Well, it’s time for a new euphemism from the Obama administration. In its haste to get away from looking like they were continuing any Bush administration policies (while quietly maintaining a lot of them), they dumped the “War On Terror” tag and have been flailing around for a new one.
The first one was “Overseas Contingency Operations.” This had the bureaucratic appeal of using three long words that meant nothing. And like most things couched to have bureaucratic appeal, it went exactly nowhere with the general public.
Well, now they’re trying a new one. Now it’s “Countering Violent Extremism.” This one was obviously set up by a pollster — it has an action verb coupled with two negative terms. Who is in favor of “violent extremism,” and who could oppose “countering” it?
Well, me, for one.
The first is that it’s already being called by its acronym, CVE. And as a World War II buff, those letters already have a meaning. CVEs, the official naval designation for escort carriers, served a vital role during World War II and saw a great deal of combat and carried themselves with true heroism. They were far from the mightiest warships (many sailors referred to them as “Combustible, Vulnerable, and Expendable” or “Kaiser Coffins,” after the primary builder, Henry Kaiser), but they were essential to our victory and had their greatest moment of glory in the Battle off Samar — which saw what were arguably the greatest displays of courage ever seen in the United States Navy.
So right off the bat I’m emotionally inclined to dislike the term. But there’s another, even more subtle, reason to not care for it. And that’s the very first word.
What, exactly, is countering? It’s a reactive term. It means “they’re doing things we don’t like, and we’re going to ruin their plans.”
Reactive policies are good for civilian problems. By and large, the police and the courts are reactive forces. They go after people who have done bad things, punish them, and prevent them from doing more bad things.
But reactive policies in warfare are defensive policies. They mean ceding the initiative to the enemy. They mean that we generally leave the enemy alone until they attack, and then we hit them back hard.
Which makes the lawyers happy, but means we have to take that initial attack.
In a war, the side that gets put on the defensive usually loses. And even when they win, it’s an expensive victory.
No, the best way to win a war is to identify the enemy, discover their plans, and then attack before they can make their first moves. That was the Japanese intention at Pearl Harbor — to declare war, then hit us. Thanks to some communication snafus, the declaration of war was delivered hours after the attack. But thanks to the utter surprise they achieved, we spent the first few months of the war on the defensive. Our first major battle was in the Coral Sea, where we “reacted” to their “violent extremism.” Likewise, Midway was another defensive battle. Not counting the purely-for-morale Doolittle Raid, we didn’t really take the offensive until almost a year after Pearl Harbor, at Guadalcanal, and from then until the end of the war we were the aggressors — we chose where we would attack and when, and the Japanese had to respond to us. We held the initiative, and that was a large factor in our ultimate victory.
By limiting our actions to “countering,” even in name only, Obama has announced that he is reverting our national policy to what is called “9/10 thinking.” The pre-September 11 mindset was to keep an eye on the terrorists, but only hit at them after they’ve crossed the line.
That mindset went away that sunny morning in September.
I thought things had changed forever that day.
It turns out that “forever” was a bit less than ten years.