UK paperback


Centcom chief: no more ‘Long War’

So farewell then, “Long War”. The Tampa Tribune reports that new Centcom commander Admiral William Fallon, on the advice of his “cultural and lingustic experts”, has decided to stop calling the GWOT (or the TWAT or the WAIT or the TOWAT or G-SAVE) the “Long War”. Why so? Because:

We remain committed to our friends and allies in [the Middle East] and to countering al-Qaida inspired extremism where it manifests itself. But one of our goals is to lessen our presence over time, [and] we didn’t feel that the term ‘Long War’ captured this nuance.

Ah, yes, it is a crucial nuance, this sudden urge to get the hell out of Iraq, except of course for the permanent bases, or “enduring bases” as they are prettily termed. (“‘Permanent’ is a term the Pentagon generally avoids.”) If we keep saying “Long War”, it seems, the poor Iraqis won’t understand this nuance. Fallon told the House Armed Services Committee that “he has stressed to Iraq’s leaders that the U.S. commitment is not open-ended.” (It is annoying when one’s fantasies of short magic wars as a form of social engineering don’t pan out. In the end, maybe it’s best not to try to put lipstick on the pig by pretending that it was supposed to be a long war all along.)

Given this nuance, apparently only just noticed by the fine minds of Centcom, it is increasingly clear that a slogan suggesting interminable military operations against an undefined enemy or conglomeration of enemies won’t do. But this leaves a problem. If we can’t say the GWOT or the Long War, what on earth do we say – assuming, that is, that we are willing to swallow the thought-bolus that there is any single overarching idea to US military escapades since 2001? A Centcom spokesman reassured us:

We continue to look for other options to characterize the scope of current operations.

Okay, so “Long War” implies too tedious a duration, but we still need to emphasize the “scope”. How about “Wide War”? Never mind the quality, feel the width!

  1. 1  Richard  April 21, 2007, 6:23 am 

    I think not open-ended deserves its own entry; there’s the suggestion of some intent here, some (psychological) “closure,” but it’s the least specific phrase possible for describing it. Like we’re walking down a tunnel in the dark, we have no idea where it leads or how far it goes on, we only know that it doesn’t open out again at the end.

    Oh. Never mind.

  2. 2  Andrew Brown  April 21, 2007, 9:24 am 

    What about the World Wide War?

  3. 3  abb1  April 21, 2007, 10:52 am 

    OT, but I just read this piece by one of the Gitmo lawyers: No fairytales allowed.

    …The dissembling disease got worse as time passed. First there was the effort to suppress the truth, with censorship or silence rather than any overt falsehood. Then there was the lie by semantics, where the US military redefined the language to provide plausible deniability. Finally, there was the bare-faced lie. This kind of culture does not germinate in a vacuum. Rumsfeld is responsible for a reconstitution of the English language. I set about compiling a glossary of the Gitmo-speak. The language was so deceptive that I found it appalling and amusing in equal measure.

  4. 4  Jasper Milvain  April 21, 2007, 1:07 pm 

    “Greater war”, as in GWOT? They could try “Great War”, but it might have an unfortunate resonance.

  5. 5  Ex Ponto  April 21, 2007, 3:40 pm 

    Completely off topic, I know, but Glenn Greenwald’s just written an article about the artist currently known as “Melanie Phillips”. Given your scoop about the nature of this creation, can’t you set him straight on this devilishly clever parody? At the moment he’s looking rather silly.

  6. 6  Sohail  April 21, 2007, 10:41 pm 


  7. 7  Thom  April 23, 2007, 1:05 pm 

    I saw on Lenin’s blog earlier that they are now describing the fencing in and internment of civilians in Fallujah as ‘the closed canton model’. I believe they used a different term for this practice in the Boer War, Mau Mau insurgency, etc, but it escapes me for now.

    re: ‘The Long War’: Maybe they could call it ‘The Marathon’. Its got connotations of fitness, achievement, a definite goal at the end of it. What d’you think?

  8. 8  Richard  April 23, 2007, 2:56 pm 

    re: ‘The Long War’: Maybe they could call it ‘The Marathon’

    Nice! Could also tie in with 300 – I see synergy, merch at Burger King. Get Bruckheimer to work it up quick – see if Rodriguez is available.

  9. 9  Steven  April 24, 2007, 12:56 am 

    I quite like the Marathon for the warrior virtue tip, but it might still give Iraqis the impression that the US will stay around for a good while. The World Wide War? Lovely, but might make Sweden nervous.

    I think each of us must find his own way to the truth of “Melanie” unguided.

  10. 10  Alex Higgins  April 24, 2007, 7:56 pm 

    How about the BGWSC?

    The Bush Global Stream of Consciousness War.

    I think that about captures all the nuances and more or less explains events as they unfold. It also resolves the debate as to whether it is “winnable”, and why it generates so much activity yet so few solid achievements.

  11. 11  Sohail  April 24, 2007, 8:49 pm 

    Well, it’s interesting that they’re willing to call it a war at all. Legally, a war often implies two armies in conflict. Take for instance Israel. It of course has been occupying the West Bank for a long time, but we don’t call that a long war, do we? And what about Northern Ireland, Cyprus or whatever. Take your pick. If oyu ask me, I think long and short are vacuous distractors here.

  12. 12  Sohail  April 24, 2007, 9:04 pm 

    Note also that Centcom predates the 2003 war. It’s pretty much part of the furniture of the Middle East. It ain’t going anywhere — that’s pretty much the long and short of it.

  13. 13  Richard  April 25, 2007, 12:53 am 

    the willingness to call it a war is one of the main things that convinces me that it isn’t one, really.

    It’s also my main candle of hope that some sort of limited time frame will eventually kick in. Remember the War on Drugs? Wars start to look silly after a few years if nothing happens – if they’re in the US, and if there’s no visible enemy to glower at (he says, thinking of the ‘cold war’).

  14. 14  Thom  April 25, 2007, 9:52 am 

    Bill Hicks’s description of the first war in Iraq may be pertinent: ‘The Persian Gulf Distraction’.

  15. 15  JCR  April 25, 2007, 7:50 pm 

    #11 – well they have to call it a war because that gives W war powers, makes him a Wartime President, and allows anyone who disagrees with him to be branded traitorous and/or defeatist.

    As for a name – I suggest the Sticky War or the Flypaper War. We’re trying to get rid of it, really we are, but we just can’t get it off. We try to peel it off in Baghdad but it pops up in Falluja. Images of Bush and Cheney doing a Laurel and Hardy flypaper skit come to mind.

  16. 16  Guano  April 25, 2007, 11:02 pm 

    It has to be a war for the reasons JCR outlines, and also because there’s no point in trying to solve problems by any other method if your country accounts for almost 50% of world military expenditure.

    As for a name – I suggest the Tar Baby War. I seem to remember that the more more Brer Rabbit struggled the more he got stuck. That seems to describe it perfectly.

hit parade

    guardian articles

    older posts