- The Washington Times - Friday, September 21, 2001

It took less than 24 hours for the newly minted Pentagon battle slogan to fade: Operation Infinite Justice may not be so infinite after all.

The Department of Defense likely will yank the three-word phrase from use, on the grounds that it could offend Muslims who believe that Allah alone can deliver justice in such ultimate terms.

"I have heard those words," said Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, when questioned about the propriety of the code name yesterday. "I do not know that they've been adopted, and I think they're probably under review … Obviously the United States does not want to do or say things that create an impression on the part of the listener that would be a misunderstanding."

Mr. Rumsfeld was unsure where the new moniker originated. "Someone, somewhere, in some place selected these words," he said. "And in some preliminary aspect of things used them," adding he doubted the phrase "will persist."

In a climate supercharged with sensitivity, the White House already has apologized once this week after President Bush called a potential American retaliation against the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks a "crusade." Hoping to quell attacks on Arab Americans, Mr. Bush also has asked the public to understand and respect Muslim beliefs. "Islam is peace," he said.

Defense and White House officials, meanwhile, continue to search for an appropriate working vocabulary in the changing situation. Mr. Rumsfeld was asked to define such terms as combat, troop movements and even victory yesterday.

"What is victory?" he asked. "I say that victory is persuading the American people and the rest of the world that this is not a quick matter," and that learning to live in a world with powerful weapons "would be a victory, in my view."

Amid all this introspection, however, the dividing line between proper sensitivity and overreaction confounds even the Defense Department.

"It's a very touchy situation," a spokesman said yesterday. "We don't want to add insult to injury."

The author of Infinite Justice remains a mystery. "We don't know who came up with it, or where they are," the spokesman added. Public affairs officers with the Joint Chiefs of Staff had no comment yesterday.

Another new code name appears to be safe, however.

Operation Noble Eagle remains in use. The code phrase assigned Sept. 15 stands for stateside defense and civil support services provided by military reserves called to active duty.

Creative thinkers at the Pentagon will have their work cut out for them, should "Infinite Justice" be replaced. Code names must not appear "bellicose, propagandistic or disrespectful," said one analyst. Yet they must retain enough meaningful cachet to be bandied about in the media, and eventually, historical record.

During the Gulf war, for example, 78 official code names were coined to reflect various phases of the conflict, including Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Desert Sword, Desert Sabre, Desert Farewell and Desert Calm.

Some reject etymological hairsplitting, however.

"We're debating linguistics when we should be debating the real issues," said Ibrahim Hooper of the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations to the Associated Press.

Popular culture, in the meantime, is not overlooking the situation. Several Web sites already are taking suggestions for code names. Among the candidates: Operation Big Stick, Operation Vietnam, Part II and Operation America Rules.

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