Riffing off a comment
I've long been dissatisfied with the term 'war on terror' or 'global war on terror' but unable to come up with a usable alternative either.
We are not really at war with 'terror' any more than we were at war with 'naval aviation' on December 8th, 1941.
We don't get to pick who we are at war with, either. It only takes one side to make a war. The other side gets to either fight or surrender. We don't get to define who we will treat as enemies and who we will treat as friends. Our enemies have selected themselves and made themselves known. So have our friends. Those who stand on the sideline are few.
Islam--at least the militant, politicized form of Islam which has historically been the predominant form of Islam--is, has been, and eternally will be at war with the 'Dar al-Harb'. Whether it was the Roman Empire, the Austrians, the Carolingian Franks, the Spanish kingdoms, Russia, it didn't matter. Non-Muslim, bordering a Muslim state, you were at war perpetually unless strong enough to decisively crush the Muslim state. Even then, you still have sheep stealing on the borders indefinitely.
This has been the case at least since the Ninth Sura of the Quran was put forth by Mohammed the pseudo-prophet.
Surah IX, v5: Then, when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wherever ye find them, and take them, and besiege them, and prepare for them the ambush.
Surah IX, v41: Go forth, light-armed and heavy-armed, and strive with your wealth and your lives in the way of Allah!
Surah IX, v9: How can there be a treaty with Allah and with His messenger for the idolaters?
Surah IX, v73: O Prophet! Strive against the disbelievers and the hypocrites! Be harsh with them. Their ultimate abode is in hell, a hapless journey's-end.
Surah IX, v123: O ye who believe! Fight those of the disbelievers who are near to you, and let them find harshness in you, and know that Allah is with those who keep their duty.
Surah IX, v.29: Fight against such of those who have been given the Scripture as believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, and forbid not that which Allah hath forbidden by His messenger, and follow not the religion of truth, until they pay the tribute readily, being brought low.
Today, that model of defeating Islamic states in battle and forcing them, by terms of peace treaty, to end attacks upon their non-Muslim neighbors is partially obsolete because most of the 'ghazis' are not able to be controlled by state actors. Those that are controlled by state actors operate through unofficial linkages or linkages difficult to prove and which render their control suspect and hazy. ObL's organization is patronized by members of the Saudi royal family in their private persons, while the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia alternates between ignoring them and cracking down on them, depending on how much pressure we put on them that week. Should the state actors stop supporting the terrorists, the terrorist organizations would continue to exist, although they would be more limited in operations.
To say that we are at war with al-Qaeda, and al-Qaeda alone, is dishonest. For one thing, al-Qaeda is as much an idea as an organization. Invading Afghanistan toppled the central command structure, killing many al-Qaeda leaders and sending others into hiding. Now we have al-Qaeda in Iraq. AQI is losing their war as well, as Iraqis are uniting against the foreign-led butchers cloaked pious Islamic phrases.
What do we offer as an alternative to al-Qaeda's hatred and terror in the name of Islam?
1) I will support and defend the Constitution of Iraq.
2) I will cooperate fully with the Iraqi government.
3) I will guard my neighborhood, community and city.
4) I will bear no arms outside my home without coordination of Iraqi Security Forces or Coalition Forces
5) I will bear no arms against the Government of Iraq, Iraqi Security Forces or Coalition Forces.
6) I will not support sectarian agendas.
That is the future of Iraq, and eventually of the entire Middle East if the Middle East is to have a future.
This campaign in Iraq is not likely to be the end of al-Qaeda. There are al-Qaeda linked (or merely 'inspired') organizations through out the world. We have the Abu Sayyaf Group in the Phillippines, and outfits in Indonesia, Algeria, and,of course, England and New Jersey. Anywhere you find a group of discontented Muslim radicals who desire to effect violent change through a deliberate policy of blowing up non-Muslims, you have a potential al-Qaeda "linked," "affiliated," or "inspired" cell. And of course, since you at least quadruple your media air time if you use the term 'al-Qaeda' both the terrorists and the law enforcement officials who bust them are happy to use it.
The status quo ante bellum will never be restored. A future containing large numbers of Muslims who believe God commanded them to kill unbelievers is not an option. Simply put, eventually we will get tired of it. And we are very, very much better at war than they are. Ask the Japanese. We bombed them into isolationist pacifism. We (meaning the US, UK, AUS, NZ, and the Chinese) had to kill a bit more than 3% of their population to do it, but we did it. The Germans lost 8.7% of their population, not counting the Jews and Gypsies and others they killed off themselves.
130.5 million is 8.7% of 1.5 billion, the often-quoted number for adherents of Islam. That's the population of Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, and Iraq combined, plus an additional 2.2 million. Just to put this in perspective.
What's the alternative to either perpetual war or exterminating all those who potentially support it?
The idea of a non-politicized Islam supported by secular, democratic, modernizing states is the only alternative I see to simply making the Middle East go away and drilling for oil through the glass. Unfortunately, that requires toppling states which are founded on politicized Islam (Afghanistan under the Taliban, Saudi Arabia, Iran) or who use politicized Islam to their own ends (Ba'athist Syria and Iraq). Rebuilding a state from, essentially, nothing is not easy.
I have departed from my original topic. "War on Terror" is imprecise. However, there ain't a good alternative. It certainly is a war. For reasons of Political Correctness, we aren't saying "Islamic Terror" which to me is synonymous with "Political Islam". Everyone goes out of their way to say we aren't at war with Islam itself--though many adherents of that religion disagree. I am not sure what alternative answers you can come up with.