According to Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff, the Obama administration is searching for a phrase to replace the “War on Terror.”
This, of course, is the classic bureaucratic backwards approach to communications, in which people desperately search for just the right word or phrase to communicate a policy they can’t explain or an objective they haven’t yet defined. It’s also the beginning writer’s typical mistake – hoping that a thesaurus will replace the work of actually thinking through the substance of what one wants to say.
The desire to replace “War on Terror” is understandable, for reasons that are well understood. How do wage war on a tactic? Worse, Americans – quite rightly – like their wars to be time-limited, with well-defined, achievable objectives. The Global War on Terror (which produced the unfortunate acronym GWOT) was like a Global War on Evil – war as part of the human condition, and endless struggle that will only come to a conclusion when history really does come to an end.
The problem for the Obama administration, however, is that they don’t know what it is their fighting. For the last eight years they’ve been able to live in the comfortable illusion that it (i.e. everything bad) was all Bush’s fault. Now that they’ve got to actually take responsibility for their words and actions they’re in a quandary.
Their impulse is to treat terror as a criminal issue (and impulse the FDD scholar Andrew McCarthy eviscerates in this series on Peter Robinson’s Uncommon Knowledge). It’s hard for them to come right out and say this, however, as it was the established policy of the Clinton administration – a policy that left us impotent and blind against a mounting terrorist threat even as it escalated from the first World Trade Center Bombing to the mass murder at the African embassies to the U.S.S. Cole.
This is why W. was so insistent on calling it the WAR on terror, which meant among other things that we would no longer treat terrorists like we do ordinary street felons. Even if that’s what Obama wants to do (and it’s clear he’s having second thoughts) it wouldn’t be good PR for Obama to say he’s going to return to Clinton-era terrorism policies.
It’s a bit of a problem. I can imagine the thought process: “Hey, we can’t say what we really think, even if we knew what we really thought. Call in the speechwriters! Butter then up, tell them they’re really talented “wordsmiths,” then tell them to go off and come up with a phrase that will magically dissolve the cognitive dissonance between what everyone recognizes to be the truth and what some of us would rather believe, because then we can get back to what we really care about which is handing out goodies to our political constituency groups.”
My suggestion, offered in the new spirit of bi-partisanship, is “TBPWWDHCHTDW” (That Big Problem That We Don’t Have a Clue How To Deal With). It’s not as hard to pronounce as it seems. Just put your tongue between your lips and blow.