The policy matters more than the phrase

THE POLICY MATTERS MORE THAN THE PHRASE…. It seems like the decision to move away from a “war on terror” rhetorical framework is causing more of a stir than it should.

The phrase “war on terror,” for seven years a signature expression of the Bush administration, has been shelved, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton acknowledged Monday.

Clinton said there had been no directive from her office or within the Obama administration, but she said officials had stopped using the term.

“The administration has stopped using the phrase, and that speaks for itself, obviously,” Clinton told reporters aboard her plane on the way to a meeting in the Netherlands. […]

The Obama administration has said that it has not officially banned the phrase. “It’s just not being used,” Clinton said.

Now, if the Obama administration were prepared to stop aggressive counter-terrorism measures, that would be a significant development. But we’re really just talking about a rhetorical shift — and it’s hardly a major loss. Anthony Cordesman, a national security analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, recently 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.”

The move away from the phrase is not only overdue, it also reflects the thinking of Adm. Michael Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who banned the use of the phrase “Global War on Terror” last October, according to instructions from his office.

Indeed, a few weeks ago, Fox News’ Chris Wallace pressed Mullen on why officials in this White House “seldom talk about the ‘war on terror.'” Mullen explained that the president is “very focused on the terrorist extremist threat” and one of Obama’s “top priorities” is to “focus on the terrorism and terrorists and the extremists that are out there who would do us harm.” Wallace appeared unsatisfied. Mullen didn’t care.

One hopes that a sound counter-terrorism strategy is infinitely more important than the label policymakers give the strategy, but our political discourse can get awfully silly.