WE CAN’T WAGE A WAR AGAINST A TACTIC ANYWAY…. The AP reports today the “war on terror,” as a phrase, seems to be on its way out.
The catchphrase burned into the American lexicon hours after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, is fading away, slowly if not deliberately being replaced by a new administration bent on repairing the U.S. image among Muslim nations.
Since taking office less than two weeks ago, President Barack Obama has talked broadly of the “enduring struggle against terrorism and extremism.” Another time it was an “ongoing struggle.”
He has pledged to “go after” extremists and “win this fight.” There even was an oblique reference to a “twilight struggle” as the U.S. relentlessly pursues those who threaten the country.
But only once since his Jan. 20 inauguration has Obama publicly strung those three words together into the explosive phrase that coalesced the country during its most terrifying time and eventually came to define the Bush administration.
Now, this may or may not have been a deliberate shift on the part of the president. He’s been addressing the economic crisis quite a bit, and he was only inaugurated last week. Perhaps Obama will use “war on terror” moving forward, perhaps not.
But if he chooses to stop using it, the end of the rhetoric won’t be a huge loss. As Anthony Cordesman, a national security analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told the AP, the “war on terror” has “became associated in the minds of many people outside the Unites States and particularly in places where the countries are largely Islamic and Arab, as being anti-Islam and anti-Arab.”
And before our friends on the right suggest that U.S. officials ignore how rhetoric is perceived, let’s not forget that the Bush administration, just last year, insisted otherwise. Indeed, the Bush administration issued guidelines, entitled “Words that Work and Words that Don’t: A Guide for Counterterrorism Communication,” urging officials to stop describing extremists as “jihadists” or “mujahedeen,” and to drop “Islamo-fascism” altogether. “It’s not what you say but what they hear,” the memo said in bold italic lettering.
A shift from “war on terror” would be part of the same realization.
I’d just add, by the way, that more than a few top officials have supported this kind of rhetorical shift for quite a while. None other than Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, banned the use of the phrase “Global War on Terror,” according to instructions from his office last October.
Before the right attacks Obama for dropping the phrase, I wonder if they’ll be equally anxious to go after Adm. Mullen.