President Bush publicly overruled some of his top advisers on Wednesday in a debate about what to call the conflict with Islamic extremists, saying, “Make no mistake about it, we are at war.”
In a speech here, Mr. Bush used the phrase “war on terror” no less than five times. Not once did he refer to the “global struggle against violent extremism,” the wording consciously adopted by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and other officials in recent weeks after internal deliberations about the best way to communicate how the United States views the challenge it is facing.
In recent public appearances, Mr. Rumsfeld and senior military officers have avoided formulations using the word “war,” and some of Mr. Bush’s top advisers have suggested that the administration wanted to jettison what had been its semiofficial wording of choice, “the global war on terror.”
In an interview last week about the new wording, Stephen J. Hadley, Mr. Bush’s national security adviser, said that the conflict was “more than just a military war on terror” and that the United States needed to counter “the gloomy vision” of the extremists and “offer a positive alternative.”
But administration officials became concerned when some news reports linked the change in language to signals of a shift in policy. At the same time, Mr. Bush, by some accounts, told aides that he was not happy with the new phrasing, a change of tone from the wording he had consistently used since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
It is not clear whether the new language embraced by other administration officials was adopted without Mr. Bush’s approval or whether he reversed himself after the change was made. Either way, he planted himself on Wednesday firmly on the side of framing the conflict primarily in military terms and appeared intent on emphasizing that there had been no change in American policy.
“We’re at war with an enemy that attacked us on September the 11th, 2001,” Mr. Bush said in his address here, to the American Legislative Exchange Council, a group of state legislators. “We’re at war against an enemy that, since that day, has continued to kill.”
Mr. Bush made a nod to the criticism that “war on terror” was a misleading phrase in the sense that the enemy is not terrorism, but those who used it to achieve their goals. In doing so, he used the word “war,” as he did at least 13 other times in his 47-minute speech, most of which was about domestic policy.
“Make no mistake about it, this is a war against people who profess an ideology, and they use terror as a means to achieve their objectives,” he said.
Gen. Richard B. Myers of the Air Force, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said on July 18 in an address to the National Press Club that he had “objected to the use of the term ‘war on terrorism’ before, because if you call it a war, then you think of people in uniform as being the solution.”
General Myers said then that the threat instead should be defined as violent extremists, with the recognition that “terror is the method they use.”
On Wednesday, in its efforts to hammer home the point that the “war” phraseology was still administration policy, the White House sent e-mail messages to reporters after Mr. Bush’s speech with some excerpts of an address delivered Tuesday by Mr. Rumsfeld. In that speech, Mr. Rumsfeld backed away from the new language he had been employing in recent weeks.
“Some ask, are we still engaged in a war on terror?” Mr. Rumsfeld said. “Let there be no mistake about it. It’s a war. The president properly termed it that after Sept. 11. The only way to defend against terrorism is to go on the attack.”
In a telephone interview on Wednesday evening, a spokesman for the Pentagon, Lawrence Di Rita, sought to play down any disagreement between Mr. Rumsfeld and the president, citing the secretary’s speech on Tuesday, in Dallas.
“The secretary doesn’t feel this is push back,” Mr. Di Rita said. “He feels it’s an important clarification.”
In introducing the new language, administration officials had suggested that the change reflected an evolution in the president’s thinking nearly four years after the Sept. 11 attacks and had been adopted after discussions among Mr. Bush’s senior advisers that began in January.
The new slogan quickly become grist for late-night comics and drew news coverage that linked it with the emergence of a broad new approach to defining and attacking the problem of Islamic extremism through diplomacy and efforts to build closer ties to moderate Muslims, as well as through military action.
Mr. Bush arrived in Texas on Tuesday, and is spending the rest of the month at his vacation home in Crawford. After winning a string of legislative victories before Congress recessed for the summer, Mr. Bush also used his appearance here to try to build support for the issues that will be at the top of his agenda when he returns to Washington.
He said that he would continue to push to overhaul Social Security and that he would press ahead with his call for a new approach to immigration despite the deep divisions it has exposed in his party.