The “war on terror” is back — at least, briefly.
After the Obama administration banned the phrase “war on terror,” White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs resurrected it Monday when speaking about a expected new report about troop levels in Afghanistan.
“You can’t under-resource the most important part of our war on terror, you can’t under-resource that for five or six or seven years … have that turn around in just a few months,” he said.
Mr. Gibbs was saying that President George W. Bush’s administration had not given adequate resources to the Afghan campaign, and noted that despite new attention to a conflict that Mr. Obama calls the “war we need to win,” improvements would not be seen in Afghanistan because the mission was not as well funded. He pointedly thanked the troops for their work in the region.
Asked about Mr. Gibbs’ choice of words, White House aides wouldn’t say whether it was a slip of the tongue or intentional.
In March, Pentagon officials spread the word the phrase was officially retired under the new administration. They were asked to call the conflict with al Qaeda and other military groups an “overseas contingency operation.”
John Brennan, head of the White House homeland security office, detailed in an address early last month why Mr. Obama wanted to ditch the phrase.
“The president does not describe this as a ‘war on terrorism,’” he said in a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank.
“We are at war with al Qaeda,” he said. “We are at war with its violent extremist allies who seek to carry on al Qaeda’s murderous agenda.”
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in March that the administration was not using the term “war on terror” but that no specific directive had come from the White House itself. Mr. Obama himself used the term “war on terror” on Jan. 23, his fourth day as president, but has not used it since.
Mr. Brennan said the administration is not going to use the phrase — widely employed under the previous administration — “because ‘terrorism’ is but a tactic, a means to an end, which in al Qaeda’s case is global domination by an Islamic caliphate.”
“You can never fully defeat a tactic like terrorism any more than you can defeat the tactic of war itself,” Mr. Brennan said.