New name for ‘war on terror’
By Matthew Davis BBC News, Washington
The Bush administration is abandoning the phrase “war on terror” to better express the fight against al-Qaeda and other groups as an ideological struggle as much as a military mission.
While the slogan – first used by President George W Bush in the wake of the 9/11 attacks – may still be heard from time to time, the White House says it will increasingly be couched in other language.
In recent days, senior administration figures have been speaking publicly of “a global struggle against the enemies of freedom”, and of the need to use all “tools of statecraft” to defeat them.
The shift in terms comes at a time when the US public is increasingly pessimistic about the war in Iraq – and sceptical about its links to the fight against terrorism.
One White House official told the BBC the move did not mark a change of approach, but was intended to give a broader perspective to the “evolving nature” of the struggle.
Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld spoke in the new language on Friday, praising a retiring Navy officer who had served as “our country wages the global struggle against the enemies of freedom, the enemies of civilization”.
The next day, national security advisor Steven Hadley co-wrote a piece for the New York Times in which he set out the current thinking.
“Military action is only one piece of the war on terrorism,” Mr Hadley wrote. “At the same time, however, we must bring all of the tools of statecraft, economic influence and private enterprise to bear in this war.
“Freedom-loving people around the world must reach out through every means – communications, trade, education – to support the courageous Muslims who are speaking the truth about their proud religion and history, and seizing it back from those who would hijack it for evil ends.”
The country’s top military officer spoke in a similar vein on Monday. General Richard Myers told a meeting at the National Press Club: “The long-term problem is as much diplomatic, as much economic, in fact more diplomatic, more economic, more political than it is military. “And that’s where the focus has to be in the future.”
Earlier this month, former British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook criticised the language employed by the US president, saying that instead of isolating terrorists, he had upset Muslims around the world.
Mr Cook – an opponent of the war in Iraq – told the BBC: “I think the problem with George Bush’s approach is that he does keep talking about it as a war on terror as if there is a military solution and there isn’t.”
But while the president has continued to talk of “taking the fight to the enemy”, his recent speeches have also emphasized freedom, democracy and the worldwide clash of ideas.
A White House official said: “We are constantly reviewing how we can best protect our citizens from terrorism and we need to adjust our approach to achieve this.
“The ‘war’ is more than a military response, it is a battle of ideas and a struggle against extremism, and all aspects of the US Government and its allies around the world need to be called upon in fighting it.
“In Afghanistan, the extremist Taleban regime no longer has a base of operations, a clearly identified location that requires a war – there is now a democratically-elected government there.
“It’s a different situation again in London where you’ve got, say, a second generation British Muslim influenced by the preachings of a radical cleric.”
Meanwhile, Lieutenant General James T Conway, a senior US military commander, told a Pentagon briefing there had been “philosophical discussions” with US allies over the use of the phrase.
“We’ve been told, actually, that “global war on terrorism” translates pretty well into the various languages,” he added. “So I think that continues to make it a part of the discussion.”
A Pentagon spokesman said the title of a new manual for combatant commanders suggested a slow evolution in the recasting of the mission away from its military aspect.
The National Military Strategic Plan for the War on Terrorism, issued in March, directs commanders to focus on eight areas essential to terrorists. These include areas like funding and ideological support, safe havens, communications and movement.
The phrase “war on terrorism” was first widely used by the Western press to refer to the efforts by Britain to end a spate of attacks in the British mandate of Palestine in the late 1940s.
Later, it was frequently employed by US President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. But since the 9/11 attacks it has become a slogan for the protracted, US-led struggle to terrorists and the states that aid them, usually expressed as “the global war on terror”.