Bush's Iraq Team Switches Its Rhetoric

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NPR Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr comments on a change in rhetoric from the Bush administration. Words like "timetable," "benchmark," and "phased withdrawal" have crept into official discourse about the U.S. strategy in Iraq.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

President Bush has stopped using the phrase Stay the Course to describe his policy in Iraq. At the daily briefing today, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow said the phrase left the wrong impression of what's going on. He says the president made the change because it's important to capture the dynamism of the efforts in Iraq.

News analyst Daniel Schorr says this figures into a changing White House lexicon when it comes to the war.

DANIEL SCHORR: Some days ago, a dozen civilian and military officials of previous administrations met at the Brookings Institution. According to The New Yorker magazine, they discussed a war in Iraq that they considered lost and American leadership in the world that they considered largely eroded.

You won't hear anything like that, of course, from the Bush administration, which has developed a special vocabulary to cloak a dire situation. Words like timetable, benchmark, phased withdrawal have crept into administration discourse. President Bush has spoken of making tactical changes. White House spokesman Tony Snow had a long back and forth with reporters, defending the use of tactics when strategic changes seemed to be in the wind.

What they describe as strategy, I'll describe as tactics, he said resolutely. At a news conference, the president said the enemy is changing tactics and we're adapting. That's what's happening. But it begins to become clear that something much larger than tactics is being applauded in consultations with the military commanders. The New York Times reported yesterday that the administration is drafting a timetable for the Iraqi government, called upon to address sectarian strife and to assume a larger role in security for the country.

For the first time, it's reported, the Maliki government will be asked to meet a schedule of specific timetables for disarming the sectarian militias with a warning that if these benchmarks are not met, there will be a broad reassessment of, you guess it, strategy. When you say strategy, you're beginning to say pullout.

So milestones, benchmarks, phased withdrawal - these words are no longer taboo and Pentagon officials no longer shy away from words like strategy, which inevitably involves the question of the American military presence.

This is Daniel Schorr.

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