?

Altogether, SOTU suggests that, from the top down, the Bush Administration still needs to formulate a coherent message and strategy for counterterrorism, one that covers all the complexities of public diplomacy, military action, and law enforcement.

To date, they've done a lot to finally focus and get the message out on the objectives (remaining) for Op Iraqi Freedom. They need to do the same thing for the terrorist threat. Getting a clean conceptual landscape on the issue is a necessary first step, as complex as it is.

Only in that way can one get a sense for whether this criticism is misguided or on-the-mark:

For example, his description of the global counter-terrorist campaign waged audaciously—and so far rather successfully—by the United States government seems to be directed more at Ayman al Zawahiri, who gave his own “State of the Jihad” two days ago, than to millions of U.S. citizens under threat. By painting the campaign as a “decisive ideological struggle” against an “evil”, which, in case we were wondering, “is still at work”, President Bush promotes Al-Qaeda into a status (existential threat) and a role (defining the identity of U.S. foreign policy) which Osama bin Laden ought to appreciate, at a time when his share in the global militancy market has dramatically declined in favor of Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah and Hamas’ Khaled Meshaal. - Alexis Debat, National Interest article

No comments: