By: Greg Mitchell
Sometimes one little word, especially in the press, means a lot. Take ?surge.? Or, if you prefer (as many now do), an alternative: ?escalation.? No, I’m not talking about the very disturbing rise in U.S. deaths in Iraq this month.
?Surge? is what President Bush and his war planners have called a plan ? not yet announced but rumored to be favored ? to send 20,000 or many more troops to Iraq in the next few months. Sometimes they add the word ?temporary? as a kind of prefix, though this may not be necessary since surges (electrical or tidal or sexual or whatever) always come and go.
In any case, the media (including E&P from time to time) have largely bought into the ?surge? descriptive from its unveiling several weeks ago. You might call them “surge” protectors. Just today, for example, Reuters did the White House the favor of referring to the idea as a “short-term troop ‘surge’ aimed at containing rampant violence.”
There are several problems with this, of course. For one thing, who is to say, in advance, that this will actually prove to be a mere ?surge? of troops versus a long-term buildup? What is the time limit for a ?surge? to recede before it seems semi-permanent? A few months, as the White House has suggested? Or a year or more, as some of its outside backers demand, saying anything less would be futile?
Then there?s this: How many troops would indicate a mere ?surge? versus a ?large buildup?? Would 30,000 or less qualify for surge, but 40,000 or more represent a ?large buildup??
Such questions were rarely aired until last week. Until then, the Democratic leadership (with Sen. Harry Reid out front), perhaps wary of seeming too dovish as they get ready to run Congress, seemed very open to approve a ?surge? if its short-term nature could be guaranteed by the president. Few in the mainstream media raised serious objections.
Then a new round of polls came out, showing that public support for adding troops was practically nil, no doubt stiffening the spines of a few Democrats and even a handful of pundits. Perhaps it occurred to them that a Bush promise on limiting the duration of the ?surge? was, maybe, not so credible, given his track record.
With liberal bloggers leading the way, the call went forth last week: Henceforth ye shall purge the ?surge? from your vocabularies and laptops and replace it with ?escalation? ? with all its echoes of Vietnam and, incidentally, accuracy regarding the current situation. Gradually, it has started to creep into the mainstream media and now candidates or possible candidates for president are heeding the call.
An editorial in Baltimore?s The Sun on Wednesday should serve as a template for others in the media. Here?s its key passage: ?Now President Bush is said to be considering a ?surge,? the idea being that 20,000 additional troops could make a big difference and pave the way to a resolution of the war. A generation ago this would have been called an ?escalation,? and the problem with escalations, as President Lyndon B. Johnson learned, is that when they don’t furnish the promised results the pressure to follow with further escalations is just about inescapable.?
Barack Obama issued a press release today opposing any more troops for Iraq, under the headline: ?Escalation Is Not the Answer.? And former Sen. John Edwards, announcing his candidacy today in New Orleans, came out against the ?surge? but called it by its proper name: “It is a mistake for America to escalate the war in Iraq.”
But forget the politicians. Newspaper editorial writers should crib from the closing graf of The Sun editorial instead: ?The strategists arguing for an escalation in Iraq seem to begin their reasoning this way: First, assume success. Then everything else should follow quite neatly and predictably. But the American people dropped that assumption some time ago, and they made it abundantly clear on Nov. 7. The war in Iraq has become a nightmare that is darker and more disconcerting than even the horrifying and wrenching events of 9/11 – and it is a nightmare with no end in sight.?
Two months ago, President Bush termed the sudden rise in U.S. fatalities in Iraq in October only a temporary blip. That month’s 2006 record will soon be shattered this month. That’s one “surge” that has already turned into an “escalation.”