by Scott Wilson and Al Kamen
Washington Post Staff Writers
March 25, 2009
Obama administration appears to
be backing away from the phrase "global war on terror," a signature
rhetorical legacy of its predecessor.
In a memo e-mailed this week to Pentagon staff members, the Defense
Department's office of security review noted that,
"this administration prefers to avoid using
the term 'Long War' or 'Global War on Terror' [GWOT.] Please use 'Overseas
Contingency Operation.' "
The memo said the direction came from the
Office of Management and Budget, the executive-branch agency that
reviews the public testimony of administration officials before it is
Not so, said Kenneth Baer, an OMB spokesman.
"There was no memo, no guidance," Baer said
yesterday. "This is the opinion of a career civil servant."
Coincidentally or not, senior administration
officials had been publicly using the phrase "overseas contingency
operations" in a war context for roughly a month before the e-mail was sent.
Peter Orszag, the OMB director, turned to it Feb. 26 when discussing
Obama's budget proposal at a news conference:
"The budget shows the combined cost of
operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and any other overseas contingency
operations that may be necessary."
And in congressional testimony last week,
Craig W. Duehring, assistant secretary of the Air Force for manpower,
"Key battlefield monetary incentives has
allowed the Air Force to meet the demands of overseas contingency
operations even as requirements continue to grow."
Monday's Pentagon e-mail was prompted by
congressional testimony that Lt. Gen. John W. Bergman, head of the
Marine Forces Reserve, intends to give today.
The memo advised Pentagon personnel to,
"please pass this onto your speechwriters
and try to catch this change before statements make it to OMB."
"I have no reason to believe that ['global
war on terror'] would be stricken" from future congressional testimony.
The Bush administration adopted the phrase soon
Sept. 11, 2001, attacks to capture the
scope of the threat it perceived and the military operations that would be
required to confront it.
In an address to Congress nine days after the attacks, President
George W. Bush said,
"Our war on terror will not end until every
terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated."
But critics abroad and at home, including some
within the U.S. military, said the terminology mischaracterized the nature
of the enemy and its abilities.
Some military officers said, for example, that
classifying al-Qaeda and other anti-American militant groups as part of a
single movement overstated their strength.
Early in Bush's second term, then-Defense Secretary
Donald H. Rumsfeld promoted a change in
wording to "global struggle against violent extremism," or GSAVE. Bush
rejected the shift and never softened his position that "global war"
accurately describes the conflict that the United States is fighting.
Last month, the International Commission of Jurists urged the Obama
administration to drop the phrase "war on terror."
The commission said the term had given the Bush
administration "spurious justification to a range of human rights and
humanitarian law violations," including detention practices and
interrogation methods that the International Committee of the Red Cross
has described as torture.
John A. Nagl, the former Army officer who helped write the military's
latest counterinsurgency field manual, said the phrase,
"was enormously unfortunate because I
think it pulled together disparate organizations and insurgencies."
"Our strategy should be to divide and conquer rather than make of
enemies more than they are," said Nagl, now president of the Center
for a New American Security, a defense policy think-tank in
"We are facing a number of different
insurgencies around the globe - some have local causes, some of them are
transnational. Viewing them all through one lens distorts the picture
and magnifies the enemy."