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What the Euphemisms Tell Us

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

In the latest installment of politically correct, not to say Orwellian, language emanating from the Obama administration, the term "rogue states" has been sidelined in favor of "outliers." The switch was unveiled as part of the just released Nuclear Posture Review. States like North Korea and Iran, labeled "rogue" by the Bush administration, will no longer labor under that punitive adjective.

This is telling. While the administration insists that the full spectrum of new initiatives -- from the New Start treaty to the Nuclear Posture Review to the Nuclear Security Summit -- are aimed at containing the world's two most provocative nations, Iran and North Korea, the stream of euphemisms they've insisted upon sends the opposite message.

Rogue isn't even a particularly harsh word. When applied to individuals, it is frequently paired with "lovable." Regarding elephants, it suggests an animal that is out of control, but not necessarily vicious. Still, it was too severe for the Obama administration.

Outlier has no negative connotations at all. The American Heritage Dictionary defines it as "One whose domicile is distant from his or her place of business." The Macintosh computer dictionary adds a secondary connotation of exclusion from a group. So to employ the label "outliers" for nations that are, by any civilized measure, criminal is pusillanimous. No doubt the leadership in Iran has also noticed that an administration that softens its words has also modified its proposed sanctions. Whereas once Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke of "crippling" sanctions, she has now climbed down to "sanctions that bite." Can annoying sanctions be far behind?

Sean Hannity FREE

The administration does not like to use hurtful words to our enemies. Our friends are another matter. Compare the treatment Great Britain, Honduras, and Israel have received with the walking on eggshells approach to our foes. Early on, the administration jettisoned the term "Global War on Terror" in favor of a catch phrase only a bureaucrat could have coined -- "overseas contingency operations." The word "terrorism" was similarly airbrushed from official language. Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano prefers the term "man-caused disasters" because "it demonstrates that we want to move away from the politics of fear ..." A more anodyne term has now surfaced from a number of officials -- "countering violent extremism."

The detainees in Guantanamo, too, have had a name change. They will no longer be called "enemy combatants." The new name hasn't been chosen yet, though cynics might just use "former clients of Obama Justice Department lawyers."

While they were reclassifying Iran and North Korea, the Obama administration, with spine of purest Jell-O, let it be known that the revised National Security Strategy will eschew references to "Islamic extremism," "jihad," "Islamic radicalism" and other such terms. "Do you want to think about the U.S. as the nation that fights terrorism or the nation you want to do business with?" asked National Security Council staffer Pradeep Ramamurthy, who runs the Obama administration's Global Engagement Directorate. It's apparently acceptable to use the term "fights terrorism" when you're retreating from it. (Speaking of language, this is not the first administration to appoint "czars," but it may be the first to create "directorates." Doesn't anyone at the White House get a chill down his spine at the word, which is part of the title of the GRU, the KGB's sister agency? Guess not.)

These euphemisms betray a weak-mindedness about foreign policy the likes of which we have not seen since Jimmy Carter warned us about our "inordinate fear of communism." This attention to softening our image arises from the leftist conviction that strife and trouble in the world are the result of U.S. bullying and bravado, or can at least be diminished by American meekness. This is such an ingrained worldview that nothing as mundane as experience can shake it. Thus we have the spectacle of Barack Obama, repeatedly rebuffed in the most graphic terms by Iran's ruling gangsters, nevertheless persisting in seeking engagement.

The New Start Treaty is of a piece with this foreign policy of polite feebleness. No one imagines that a war between Russia and the U.S. is likely (not that arms treaties prevent wars, but that's another matter). Yet the showy signing ceremony is meant to set a good example to rogue, oops, outlier nations. As the teenagers used to say, "As if."

The president did issue a couple of warning words to Iran as he clinked glasses with Medvedev. But they cannot obscure the larger message of his first year -- U.S. self-assertion, self-defense, and sovereignty have been morally wrong, and he is changing all that.

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