The language of war gets a makeover

The Bush administration has developed a special lexicon to cloak a dire situation.

A few weeks ago, a dozen civilian and military officials of previous administrations met in a war- game simulation in a room at The Brookings Institution. According to George Packer of The New Yorker magazine, the day-long session discussed a war considered lost and America's leadership role in the world, which they considered largely eroded.

"The old habits of wishful thinking and blind loyalty were gone," Mr. Packer wrote.

You won't hear anything like that, of course, from the officials of the present administration, which has developed a special lexicon to cloak a dire situation.

"Stay the course" was a presidential favorite until it began to sound a little absurd, and now it has been withdrawn from the verbal fray. Another White House favorite, "tactical," is still in the running, but it is hard to say for how long. At a news conference last month, President Bush said, "The enemy is changing tactics, and we're adapting." Last week, White House spokesman Tony Snow engaged in a long back-and-forth with reporters who were arguing that "strategic" might be more appropriate for the large-scale changes apparently being contemplated. "So what we're talking about they describe as strategy, I'll describe as tactics," Mr. Snow said resolutely.

Some words no longer taboo are "milestones," "benchmarks," and "phased withdrawal." It would be hard to decree otherwise at a time when the administration is reportedly drafting a timetable for the Iraqi government to address sectarian strife and to assume a larger role in assuring security for the country.

It appears that the Iraqi government will be asked to meet a schedule of specific timetables for disarming the sectarian militias. If these benchmarks are not met, then there may be a reassessment of – you guessed it – strategy.

Daniel Schorr is a senior news analyst at National Public Radio.

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