Editor's Note: The Bush Administration has conflated and confused the meanings of terrorism and insurgency, this essay maintains; but in dealing with these phenomena definitions are crucial, because definitions dictate the strategy and tactics that are used to defeat them, and measures that may be effective against one are likely to be futile or worse against the other. Specifically, the author believes, military action is rarely successful against terrorism, which is best dealt with through law enforcement methods. --Ed.
During the presidency of George W. Bush, everything possible has been done to obfuscate and conflate the true meanings of the terms terrorism and insurgency. Preferring the former, largely because of its emotional post-9/11 impact on the American psyche, Bush spokespeople and the president himself consistently have used the terms insurrection and terrorism interchangeably, indiscriminately, and inaccurately.
This has not simply been a case of intellectual carelessness. It has been a conscious effort to label any group that threatened any status quo of which they approved as a "terrorist organization," without any thought to the origins of or reasons for the struggle being waged. Thus, in a moment of warm and fuzzy presidential friendship with Vladimir Putin, with American concurrence, the Chechen rebels officially became terrorists rather than insurrectionists trying to break free from centuries of Russian oppression. As terrorists, they were far less acceptable outside Russia.
If a group of dissident Egyptians, tired of their repressive government, decided to try to overthrow the Mubarak regime, how would we label them? How would we label indigenous dissidents trying to overthrow any "friendly," but not necessarily democratic governments? Saudi Arabia and Morocco come to mind. It's not a stretch to say that they would immediately be labeled terrorists. How would we label a group of Iranians who committed terrorist acts? Of course, given how we feel about the Mullahs, they would be freedom fighters, never terrorists!
The moral here is that it has not been advantageous to become involved in any insurrection or national liberation movement against any country that is friendly to the United States. In doing so, you will be branded a terrorist, and that brings with it certain moral, emotional, and legal consequences.
However, in strictly internal American terms, if the purpose of this mislabeling is to create enemies for the perpetual "long war" envisioned by the Bush Administration, then moving organizations from the morally ambiguous "national liberation" or...