Antidote to 'Iraq is Vietnam'

America loves a good sequel, and seeing as it's summer, the standard crop of big-budget, digitally enhanced retreads is arriving at the Cineplex, from "Shrek 2" to "Spider-Man 2."

The concept of the sequel is easy enough to understand. The original was a hit, so filmmakers hook the fans in with a promise of more of the same. Of course, it usually doesn't work out that way. For every "Godfather II," there are 20 "Weekend at Bernie's 2"s.

And so it is with the Bush administration and its new sequel "World War II 2." For the record, they tested the title World War III, but found audiences were less than enthusiastic, many citing Armageddon as a concern.

For the past week, the president has been explaining how the current "war of terror" bears more than a passing resemblance to World War II. Both began with a surprise attack, he told the Air Force Academy graduates last week, and both will surely end in complete victory.

There could hardly be a better time to roll out this sequel. Between the unveiling of the World War II Memorial here and the anniversary of D-Day in Europe, the buzz factor is high. It's a publicist's dream and the perfect antidote to the "Iraq is Vietnam" argument that's been making the rounds. Who could be against World War II, the last good war?

One can imagine the White House political brain trust plotting. What else can we do? Would it be unethical to shave Saddam Hussein's mustache so it looked like Hitler's? Is Tom Hanks available for "Saving Private Mohammed?"

Of course, the World War II imagery didn't begin this past week. We all really have to thank David Frum, whose memorable phrase "axis of evil" - Iraq, Iran, and North Korea - President Bush used in the 2002 State of the Union speech. Since then, the "war on terror," an unfortunate phrase nearly everyone has glommed onto, has pretty regularly been portrayed in a similar light.

And truth be told, there are some similarities between World War II and our current fight. Both did begin with surprise attacks and the current conflict is likely to be a long defining struggle, one probably much longer than World War II. But most of the similarities end there.

The "war on terror," such as it is, is nothing like World War II in that America's enemy is nothing like Nazi Germany. It is primitive, not mechanized. It does not field an army that will fight US forces head on. It does not wish to literally march across countries and control them. It works more quietly and deviously.

And for those reasons, a US strategy based primarily on brute force will fail. It will be necessary in places like Afghanistan, but it will not define this war. The US may possess the world's most powerful military, but it will never be able to kill every terrorist on the planet. A successful strategy must address the root causes of what makes the enemy the enemy.

In fact, the "war on terror" has long been a misnomer. The US is not fighting a war on terror or terrorism or even terrorists. Those things will exist as long as there are people on earth, however misguided, willing to die for causes they believe in.

The US is fighting a war against religious intolerance and extremism, against an enemy that wants to divide the world into camps and turn back the clock on progress and international trade and relations.

Fighting problems like those takes time, decades not months or even years. It takes economic and political change in a part of the world that is slow to embrace those things - including some US allies like Saudi Arabia - and it can't come through force. It can be fostered, but will be most successful if it is self-made.

The Bush administration says there are two approaches to the "war on terror." Some politicians, it says, want to treat the conflict as a legal matter with courts and prosecutors. Others, it says, understand that the proper approach is one that centers on military action.

But their argument misses the real answer. Storming beaches won't win this war. The nation's current fight is a war of ideas. And, in the end, winning will come through living up to ideals, not replaying the past.

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