By Bradley Graham and Josh White
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, February 3, 2006
With its formal embrace this week of the term "long war," the Bush administration has turned a simple descriptive phrase into an official name for the war on terrorism, and possibly catapulted it into the ranks of such other era names as "Cold War" and "World War."
The phrase has a long history. It has been applied to the 15-year war between the Habsburg monarchy and the Ottoman Empire that started in the 1590s. It also was a name proposed by University of Texas law professor Philip Bobbitt to cover a collection of 20th-century conflicts, from World War I to the Cold War, which resulted in democracy triumphing over communism and fascism.
Its recent rise to rhetorical prominence in the U.S. military, according to several military officers, began in 2004 with Gen. John P. Abizaid, the Central Command chief who oversees military operations in the Middle East. Abizaid invoked the phrase to underscore the long-term challenge posed by al Qaeda and other Islamic extremist groups.
Gen. Richard B. Myers, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, eventually picked up the term and, at his final news conference before leaving office last September, used it to emphasize the need for political and economic measures -- not just military ones -- to achieve victory.
"What we decided was, it's a good way of highlighting the idea that this war is likely to take awhile and will require both the commitment of significant resources and the resolve of the American people," a senior Joint Staff officer said.
James Jay Carafano, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, co-wrote a book last year titled "Winning the Long War: Lessons from the Cold War for Defeating Terrorism and Preserving Freedom." Carafano said the name captures the only major element of the war about which everyone agrees.
"We can't agree it's global, we can't agree it's terrorism, but we all generally agree it's a war . . . [and] it's going to be long," Carafano said. "Transnational terrorism is the problem of the 21st century."
Said a senior Central Command officer: "What we're fighting is an '-ism,' the first 21st-century '-ism,' the way we fought communism and fascism in the 20th century."
Not everyone has favored adopting "long war" as the official label of this struggle.
"The term certainly has some negative baggage that goes along with it," said one senior officer, who said concerns were raised by some at Central Command and at the Pentagon as well as by some allied governments. "No one wants to be involved in a long war."
But President Bush bought into its use this week. In his State of the Union message, he declared, "Our own generation is in a long war against a determined enemy."