Jen Psaki, a blameless State Department spokeswoman, explained that the hasty evacuation of our embassy in Yemen was not an evacuation but "a reduction in staff." This proved a problem because the Yemeni government had already announced (and denounced) the "evacuation" — the word normal folks use for the panicky ordering of people onto planes headed out of country.
Thus continues the administration's penchant for wordplay, the bending of language to fit a political need. In Janet Napolitano's famous formulation, terror attacks are now "man-caused disasters." And the "global war on terror" is no more. It's now an "overseas contingency operation."
Nidal Hasan proudly tells a military court that he, a soldier of Allah, killed 13 American soldiers in the name of jihad. But the massacre remains officially classified as an act not of terrorism but of "workplace violence."
The U.S. ambassador to Libya and three others are killed in an al-Qaida-affiliated terror attack — and for days it is waved off as nothing more than a spontaneous demonstration gone bad. After all, famously declared Hillary Clinton, what difference does it make?
Well, it makes a difference, first, because truth is a virtue. Second, because if you keep lying to the American people, they may seriously question whether anything you say — for example, about the benign nature of National Security Agency surveillance — is not another self-serving lie.
And third, because leading a country through yet another long twilight struggle requires not just honesty but clarity. This is a president who to this day cannot bring himself to identify the enemy as radical Islam. Just Tuesday night, explaining the U.S. embassy closures across the Muslim world, he cited the threat from "violent extremism."
The word "extremism" is meaningless. People don't devote themselves to being extreme. Extremism has no content. The extreme of what? In this war, an extreme devotion to the supremacy of a radically fundamentalist vision of Islam and to its murderous quest for dominion over all others.
But for President Barack Obama, the word "Islamist" may not be uttered. Language must be devised to disguise the unpleasantness.
Result? The world's first lexicological war. Parry and thrust with linguistic tricks, deliberate misnomers and ever more transparent euphemisms. Next: armor-piercing onomatopoeias and amphibious synecdoches.
This would all be comical and merely peculiar if it didn't reflect a larger, more troubling reality: The confusion of language is a direct result of a confusion of policy — which is served by constant obfuscation.