- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 1, 2009

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 used it Monday when speaking about an imminent Pentagon report expected to call for raised 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 whether it’s under-resourced with troops, whether it’s under-resourced with civilian manpower, whether it’s under-resourced with economic development funding and hope to snap your fingers and 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 war in Afghanistan, and noted that despite new attention to the region President 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.

It is not clear whether Mr. Gibbs’ words were a slip of the tongue or intentional. White House aides declined to comment on that matter.

In March, Pentagon officials spread the word the phrase was officially retired under the new administration. They were asked to call it an “overseas contingency operation.”

John Brennan, head of the White House homeland security office, detailed in early August 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 Rodham 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” Jan. 23, his fourth day as president, but not since.

Mr. Brennan said the administration is not going to say that “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.

During the Bush administration, many Democratic politicians complained that the term was politically charged. For example, 2004 vice-presidential nominee John Edwards called it a “bumper-sticker slogan.”

In the campaign, Mr. Obama took a different tack, saying in an August 2007 foreign-policy address that “the terrorists are at war with us.” Mr. Obama said Mr. Bush had confused the mission against terrorism and was “fighting the war the terrorists want us to fight,” referring to Iraq. He said “when I am president, we will wage the war that has to be won,” a phrase he still uses with reference to Afghanistan.

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