The Terror War and the Double-Euphemism

It should be no real surprise that the relatively-unknown John O. Brennan - rather than putative Homeland Security boss Janet Napolitano - was called upon to defend the administration against Dick Cheney's criticism of terror war weakness on the talk show circuit Sunday. Napolitano has probably disqualified herself forever with her inane comment that the "system worked" on December 25.

Still, Brennan's defense was pretty lame - no more than insisting that Obama was strong on terror because, well, Brennan says so and he's an expert. Well, expert or not, I can safely predict he will be completely ignored outside the punditocracy. Even there, he won't get a lot of attention. Reason? No one really believes Brennan, not even the president's staunch defenders who watch nervously as their leader's poll numbers tank at a record speed.

And why should they? If they are faintly honest with themselves, they know that the president has never been terribly interested in the War on Terror, almost to the point of wishing it would go away. Last March, in an interview with Der Spiegel, his same Homeland Security secretary equated the "t-word" with "man-caused disasters," of all euphemisms, as if terror acts were similar to someone forgetting a rivet on a bridge.

Not that the "War on Terror" is an accurate appellation in the first place. "Man-caused disasters" is actually a euphemism of a euphemism, because the "War on Terror" itself has no real meaning. Terror is a method, not an end or a place. Fighting a "War on Terror" is like fighting a War on Cannons or Airplanes. Meaningless.

But we all know that the "War on Terror" is actually a euphemism for the "War on Radical Islam." But nobody says it. Nobody official anyway. (Bush did say something like that once in a speech, as I recall, but was quickly shouted down by the nabobs of political correctness.)

Does this matter? Well, in two words... Hell, yes! Using euphemisms to describe what we are doing in this instance assures that we will continue doing it for years and decades to come. It does this by telling our troops in this war - from the soldiers in the field to the intelligence officers in Langley to our own people in the cities and towns of America, whose support is the most crucial of all - that we are fundamentally unserious, that we think this is all an unimportant issue that is better off ignored. The president's campaign message got through this once. He ran on soft-pedaling the War on Terror. That was one part of the "hope and change" we all understood.

I know there are those who thought that this soft-pedaling of this war would calm down the Islamic world and make things go away, but by now events have shown them to be wrong. From Sana'a to Somalia, from Detroit to Ft. Hood, and most importantly on the streets of Tehran, things have by now, if anything, heated up, morphing to new, and often more complicated, locations.

Yet still we dare not speak the name of the War on Radical Islam. Still we fear to offend. Perhaps we need a new euphemism. For now I would suggest the "War on Ourselves." It looks to be becoming dangerously successful.