Semantics Squabble

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," August 4, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: First, it was a War on Terror (search). Then, it was a — get this — global struggle against violent extremism. Now it's a War on Terror again. President Bush overrules some of his top advisers in a debate about what to call the conflict we're in. Top brass in the Defense Department were starting to use the struggle word to describe our fight.

But, in a speech Wednesday, the president said, "Make no mistake about it. We are at war."

Now for the war on semantics, we're joined by George Packer, author of the soon-to-be-released book "The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq." He's a staff writer at The New Yorker. And Charles Krauthammer, syndicated columnist and FOX News contributor.

Charles, just because you are in Washington, we'll go to you first.

What do you make about this arm-wrestling over what to call what was just a few weeks ago the War on Terror?

CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, FOX NEWS POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, it's a summer distraction. And I think it was an attempt by some in the Defense Department to kind of soften the message by not using the word war, by implying that it has aspects which are not military.

But that's silly because all wars have aspects which are not the military. The Civil War was not only about battles. It was about emancipation. It was about diplomacy in Europe. It was about hearts and minds. So, I think that was sort of silly.

The second problem is that the word terror is not really accurate. And everybody has known it ever since 9/11 (search). It's a war against Islamic radicalism or radical Islam, except that we didn't want to use Islam out of political correctness. And we're stuck with the word terror.

GIBSON: George Packer, is part of this an effort on the administration to make nice with our European allies, who cringe at the war thing and want to call it something else?

GEORGE PACKER, STAFF WRITER FOR THE NEW YORKER: Well, I think it's a recognition on the part of some administration officials that the metaphor of war and the reality of war have begun to run up against their usefulness in fighting what Charles Krauthammer is absolutely right in calling radical Islam.

Battlefield success in Iraq is actually not a very good judge of how well we're doing in this. And that's not going very well either. The key to this struggle, or war, whatever you want to call it, is in hearts and minds of millions and millions of Muslims, moderate Muslims around the world. And I don't think we're doing very well in that.

And I think the military is saying, this is all on our backs and it's beginning to break the Army and the Marines. We need to involve the whole of our society and we need to do it in a more sophisticated way than simply saying we're going to go out and hunt, kill and capture the bad guys.


Charles, if all kinds of people, you, Mr. Rumsfeld, recognize this reality, why does the president insist on war?

KRAUTHAMMER: I think he's right in using the word war. It is a war. And the military aspect is extremely important. If we hadn't stepped into Afghanistan and expelled Al Qaeda (search), it would be an entirely different situation. We likely would have had a second attack after 9/11 that everybody expected that never happened.

If we hadn't been pursuing the terrorists by military means around the world, we would not have had at least the relative success that we've had. So, I think it's a way to look for a problem that really doesn't exist. Our problem is in fighting the war and not in naming it.

GIBSON: How is George, how are we doing in fighting the war?

PACKER: I think we're doing very badly. Iraq is a disaster and I don't see a strategy, except to start withdrawing troops in the early part of next year and hope for the best.

In the larger war, which involves terrorists and the millions of fellow travelers and sympathizers in the Muslim world, I don't think we're doing well, simply in the sense that terrorism seems to be on the rise all summer long. And, beyond that, for example, the case of prisoner abuse, which several Republicans in the Senate are trying to regulate with new legislation, it hasn't gained any traction with the White House. They're resisting it.

To me that says, although they may be changing the name to struggle against violent extremism, they don't understand that it actually is an ideological fight, in which things like the treatment of prisoners is crucial.

GIBSON: George Packer, Charles Krauthammer, thanks to both of you. Appreciate it.

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