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Obama's foreign policy: what era is it anyway?

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Shortly after the 9/11 attack, the Bush administration began talking of the “global war on terror,” which inevitably became the acronym GWOT. By 2005, the Pentagon had rebranded.

The uneuphonious “gee-whot” became “the Long War.” Which did not win widespread acceptance either. It wasn’t terribly descriptive, for one thing. And as wars go, the four years that followed the World Trade Center attack was not an especially long time. Besides, historians pointed out, there had already been a Long War, fought from 1593 to 1604 between the Habsburg monarchy and the Ottoman Empire (although, OK, 500 years was probably enough time for naming rights to lapse.)

Last March, seeking to rein in what it considered the overreaching of the Bush years, the Obama administration gave the conflict a new name. White House officials instructed members of the administration to talk of the “Overseas Contingency Operation.” Time will tell whether that term is generally accepted. Its newspeak ambiguity doesn’t seem promising. If mid-level officials start salting “the Obama oh-co” into their conversations, its shelf life will surely be short.

Launching a meme for the age can be satisfying, but it is hard to pull off. It helps if the meme-maker is in a position of power. When the big guy turns the phrase, the phrase has a decent chance of getting parroted back, although that doesn’t mean it will reproduce in the wild.


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