War on terror

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The war on terror, or alternately, the global war on terror, is a phrase used by United States President George W. Bush, and is a phrase frequently used by officials of his Administration. It is consciously avoided by the Obama Administration.

He first used the phrase, in public, on September 20, 2001 — nine days after 9/11 and al-Qaeda's attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon Building — with the comment "Our war on terror begins with al-Qaeda, but it does not end there." in a address to Congress. [1]

A White House report, issued 100 days later, discussed progress in the program. [2] Five years later, President George W. Bush discussed means of adjudicating the status of terrorist suspects. [3] In a 2006 press conference, he spoke, as an aside, of the cooperation of the Iraqi government in the policy.[4]

Critics challenge the use of this phrase, as poorly defined, and as an appeal to listeners emotions, not their intellect. Francis Fukuyama wrote

The term “war on terrorism” is a misnomer, resulting in distorted ideas of the main threat facing Americans today. Terrorism is only a means to an end; in this respect, a “war on terror” makes no more sense than a war on submarines.[5]

Fukuyama criticized the concept for being too nebulous, for creating a climate of fear. He pointed out that a "war on terrorism" would imply the U.S. has a role in Chechnya, and in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. While Fukuyama agreed there is benefit to intelligence sharing with Israel, the actual Palestinian problem is principally Israel's local problem. In like manner, Richard Clarke, the National Security Council counterterrorism coordinator, commented that in White House discussions on 9/12 and 9/12,

...was our war to be on terrorism in general or al-Qaeda in specific? If it was all terrorism we would fight, did we have to attack the anti-government forces in Colombia's jungles too? Gradually, the obvious prevailed: we would go to war with al-Qaeda and the Taliban, The compromise consensus, however, was the struggle against al-Qaeda and the Taliban would be the first stage in a broader war on terrorism. It was also clear there would be a second phase.[6]


  1. George W. Bush. Address to a Joint Session of Congress and the American People, White House, 2001-09-20. Retrieved on 2008-06-26.
  2. George W. Bush. The Global War on Terrorism: The First 100 Days, White House, December 2001. Retrieved on 2008-06-26.
  3. George W. Bush. President Discusses Creation of Military Commissions to Try Suspected Terrorists, White House, 2006-09-06. Retrieved on 2008-06-26.
  4. George W. Bush. Press Conference of the President -- June 14, 2006, White House, 2006-06-14. Retrieved on 2008-06-26.
  5. Phase III in the War on Terrorism? Challenges and opportunities, Brookings Institution, 2003-05-14. Retrieved on 2008-06-26.
  6. Richard A. Clarke (2004), Against all Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror, Free Press, Simon & Schuster, ISBN 0743260244, p. 31