Obama Dropping “Nation At War” Rhetoric?

Let our journalists help you make sense of the noise: Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter and get a recap of news that matters.


Without talking about it explicitly, President Barack Obama seems to be trying to guide the nation beyond its state of post-9/11 trauma. In the first days of his presidency, I noted that he had cut back—by design—the use of the phrase “war on terror.” Now the White House has acknowledged that the Obama administration has purposefully made fewer references to the United States being a “nation at war.”

On Thursday, this interesting exchange occurred at the daily White House briefing between a reporter and press secretary Robert Gibbs:

Q: President Bush used to say repeatedly, “America is a nation at war.” He did so on 9/11, but other occasions during the year. My impression is that since taking office, President Obama has purposely tried to turn down the heat on the rhetoric.

A: Well, look, I think we’ve certainly cut down on the use of the phrase, but, again, our focus is on getting the policy right. I don’t—I think the President spends part of each of his day in meetings about and thinking about the men and women that we have in Iraq and Afghanistan and that are through— stationed throughout the world to protect our freedom and to address Islamic extremism. And that takes up part of his day and is something that—the sacrifice which he’s thankful for and I think all of us are thankful for each and every day. Regardless of how it’s phrased, he’s mindful of the effort of so many on our behalf.

It was surprising for Gibbs to actually admit that the White House had turned away from using this dramatic rhetoric—it’s accurate. The United States is a nation at war twice over. But saying so repeatedly is an exercise in defining the country, and eight years after 9/11, Obama clearly wants to step back from turning “at war” into an essential part of the nation’s self-image.

I thought that conservatives who delight in beating war drums would pounce on Gibbs for this remark. And one can easily hear their thunderous argument: Of course, we are a nation at war; why won’t Obama and his socialist pals in the White House say so? Yet so far, they don’t appear to have zeroed in on this comment.

When Gibbs said this, I thought it demonstrated a certain maturity on the part of the Obama White House. While no citizen should forget that US troops are dying and killing in two countries–and that these wars need to be resolved—is no need to make war a defining characteristic of the United States, not even when the threat from al Qaeda remains, not even on the anniversary of 9/11.

You can follow David Corn’s postings and media appearances via Twitter.

IT'S NOT THAT WE'RE SCREWED WITHOUT TRUMP:

"It's that we're screwed with or without him if we can't show the public that what we do matters for the long term," writes Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein as she kicks off our drive to raise $350,000 in donations from readers by July 17.

This is a big one for us. It's our first time asking for an outpouring of support since screams of FAKE NEWS and so much of what Trump stood for made everything we do so visceral. Like most newsrooms, we face incredibly hard budget realities, and it's unnerving needing to raise big money when traffic is down.

So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

payment methods

IT'S NOT THAT WE'RE SCREWED WITHOUT TRUMP:

"It's that we're screwed with or without him if we can't show the public that what we do matters for the long term," writes Mother Jones CEO Monika Bauerlein as she kicks off our drive to raise $350,000 in donations from readers by July 17.

This is a big one for us. So, as we ask you to consider supporting our team's journalism, we thought we'd slow down and check in about where Mother Jones is and where we're going after the chaotic last several years. This comparatively slow moment is also an urgent one for Mother Jones: You can read more in "Slow News Is Good News," and if you're able to, please support our team's hard-hitting journalism and help us reach our big $350,000 goal with a donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate