Al Qaeda and the “war on terror” seem to be the ultimate linguistic props. Now you see them, now you don’t.
First, the disappearance — the Washington Post reports in late March on the new name for the “war on terror”:
In a memo e-mailed this week to Pentagon staff members, the Defense Department’s office of security review noted that “this administration prefers to avoid using the term ‘Long War’ or ‘Global War on Terror’ [GWOT.] Please use ‘Overseas Contingency Operation.’ “
Then, the reappearance — President Obama speaking on Afghanistan at a NATO summit a week later:
“France recognises that having al-Qaeda operate safe havens that can be used to launch attacks is a threat not just to the United States but to Europe… In fact it is probably more likely that al-Qaeda would be able to launch a serious terrorist attack in Europe than in the United States because of proximity.”
At least we are getting some variety. Under the Bush Administration, it was all Al Qaeda, all the time.
Like a radio station that never cut to commercial break, the Bush years stayed focused on the rhetoric of anti-terror. It was the answer to everything. Today, the Obama Administration is changing up the dynamic a bit.
On the one hand, the Obama Administration wants to de-emphasize the very idea of a “war on terror.” As the Washington Post write-up mentioned, it is now the overseas contingency something-or-the-other. Iraq and Afghanistan are being relegated to mere fiscal line-items.
On the other hand, when it comes to getting European nations to shoulder some of the load, Obama is quick to raise the Al Qaeda specter once again.
For Americans, the new phrasing is perhaps a way of making two long-term occupations seemingly mundane. If the White House is expecting to be in Afghanistan and Iraq for years, well, we might as well give the operations a boring snoozer of a name. You know, just another overseas contingency operation.
And for Europe? I’m a firm believer that the words used by American presidents while overseas are as much for American consumption as they are for their immediate audiences. Not only does President Obama get to scare up a little European support, but he can indirectly remind Americans that he’s doing his best to share the military burden.
Of course, Jon Stewart’s trusty newshounds always sum it up best.