Finding new words to talk about what is happening in the world

With control of Congress comes the opportunity for Democrats to not just set the nation's agenda but also to find new and better ways to describe the challenges America faces today.  A lot of work will need to be done to liberate America from the simplistic "truthiness" of the Bush era, but I offer three suggestions on areas that need an immediate effort to find new words to help us better understand our world:

1. Our "War in Iraq" should be renamed our "occupation of Iraq," or most accurately, our "failed occupation of Iraq."  To describe what is happening in Iraq, and what our troops are being tasked to do as a "war" is simply not an accurate description of what is our greatest foreign policy challenge.  

2. The "war on terror" and "battle against global jihadism" as the central organizing principle of our foreign policy.  Increasingly, events of great import simply don't fit into this very narrow frame.  Think of a nuclear North Korea, the worsening of our relations with Latin America, the slipping of Russia into a totalitarian police state,global pandemics like AIDS and bird flu. migration and immigration challenges, the rise of China, global climate change, our dependence on foreign energy sources, globalization itself and most importantly the current struggle between the Sunnis and Shias in Iraq, and the related rise of Iran as a regional hegemon. None of these fit neatly into the "war on terror" frame.  

I've always felt that "winning the war on terror" and "defeating jihadism" are really more tactical than strategic goals.  Given the collapse of our foreign policy and our global credibility, America is due for a debate about the strategic goals of our foreign policy in a new century.  The best articulation I'm aware of is one of the most standard- that we should be moving the world towards democracy, liberty, free markets and the rule of law.  Winning the "war on terror" is a tactic to help us achieve these more strategic foreign policy goals.  For as we learned after WWI, we can militarily defeat an enemy but not secure a lasting peace if our defeated enemy do not become successful democracies. 

3.  Afghanistan, not Vietnam.  I believe the most accurate historically analogy for what is happening in Iraq today is not America's experience in Vietnam but the Soviet experience in Afghanistan.  As the President's recent trip showed while America may have lost the battle for Vietnam, the West won the war for Vietnam and against communism.  With Vietnam now on the verge of joining the WTO the Vietnam saga has a happy ending.  It is now neat and clean.  The bad guys may have won but in the end were defeated. 

The Soviet experience in Afghanistan doesn't have such a happy ending.  The Soviet defeat weakened them so that it helped bring down their own empire.  The jihadis came out of Afghanistan battled hardened, and ready to take their fight to the global stage.  The failed state of Afghanistan itself became a base for global jihadism, and exported chaos throughout the world.  It is a story that is still ongoing, and as of today, does not have a happy ending. 

In fact the Soviet abandonment of Afghanistan and what happened next there should be a dramatic lesson for those looking to find a new and better way in Iraq.  Pulling our troops out and leaving Iraq to a bloody regional sectarian war, and leaving Al-Qaeda with a beachhead in western Iraq - as they had in Afghanistan - seems to be a very real and very unappealing potential outcome of all the potential outcomes in Iraq.