January 22, 2009 | Prospect.org
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband [said] that [the term "war on terror"] should never have been adopted since it "gave the impression of a unified, transnational enemy, embodied in the figure of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda" when "the reality is that the motivations and identities of terrorist groups are disparate."
From the beginning, the idea of a "war on terror" was fatally compromised by the obvious analogy to purely metaphorical wars such as the war on drugs or the war on poverty. Our acclimatization to such metaphorical wars lets the use of the term slip past our censors without real scrutiny of the implications. But efforts against terrorism have, unlike anti-poverty policy, real resemblance to wars. Meaning that the "war on terror" isn't a metaphorical war at all; it's a real one. Yet at the same time, not a real one against a defined enemy and featuring defined objectives. And therein lies the problem.
Just as we don't afford terrorists the wartime exemption from prosecution, however, we must observe restraint in going after terrorists. If the FBI has reason to believe a terrorist is holed up in an apartment somewhere in Philadelphia, we don't bomb the building -- we arrest the terrorist. The same thing is generally true abroad -- we need to work with friendly law enforcement to unravel plots against targets in Europe and Canada and other Western nations. But we don't fire mortars or drop bombs in friendly cities -- we seek cooperation with local governments.