When George W. Bush was President, not everyone cared for his assertions that America was engaged in a “global war on terror.” Among the critics was the bipartisan 9/11 Commission, whose 2004 report argued that “the enemy is not just ‘terrorism,’ some generic evil. This vagueness blurs the strategy. The catastrophic threat at this moment in history is more specific. It is the threat posed by Islamist terrorism — especially the al Qaeda network, its affiliates, and its ideology.”
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Monday made explicit what some observers had already noticed: Her boss has scrapped his predecessor’s formulation. “The Administration has stopped using the phrase, and I think that speaks for itself,” Mrs. Clinton told reporters en route to an international conference on Afghanistan. “I have not heard it used. I have not gotten any directive about using it or not using it. It is just not being used.”
But whereas the 9/11 Commission counseled clarity, the new Administration is emitting a haze of obfuscation. The Pentagon’s preferred term is “overseas contingency operations,” a bit of military jargon of which “overseas” is the only part recognizable in plain English, and which obscures the key point that the war — sorry, the “operations” — began in earnest only after terrorists attacked American cities.