Who said Bush knows nothing about nuance?
Asked "Can we win?" Bush said, "I don't think you can win it. But I think you can create conditions so that the — those who use terror as a tool are less acceptable in parts of the world."I believe that there is a subtlety here that explains these remarks, and the subtlety involves the definition of terror that the President has adopted. One mindset is to view terror as primarily being a tactic that groups or nations can adopt against each other. Terror as a tactic is presumably relatively inexpensive compared to the cost of a formal military campaign, but the nature of terror as a tactic of infiltration also makes it a very messy type of warfare to control. A War on Terror in this context would be a war against those groups or states that employ terrorism against their enemies. In other words, it would be a campaign to build a global coalition to eliminate terror as a weapon of warfare.
On the other hand, one can also view terror as primarily being an ideological phenomenon that has been adopted by institutions whose ideology is compatible with infiltration tactics. The neoconservative idea that the war on terror is primarily against a spectrum of Middle Eastern fundamentalist insurgent groups that can cooperate or compete with national governments is an example of defining terror along these lines. In this conception, the War on Terror is a campaign to destroy the structure of terrorist organizations, capture or kill their leaders, and deter, reform, or destroy the state sponsors of terror.
Obviously these two mindsets are not mutually exclusive and they both will eventually be limited by the fact that the psychological phenomenon of "terror" is always going to play some role in human conflicts. To me, Bush's comments are simply an acknowledgement that, within the framework of terror as a tactic of violent conflict, it may simply be impossible to prevent terror from being adopted by a sufficiently ruthless and undeterable violent group.
Yes, I know that this goes against the grain of the traditionally bellicose Republican rhetoric. If it seems a little out of character for President Bush to say something nuanced, it also seems a little ridiculous for Democrats who view terror as primarily being a law-enforcement problem to start posing as Bush-style war-hawks if it means another chance for a good Bush bashing.