A MORE SENSIBLE RHETORICAL APPROACH…. About a month ago, the AP reported that the Obama administration seemed to be moving away from the “war on terror” — not the counter-terrorism national security strategy, but rather, the phrase “war on terror.”

Yesterday, Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, appeared on Fox News, and Chris Wallace seemed incredulous about the rhetorical shift. Mullen had just spoken at some length about his relationship with the president, and he praised Obama for his consistency, his willingness to listen, and the time he makes to engage military leaders directly. Wallace wanted to move the conversation in another direction.

WALLACE: Having said that, a lot of people have noticed that both the president and top advisers very seldom talk about the war on terror. Why is that? From your conversations with him, does he see our fight against Islamic radicals differently than President Bush did?

MULLEN: It’s very clear in my engagement with him that he is very focused on the terrorist extremist threat, and my guidance is to continue to pursue that in every possible way.

WALLACE: Does — do you have any explanation as to why he doesn’t talk about the war on terror?

MULLEN: No, I don’t. I mean, I don’t. I just told you what he’s told me to do is focus very specifically on this threat, led by Al Qaeda, but certainly it’s a top priority to focus on the terrorism and terrorists and the extremists that are out there who would — who would do us harm.

WALLACE: Last question. As the nation’s top military man, do you believe you are still leading a war against terrorism?

MULLEN: There is — there are an awful lot of elements of terrorists and terrorism which threaten us, and we continue to very clearly pursue them, and we will until they’re no longer a threat.

What Wallace may not have realizes is that Adm. Mullen moved away from the “war on terror” phrase quite a while ago. Indeed, Mullen banned the use of the phrase “Global War on Terror,” according to instructions from his office last October.

Wallace pestered Mullen on the point, but Mullen kept explaining that President Obama is focused on counter-terrorism and is pursuing a sound strategy. Wallace was unsatisfied.

Taylor Marsh added:

Mullen’s strong statement used words that actually mean something, including utilizing all the tools we have available, not simply the military ones. For Wallace, that did not compute. Isn’t war and military means the only way to win the “war on terror”?

Adm. Mullen was having none of it, as he answered Wallace’s questions, gradually you saw a smile creep over his face the more Wallace kept pushing. That’s likely because he’s hardly the first chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to think the “war on terror” talking point is actually misleading, unhelpful and counterproductive.

As the administration moves towards better rhetoric, it’s not exactly 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.”

Besides, we can’t wage a war against a tactic anyway.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.