Is There a War on the Term ‘War on Terror’

By Lee Speigel

Mar 30, 2009 9:58pm

Jake Tapper, Teddy Davis, and Kirit Radia report:

Is there a war on the term "War on Terror"?

Apparently not.

But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to the story.

After days of confusion and denial about whether the Obama administration was officially no longer using the term "War on Terror," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Tuesday that the Obama administration is no longer speaking of a "War on Terror."

"I haven’t gotten any directive about using it or not using it. It’s just not being used," said Clinton during a briefing with reporters aboard her plane to the Hague to attend an international conference on Afghanistan. 

"The administration has stopped using the phrase and I think that speaks for itself," she said at a different point during her trip. "Obviously."

The discontinuation of the term "War on Terror" marks a departure from the practice of the Bush administration which began using the phrase in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon.

Many in the international community take issue with the term, finding it overly broad.

The story began after the Washington Post’s Al Kamen obtained an e-mail from an official  in the Office of Security Review, Dave Reidel, saying that, "This Administration prefers to avoid using the term ‘Long War’ or ‘Global War on Terror’ (GWOT). Please use ‘Overseas Contingency Operation.’ "

Office of Management and Budget spokesman Kenneth Baer said, "There was no memo, no guidance. This is the opinion of a career civil servant."

Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell added that he had "never received such a directive…Perhaps somebody within OMB may have been a little over-exuberant."

What has gone unnoticed, however, is that the discontinuation of the "war on terror" phrase also marks a departure for Secretary Clinton and President Obama.

During an April 26, 2007, debate in South Carolina, the moderator asked the eight Democratic candidates to raise their hand if they believed there is such a thing as a "Global War on Terror."

Clinton and Obama joined Sen. Chris Dodd, D-Conn., and Gov. Bill Richardson, D-N.M., in raising their hands, indicating that they believed that there is such a thing as a Global War on Terror, or GWOT.

Future Vice President Joe Biden joined former Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., former Sen. Mike Gravel, D-Alaska, and Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, in not raising their hands, indicating that they did not believe that there was such a thing as a GWOT.

As reported at the time on ABC’s "Political Radar," Edwards subsequently tried to use his misgivings with the "War on Terror" terminology to differentiate himself from Obama and Clinton. It didn’t work. Though apparently Obama and Clinton may have been at least somewhat sympathetic to the argument.

– Jake Tapper, Teddy Davis, and Kirit Radia

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