Over the past decade the armed forces of the western world, and particularly those of the United States and the United Kingdom, have been involved in waging a war for major objectives – or so at least the rhetoric of that war’s principal advocates, George Bush and Tony Blair, had us believe. It is a war to establish the values of the free world – democracy, religious toleration and liberalism – across the rest of the globe. In his speech on 11 September 2006, delivered to mark the fifth anniversary of the attacks in 2001, President Bush, showing a prescience denied to the rest of us, declared that it is ‘the decisive ideological struggle of the twenty-first century. It is a struggle for civilisation.’ This war may have its principal focus in the Middle East and Central Asia, but it is also being waged within Europe, with the supporting evidence provided by the bomb attacks in Madrid on 11 March 2004 and in London on 7 July 2005.
Bush and Blair called this war ‘the global war on terror’. In February 2006 US Central Command, based at Tampa in Florida but with responsibilities which span the Middle East and south-west Asia, recognised the conceptual difficulties posed by the ‘global war on terror’ and rebranded it the ‘long war’. Both titles treated the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan as subordinate elements of the grand design. Moreover, the design was so grand that it was one on to which other conflicts could be grafted, even when the United States was not a direct participant. The prime minister of Australia, John Howard, used his country’s peace-keeping commitments in East Timor in 1999, and his wider concerns about Indonesia more generally, not least after the Bali bomb attack of 12 October 2002, to sign up to the war on terror (with some reason). In 2006, Israel presented its actions against the Hizbollah in Lebanon as part of the same greater struggle (with rather less).
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