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August 7, 2005 - Back to the War on Terror (What's in a name?)

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Last weekend in Semantics: Thucydides got it right a long time ago... you would find a long discussion of how our government had decided to change how we discuss what we are doing around the world.  The Global War on Terror (GWOT) was to become the Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism (GSAVE) - a change in terms to better capture what we were doing.  Yes, it was awkward, but not a bad idea.  Precision is nice.
But GSAVE has gone the way of the great auk.  We're back to GWOT.



The Washington Monthly provides the story of the rise and fall of this acronym.

1.) There was a story two months ago by Susan Glasser in the Washington Post that hinted something was happening. She reported that the Bush administration had "launched a high-level internal review of its efforts to battle international terrorism," and that the review was focused on moving policy away from merely killing al-Qaeda leaders and toward a broader "strategy against violent extremism."  (That's here.)

2.) Nothing official for two months - except Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Myers gave a few speeches in which they used the phrase "struggle against violent extremism," and Myers said he personally disliked the phrase "war on terrorism."

3.) July 26 - the article in the New York Times (mentioned last week in these pages) that made the claim that these two months of changes in phrasing indicated the administration was "retooling its slogan for the fight against Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups."  The article is here with this: "Administration and Pentagon officials say the revamped campaign has grown out of meetings of President Bush's senior national security advisers that began in January, and it reflects the evolution in Mr. Bush's own thinking nearly four years after the Sept. 11 attacks."

4.) As the Washington Monthly notes, not a single person is directly quoted as saying that the phrase was officially being changed. Rumsfeld and Myers are quoted using the phrase and a few other people are quoted defending the phrase, but only anonymous "senior administration officials" are used to backstop the assertion that this was some kind of official policy decision. And over the next week, Nexis reported over a hundred mentions of the phrase "global struggle against violent extremism," but with no new reporting. "Every article, editorial, blog post, and late night comic routine is based on Schmitt and Shanker's New York Times piece."

Then it gets good.

5.) Monday, August 1 the president reportedly said at a Homeland Security Council meeting that "no one checked with me."  Oops.  (See this.)

6.) Tuesday, August 2, in a New York Times article by Richard Stevenson, Bush is directly quoted as saying, "Make no mistake about it, we are at war," and then using the phrase "war on terror" no less than five times.  (See this.)

So much for that.

Speculation from the Washington Monthly:


So what the hell happened here? Did Rumsfeld and Myers go off the reservation? Did Schmitt and Shanker screw the pooch, inventing a major policy shift out of a few vaguely worded remarks from anonymous sources? Or was it a deliberate effort to run GSAVE up the flagpole, which was then hastily hauled back in when it became the butt of jokes?


Who knows?  Perhaps it was a bit of all three.

But disregard GSAVE.


It’s dead.  It's extinct.


Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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