The New York Times reported yesterday that Hilary Benn – a senior politician in the Labour Party and Tony Blair’s international development secretary – has spoken out against the Bush administration’s use of the phrase “war on terror” and its emphasis on military force.

In a speech at the Center on International Cooperation of New York University, Benn said: “In the UK we do not use the phrase ‘war on terror’ because we can’t win by military means alone….” According to the Times Benn also noted that “it would be more beneficial for the United States to use the ‘soft power’ of values and ideas as well as military prowess to defeat extremists.”

As I wrote in a previous post, what we are engaged in isn’t primarily a military operation, but an intelligence-gathering, law-enforcement, public-diplomacy effort. However, few American political leaders have the courage to say that what we face is not a “war” on terrorism. Nor do many possess the moxie to call the Bush administration out on using their war to justify almost everything – abusing international human rights standards, condoning torture, unlawful detention and use of black sites. As retired American Ambassador Ronald Spiers wrote in a piece for Vermont’s Rutland Herald, “The President has found this ‘war’ useful as an all-purpose justification for almost anything he wants or doesn’t want to do; fuzziness serves the administration politically. It brings to mind Big Brother’s vague and never-ending war in Orwell’s 1984.”

Benn suggested that the Bush “War on Terror” even encourages the terrorists – “…by letting them feel part of something bigger, we give them strength.” I also wrote last month – on the fourth anniversary of the war against Iraq – that the misconceived “war on terrorism” has damaged our long-term security and engagement with the world. “Yes, terrorism does pose a threat to national and international security that can never be eliminated. But there are far more effective (and ethical) ways to advance US security than a forward-based and military-heavy strategy of intrusion into the Islamic world.”

Confronting terror doesn’t require a hyper-militarized war without end. But lawful and targeted intelligence work; smart diplomacy; and the elevation rather than the shredding of our greatest ideals and principles.