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Robert Farley
By Robert Farley November 12, 2009

Hannity says Obama won't even use the term "war on terrorism"

On Sean Hannity's Fox News show on Nov. 9, 2009, the topic was what the government knew about Fort Hood psychiatrist Nidal Malik Hasan, an Army major who authorities say killed 13 people and wounded 30 others.

"There is a chance our government knew all about this guy Hasan and did nothing because nobody wanted to be called an Islamaphobe," Hannity said.

"Now, this is a terrorist act," Hannity said. "What does that say about Barack Obama and our government?"

"Here's the point," Hannity said, "Barack Obama won't even use the term 'war on terrorism,' because he's apologizing to America in every Muslim country he can."

We've heard a number of conservative radio and talk show hosts criticize President Obama for not using the "global war on terrorism" phrase adopted by his predecessor, George W. Bush. And so we decided to check it out.

We did a word search of Obama's public statements and could not find that Obama has used the phrase "war on terrorism" as president, though he said it numerous times as a candidate. And early in his presidency, Obama used the phrase "war on terror," but only a couple of times.

So what gives? We found two instances where Obama directly addressed the question.

The first was during a Jan. 27, 2009, interview by Hisham Melhem with al-Aribiya, an Arabic-language television news station. Melhem noted that Obama seemed to eschew Bush's phrase "war on terror" and "frame it in a different way, specifically against one group called al-Qaida and their collaborators."

Obama: "I think that you're making a very important point. And that is that the language we use matters. And what we need to understand is, is that there are extremist organizations -- whether Muslim or any other faith in the past -- that will use faith as a justification for violence. We cannot paint with a broad brush a faith as a consequence of the violence that is done in that faith's name.

"And so you will, I think, see our administration be very clear in distinguishing between organizations like al-Qaida -- that espouse violence, espouse terror and act on it -- and people who may disagree with my administration and certain actions, or may have a particular viewpoint in terms of how their countries should develop. We can have legitimate disagreements but still be respectful. I cannot respect terrorist organizations that would kill innocent civilians, and we will hunt them down.

"But to the broader Muslim world what we are going to be offering is a hand of friendship."

The issue was again raised in a Feb. 3, 2009, interview with CNN's Anderson Cooper:

Cooper: "I've noticed you don't use the term 'war on terror.' I think I read an article that you've only used it once since inauguration. Is that conscious? Is there something about that term you find objectionable or not useful?"

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Obama: "Well, you know, I think it is very important for us to recognize that we have a battle or a war against some terrorist organizations. But that those organizations aren't representative of a broader Arab community, Muslim community. ... You know, words matter in this situation because one of the ways we're going to win this struggle is through the battle of hearts and minds."

Cooper: "So that's not a term you're going to be using much in the future?"

Obama: "You know, what I want to do is make sure that I'm constantly talking about al-Qaida and other affiliated organizations because we, I believe, can win over moderate Muslims to recognize that that kind of destruction and nihilism ultimately leads to a dead end, and that we should be working together to make sure that everybody has got a better life."

So Obama isn't fond of the phrase "war on terror." But did that ever become blanket White House policy?

According to a Washington Post story in March, a memo e-mailed to Pentagon staff members from the Defense Department's office of security review said "this administration prefers to avoid using the term 'Long War' or "Global War on Terror.' Please use 'Overseas Contingency Operation.' " According to the memo, the direction came from the White House Office of Management and Budget, which reviews speeches given by administration officials.

Kenneth Baer, an OMB spokesman, told the Washington Post there was no such guidance, that it was only the opinion of "a career civil servant."

Still, you don't hear administration officials using the term "war on terror," or the like, very often.

Obama was criticized in some circles when he failed to even utter the words "terror" or "terrorism" in a June 4, 2009, speech in Cairo, Egypt, directed to Muslims around the world.

The absence of those words "goes to the heart" of Obama's new approach, said John O. Brennan, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism, who provided perhaps the clearest and most in-depth explanation of the White House lexicon in a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies on Aug. 6, 2009.

"As many have noted, the president does not describe this as a 'war on terrorism.' ... Instead, as the president has made clear, we are at war with al-Qaida, which attacked us on 9/11 and killed 3,000 people. We are at war with its violent extremist allies who seek to carry on al-Qaida’s murderous agenda. These are the terrorists we will destroy. These are the extremists we will defeat."

Brennan warned that it would be wrong for people to conclude that Obama is not committed to fighting terrorism. "President Obama has articulated a clear policy — to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qaida and its allies," Brennan said. "That is our mission, and the president described it in no uncertain terms in his inaugural when he said, 'Our nation is at war against a far-reaching network of violence and hatred.' And to win this war against al-Qaida, the administration continues to be unrelenting, using every tool in our toolbox and every arrow in our quiver."

Our aim here is not to wade into the war of words over the "war on terror." Rather, we just wanted to see if Hannity was right that Obama won't use the term "war on terrorism." And except in a couple of instances where he used the phrase "war on terror," Obama has generally employed different words. And it's deliberate, as he has explained on several occasions. Obama provides nuanced explanations for his word choices, and you may agree or disagree with them, but the bottom line is that Obama has chosen not to use the phrase "war on terrorism." And so we rate Hannity's statement True.

Our Sources

White House Web site, Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs , Sept. 10, 2009

White House Web site, Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs , Aug. 31, 2009

White House Web site, Remarks by the President , Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, May 27, 2009

White House Web site, Remarks by John O. Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism, at the Center for Strategic and International Studies , Aug. 6, 2009

White House Web site, Press Briefing by Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag , March 25, 2009

White House Web site, Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs , May 20, 2009

White House Web site, Press Briefing by Press Secretary Robert Gibbs , Feb. 5, 2009

White House Web site, Remarks by the President at Cairo University , Cairo, Egypt, June 4, 2009

Washington Post, "'Global War On Terror' Is Given New Name," by Scott Wilson and Al Kamen, March 25, 2009

Project Vote Smart, Transcript: Al-Aribiya Interview of Obama , Jan. 27, 2009

Project Vote Smart, Remarks by President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State , Jan. 22, 2009

Project Vote Smart, Transcript: The Second Presidential Debate, Nashville, Tenn .,  Oct. 7, 2008

CNN Transcripts, Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees: Interview With President Barack Obama, Feb. 3, 2009

Fox News Network, Transcript: Fox Hannity, Nov. 9, 2009

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Hannity says Obama won't even use the term "war on terrorism"

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