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July 28, 2014

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DAILY MEMO: military:

Obama finds Bush-era language a sticky thing

Administration dislikes but can’t quite shake phrase ‘Global War on Terror’

President Barack Obama hasn’t been shy about trying to scrub his predecessor’s lexicon from popular parlance, most notably ditching “Global War on Terrorism.” Obama prefers “Overseas Contingency Operation.”

But despite the political jockeying, it’s unlikely the original name will disappear from military vocabulary any time soon.

President George W. Bush’s “Global War on Terrorism” — or G-WOT in the acronym-devoted military — remains the default all-encompassing phrase at the Pentagon for the military’s current mission abroad, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And Bush’s phrase is guaranteed perpetuity: “War on Terrorism” has been hardened in medals.

The Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal has been awarded since early 2003 to acknowledge post-9/11 service abroad in missions related to terrorism, and service members will continue to receive the medal despite Obama’s aversion to the term. There will be no “Overseas Contingency Operations” medal.

The medal and its “Global War on Terrorism” name, a common sight on dress blues, will distinguish a generation of service members.

“It’s bragging rights almost,” said Staff Sgt. Steve DePugh, stationed at Nellis Air Force Base. “It’ll be cool down the line to wear when they don’t issue them anymore, like the Vietnam ribbon.”

Bush and his national security officials started citing the “Global War on Terror” shortly after the 9/11 attacks. Obama’s attempts at redefining how the nation refers to the country’s efforts in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere are an effort to distance his presidency from the Bush years.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently announced “the administration has stopped using the phrase,” and the White House has tried to do away with it in any official capacity, including striking it from defense budgets. (The more than $80 billion in supplemental appropriations approved last month for the same fights the United States was engaged in last year is now earmarked for “Overseas Contingency Operations.”)

Obama also wants the military to adjust its vocabulary when on the Hill, using “Overseas Contingency Operations” in testimony, according to an e-mail circulated by a senior official at the Office of Management and Budget.

The commander in chief has given no official instructions to the Pentagon, however, to drop the “Global War on Terror” in favor of “Overseas Contingency Operations,” said Army Lt. Col. Les’ Melnyk, spokesman for the Department of Defense. “The only place in DOD where (Overseas Contingency Operations) is used is in reference to the budget supplemental. We’ll continue to use ‘Global War On Terror’ in the Department of Defense.”

Jim Hentz, chairman of political science department at Virginia Military Institute, said there is always dynamic tension between the White House and the Defense Department, and “if you look at the substance of what the Obama administration’s policies are for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he’s not doing much different from what the Bush administration did.”

On “The Daily Show,” Jon Stewart ruthlessly mocked Obama’s “Overseas Contingency Operations” catchphrase as “just rebranding” and putting “a pretty new name on the war on terror.”

(Obama’s Homeland Security secretary, Janet Napolitano, called terror attacks “man-caused disasters,” but that hasn’t stuck either.)

Originally the Global War on Terrorism medal was for any operation related to terrorism, including service in Iraq and Afghanistan, but as those wars continued, individual campaign medals were created for them. Now the medal is given exclusively for operations outside those two countries.

The list of eligible places for the medal is long: Algeria, Syria, Iran, Columbia, Tajikistan, Kuwait and dozens of other nations, many of them places where military efforts are under the radar.

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