‘War on Terror’ Now ‘Countering Violent Extremism’
The Obama administration is quietly dumping the Bush era “War on Terror” for “Countering Violent Extremism,” Marc Ambinder notes.
The Obama administration has unofficially rebranded “war on terror” phrase that dominated public discourse throughout the Bush administration. The replacement phrase, carefully chosen, is “CVE” — Countering Violent Extremism.
Early in the administration, the Office of Management and Budget changed the wording of the line item under which the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were funded. They called it “Overseas Contingency Operations.” That phrase was never intended to be for public consumption (and public ridicule), but burrowed bureaucrats leaked it to the press, a field day was had.
Countering Violent Extremism is noticeable for two words that aren’t there: some variant of “jihad,” which is the preferred predicate for counter-terrorism-fighting conservatives, and “war,” which is because the administration has put de-radicalization alongside the Predator drones as a primary instrument of combat. No mention of Islam, of course. That’s because the administration wants to try and decouple the notion of combating terrorism from the Muslim faith itself. BTW: when I first heard the phrase, I assumed it stood for “combating violent extremism.” But no — the word combat denotes military action only — Obama’s approach combines hard and soft power.
Certainly, “Countering Violent Extremism” has a better ring to it than “Overseas Contingency Operations.” And it’s both more accurate and less silly than “War on Terror” or the old GWOT (“Global War on Terror”). But it doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.
What we call things matters, both for public consumption and perception abroad. And one doesn’t conduct a “war” on “terror.” Moreover, we weren’t conducting a war on terror — or even on terrorism. If we were, we’d be operating under much different precepts abroad — most notably, in the kid gloves with which we’re treating Pakistan and the way we’re totally ignoring Saudi Arabia’s role in al Qaeda — and be doing much more to mobilize the public here.
“Countering” is rather tepid but is much more accurate than “War” to describe what we’re doing. Indeed, even in Afghanistan — where our troops are doubtless engaged in a shooting war, having cost us more than 1000 dead — our top generals have long told us that the military component is merely a part of the overall effort.
Interestingly, “Countering Violent Extremism” has been around as a terminology for quite some time. Notably, John Nagl and his CNAS colleagues wrote a report titled “Beyond Bullets: Strategies for Countering Violent Extremism” back in June 2009 and the EastWest Institute has had a “Countering Violent Extremism” initiative since January 2007. It’s apparently just taken a while to take hold in government circles. Amusingly, it seems that the institution of this new phrase is Dennis Blair’s signal achievement as DNI.
It’s interesting, too, that this change has taken place so quietly. Ambinder isn’t the first to point this out — he notes that Newsweek noticed in April and presumably others had before that, since the State Department was publicly using the phrase as early as March 10. But, although I pay pretty close attention to this sort of thing, and have doubtless heard the phrase “countering violent extremism” several times before today, I wasn’t aware of the “official” change.