In the week since the press first cited unnamed Bush administration officials signaling a shift in vocabulary -- dropping the moniker "war on terror" in favor of "a global struggle against violent extremism" -- The New York Sun and The Weekly Standard have noted what major newspapers have not: that Bush has summarily abandoned a term that he and Vice President Dick Cheney ridiculed Sen. John Kerry for purportedly resisting during the 2004 presidential campaign.
During the 2004 campaign, Bush and Cheney attacked Kerry for his purported reluctance to use the term "war" to describe the struggle against terror, and cited his reluctance as evidence that Kerry failed to "even comprehend the war on terror." While no paper in the Nexis "Major newspapers" database has noted that Bush's change in terminology conflicts with his attacks on Kerry, The Weekly Standard's "Scrapbook" column raised the question: "Is it conceivable that John Kerry is owed an apology by the Bush administration?"
During the October 2003 debate, Kerry said:
I believe Americans want somebody who can defend the security of the United States. And this war on terror is far less of a military operation and far more of an intelligence-gathering, law-enforcement operation. And the American people deserve somebody who can lead them to do it correctly and make us safer and stronger in the process.
The March 6, 2004, Times article quoted Kerry saying:
The war on terror depends on the most unprecedented cooperation in American history, the thing they're worst at. The final victory in the war on terror depends on a victory in the war of ideas, much more than the war on the battlefield. And the war - not the war, I don't want to use that terminology. The engagement of economies, the economic transformation, the transformation to modernity of a whole bunch of countries that have been avoiding the future. And that future's coming at us like it or not, in the context of terror, and in the context of failed states, and dysfunctional economies, and all that goes with that.
Throughout 2004, major news outlets took notice as the Bush campaign used these remarks to attack Kerry:
- On March 5, the Los Angeles Times reported that "The president accused Kerry of treating the war on terrorism as 'far less of a military operation and far more of an intelligence-gathering, law enforcement operation.' "
- On March 18, USA Today printed excerpts of a speech by Cheney in which he claimed, "Sen. Kerry has questioned whether the war on terror is really a war at all."
- On the April 30 broadcast of Fox News' Special Report with Brit Hume, correspondent Carl Cameron remarked that Cheney had accused Kerry of being "unable to even comprehend the war on terror." Cameron's comment was followed by a video clip in which Cheney claimed that "He [Kerry] has questioned whether the war on terror is actually a war at all. Recently he said, quote, 'I don't want to use that terminology.' "
- The April 30 broadcast of CNN's Inside Politics included a similar clip, in which Cheney stated that "Senator Kerry has questioned the war on terror is really a war at all. Senator Kerry's record raises serious doubts about his understanding of the broader struggle against terror."
In The New York Sun's August 1 article, staff reporter Josh Gerstein wrote that the Bush administration's new term "global struggle against violent extremism" might signal a rethinking on its part that more closely resembles the way Kerry had conceptualized anti-terrorism efforts during the campaign. Gerstein wrote: "During the hard-fought presidential race, President Bush and Vice President Cheney hammered Mr. Kerry for allegedly being reluctant to use the phrase "war on terror" to describe the conflict facing America in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks." The Sun also reported that "some of Mr. Kerry's backers contend the recent move to recalibrate the rhetoric of top administration officials away from the 'global war on terror' and toward a 'global struggle against violent extremism' amounts to a quiet vindication of the four-term Democratic senator."
The August 8 issue of The Weekly Standard stated: "It sounds for all the world as if the Bush administration wants to fight a more effective, more thoughtful, more strategic, more proactive, and--dare we say it?--more sensitive war on terror. And if you think you've heard that language before, you're right. It came from John Kerry last fall."
But major newspapers have yet to note that the Bush administration's re-christening of the "war on terror" conflicts directly with Bush's 2004 campaign rhetoric.