War on Iraq

Obama Officially Retires 'War on Terror' ... But What is Taking Its Place?

Now under the banner of "overseas contingency operations," the mission formerly known as the "war on terror" isn't going anywhere.

In its ongoing efforts to rework and rebrand the military missions it inherited from the Bush administration, the Obama White House has reportedly scrapped the phrase "war on terror," a term that the president has conspicuously avoided since taking office.

In a recently leaked e-mail to Pentagon staff, Dave Riedel of the Department of Defense's office of security review wrote: "This administration prefers to avoid using the term 'Long War' or 'Global War on Terror'" -- a message he asked recipients to "please pass on to your speech writers."
So what is the Obama administration replacing it with?

"Please use 'Overseas Contingency Operation,'" Reidel wrote.

It sounds a lot less sexy than "war on terror" (or, for that matter, the short-lived "Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism" proposed by Bush officials a few years back); in fact, in military-speak, "overseas contingency operation" has been around for years.

"Overseas contingency operations is a very technical term that has been used for decades in connection with statutory operations," human rights attorney Scott Horton says. According to Horton (an expert in legal matters relating to armed conflicts), it is a catch-all phrase that refers to "military operations of any kind overseas." "It is plain vanilla, technical jargon that totally content neutral," he says.

In the conservative press and the right-wing blogoshpere, the term has been mocked as "vague and meaningless," a sign of a "weak-kneed" administration. Elsewhere, it has functioned more as a punchline: "Let's face it: 'Overseas Contingency Operation' does not exactly roll off the tongue," wrote a blogger on Newsweek's website. "Just as 'The artist formerly known as Prince' was always still 'Prince,' the 'war' will probably always be the 'war.'"

Liliana Segura is a staff writer and editor of AlterNet's Rights and Liberties and War on Iraq Special Coverage.
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