Thursday, August 04, 2005

War On

In a move that seems to contradict the Bush Administration’s very public decision to re-christen the Global War on Terror as the Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism, the President returned to his tried and true vocabulary on Wednesday.

In a speech [in Texas], Mr. Bush used the phrase "war on terror" no less than five times. Not once did he refer to the "global struggle against violent extremism," the wording consciously adopted by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and other officials in recent weeks after internal deliberations about the best way to communicate how the United States views the challenge it is facing.

In recent public appearances, Mr. Rumsfeld and senior military officers have avoided formulations using the word "war," and some of Mr. Bush's top advisers have suggested that the administration wanted to jettison what had been its semiofficial wording of choice, "the global war on terror."

Is this a sign of dissension among the ranks, or just a sign of Bush's inability to stick to the plan? Tough to say. But regardless, Bush's return to "war" has Mr. Rumsfeld and other administration officials scrambling.

On Wednesday, in its efforts to hammer home the point that the "war" phraseology was still administration policy, the White House sent e-mail messages to reporters after Mr. Bush's speech with some excerpts of an address delivered Tuesday by Mr. Rumsfeld. In that speech, Mr. Rumsfeld backed away from the new language he had been employing in recent weeks.

"Some ask, are we still engaged in a war on terror?" Mr. Rumsfeld said. "Let there be no mistake about it. It's a war. The president properly termed it that after Sept. 11. The only way to defend against terrorism is to go on the attack."

"Let there be no mistake about it," he says. Well Mr. Rumsfeld, there would probably be a lot less confusion if you and your partners stuck to a consistent message rather than trying to dazzle the public with rhetorical sleight of hand. This administration seems to think that the American people have a memory span of about a week: "Weapons of mass destruction? What weapons of mass destruction?"

In any event, the name change and re-change are futile. Neither gesture signals a demonstrable shift in policy, which is certainly called for in light of recent terror attacks in England and Egypt. The situation in Iraq looks equally grim. On Thursday, the NYTs reported that insurgents in Iraq are accessing and using increasingly lethal weaponry.

Now is the time to reevaluate U.S. tactics in the fight against terrorism, not split semantic hairs. Unfortunately, I don't have much confidence in the administration's ability to effectively manage the war (or struggle) when they can't even manage their own PR campaign.

--Matthew McCoy