GWOT vs. GSAVE….The topic of the day ? of yesterday, actually ? was GWOT vs. GSAVE. GWOT, as you know, is the Global War on Terror, which we’ve been fighting since 9/11, while GSAVE is the Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism, the new acronym unveiled by the administration last week.

Or was it? I’ve resisted any mockery aimed at GSAVE because I think it’s a better description of what’s going on and I’d actually be happy if it turned out to represent a belated change of heart by administration hawks. Last night, though, I got curious about something else: where did this whole acronym change really come from, anyway? I’m not sure I’ve gotten it entirely right, but here’s what I pieced together.

First, there was a story two months ago by Susan Glasser in the Washington Post that foreshadowed the whole thing. Glasser reported that the Bush administration had “launched a high-level internal review of its efforts to battle international terrorism,” and that the review was focused on moving policy away from merely killing al-Qaeda leaders and toward a broader “strategy against violent extremism.”

Then, for the next two months, there was nothing. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Richard Myers gave a few speeches in which they used the phrase “struggle against violent extremism,” and Myers said he personally disliked the phrase “war on terrorism,” but that was about it.

On July 26, that all changed. Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker wrote a short New York Times piece in which they noted the use of the phrase in recent speeches and then made the specific claim that this was an indication that the Bush administration was “retooling its slogan for the fight against Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups”:

Administration and Pentagon officials say the revamped campaign has grown out of meetings of President Bush’s senior national security advisers that began in January, and it reflects the evolution in Mr. Bush’s own thinking nearly four years after the Sept. 11 attacks.

The Schmitt/Shanker piece is maddeningly vague, though. Not a single person is directly quoted as saying that the phrase was officially being changed across the board. Rumsfeld and Myers are quoted using the phrase and a few other people are quoted defending the phrase, but only anonymous “senior administration officials” are used to backstop the assertion that this was some kind of official policy decision.

Over the next week, Nexis reported over a hundred mentions of the phrase “global struggle against violent extremism,” but as near as I can tell there’s not one bit of new reporting in the lot. Every single article, editorial, blog post, and late night comic routine is based on Schmitt and Shanker’s New York Times piece.

But for all the press attention, there wasn’t a peep from the White House for over a week ? until Monday, when George Bush reportedly said at a Homeland Security Council meeting that “no one checked with me.” Then, on Wednesday, Richard Stevenson reported in the New York Times that Bush made his position clear, saying, “Make no mistake about it, we are at war,” and then using the phrase “war on terror” no less than five times.

So what the hell happened here? Did Rumsfeld and Myers go off the reservation? Did Schmitt and Shanker screw the pooch, inventing a major policy shift out of a few vaguely worded remarks from anonymous sources? Or was it a deliberate effort to run GSAVE up the flagpole, which was then hastily hauled back in when it became the butt of jokes?

A followup from Schmitt and Shanker sure seems to be called for here. After all, the whole thing seems to have rested almost entirely on their story, and it would be nice if they provided some more detail on what they were told and how they interpreted it. They don’t have to name their sources or anything like that. Just let us know how this story took shape. Enquiring minds want to know.

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