In his farewell address last night, President Bush defended his actions to protect the nation from terrorist attacks. But he never uttered the phrase "war on terror." The World's Matthew Bell asks if the phrase will fade away with the Bush presidency.
This text below is a phonetic transcript of a radio story broadcast by PRI's THE WORLD. It has been created on deadline by a contractor for PRI. The transcript is included here to facilitate internet searches for audio content. Please report any transcribing errors to email@example.com. This transcript may not be in its final form, and it may be updated. Please be aware that the authoritative record of material distributed by PRI's THE WORLD is the program audio.
MARCO WERMAN: I'm Marco Werman, and this is The World, a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH Boston. In Washington, it's a time of change; change in policy and in rhetoric. Here' a phrase that might be going out of fashion, "War on terror." The World's Matthew Bell reports.
MATTHEW BELL: President Bush brought the phrase "War on Terror" to life nine days after the September 11th attacks. He has said it a lot since then, but last night during his prime time farewell address as Commander-in-Chief he never uttered the expression.
GEORGE BUSH: As the years passed most Americans were able to return to life much as it had been before 9/11, but I never did. Every morning I received a briefing on the threats to our nation. I vowed to do everything in my power to keep us safe.
BELL: The President's omission of the phrase "War on Terror" might have been an acknowledgement of just how controversial some of his counter-terrorism policies have been. Eric Rosenbach is an International Affairs expert at Harvard.
ERIC ROSENBACH: I think that the President probably dropped the term because it's been one of the phrases that people have used to identify him as being out of touch about the most intelligent way to combat extremism and to address the threat of terrorism against the United States.
BELL: Barack Obama has used the phrase "War on Terror" at least on the campaign trail, but he also says that things are going to be different after January 20th when it comes to defending the country from its terrorist enemies. Part of that might be a change in rhetoric. Yesterday for example, Mr. Obama's nominee for Attorney General, Eric Holder, never used the expression. He condemned some of the most reviled aspects of President Bush's War on Terror. Holder said, "Water boarding is torture." He said, "Guantanamo will be closed." But he was also clear when Republican Senator Lindsey Graham asked him this question.
LINDSEY GRAHAM: Is it fair to say that we're at war, in your opinion?
ERIC HOLDER: I don't think there's any question, but that we are at war and I think to be honest, I think our nation didn't realize that we were at war when in fact, we were. And I look back at the '90s and the Tanzanian Embassy bombings, the bombing of the Cole, I think we as a nation should've realized that at that point we were at war. We should not have waited until September the 11th of 2001 to make that determination.
GRAHAM: I'm almost ready to vote for you right now.
BELL: By way of comparison with one of the United States most important allies, the British government has already abandoned the phrase "War on Terror." British Foreign Secretary David Miliband says the phrase has been counterproductive.
DAVID MILIBAND: The idea of the War on Terror was a response that reflected the magnitude of the threat posed after 9/11. It did dramatize the nature of the threat, but actually the more you look at it the more you realize that it runs the risk of bringing together disparate interests, of giving preeminence to a military response. And that's why I think we've learned, over the last seven years, the right way to recognize the fight against terrorism is to locate it in the economic, the political, as well as a security context that is so important.
BELL: In other words, treat terrorism first and foremost as a law enforcement problem, not a
military one. But don't expect the U.S. to stop trying to kill Al-Qaeda operatives for example, in places like Pakistan. Again, Harvard's Eric Rosenbach.
ROSENBACH: Law enforcement is a very important aspect of counter-terrorism, because you wanna bring terrorists to justice in a way that actually lands them in jail rather than the purgatory of Guantanamo Bay. But that you also need to use the tools that are part of intelligence and military special operations that allow you to take bad guys off the street.
BELL: And when that means using lethal force as Barack Obama has said he will use when necessary, it's likely to be done under the legal framework of war. So the phrase "War on Terror" might begin to disappear from the official rhetoric, but not from U.S. policy. For The World, I'm Matthew Bell.