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Noah Feldman

Declaring War on Terror Is Good Rhetoric, Bad Policy

France's Hollande should learn from Bush's mistakes.
City on edge.

City on edge.

Photographer: David Ramos/Getty Images

When French President Francois Hollande said Friday's attacks on Paris were an “act of war,” he was following a script set by George W. Bush in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. Rhetorically, invoking the language of war to describe a terrorist attack sends a message of seriousness and outrage. But as U.S.’s post 9/11 wars show, it isn’t always wise to elevate a terrorist group to the level of the sovereign entities that traditionally have the authority to make war.

This was a mistake with respect to al-Qaeda, but it’s a greater mistake when it comes to Islamic State, whose primary aspiration is to achieve statehood. By saying that Islamic State is in a war with France, Hollande is unwittingly giving the ragtag group the international stature it seeks.