Don’t call it a ‘surge’

DON’T CALL IT A ‘SURGE’…. A surprising amount of the debate surrounding the war in Iraq has been about word choice. We’ve had debates about whether or not there’s a “civil war,” whether there’s an “insurgency,” what the meaning of “last throes” is, whether we’re “winning,” whether we can characterize the conflict as part of the “war on terror,” etc.

This is not to say the rhetorical questions are inconsequential, only that the White House’s drive to shape the language of the debate has led to a near-constant, ever-evolving discussion about language, which runs parallel to the debate about the policy itself. The key difference, of course, is that in nearly every instance, the debate over word-choice has been unnecessary — the answer was fairly obvious.

We’re in the midst of yet another war of words, and like the others, one word is clearly wrong. It’s pretty straightforward: White House aides and senior Pentagon commanders prefer the word “surge” to describe a plan to send tens of thousands of additional U.S. troops to Iraq. “Escalation,” a term commonly associated with the Vietnam War, is frowned upon for its political implications.

This need not be complicated. A “surge” suggests a brief increase in troops. Jack Keane and Fred Kagan, leading proponents of the idea, explained today that they want a “surge” that “is both long and large.” It prompted Spencer Ackerman to explain:

[T]his is not a surge. This is escalation…. [Keane and Kagan] themselves are half-steppin’. They argue against a surge in substance, but call their plan a surge as well, since they know that what they actually endorse — escalation — is vastly more unpalatable to the public.

Well, enough of this. Liberals, journalists, I’m calling on you. We must never talk about a surge unless we’re actually talking about a surge — a temporary infusion of troops. We should resist that as well. But now, if the proponents of escalation have escalation on their agenda, we must bring this out in the open and defeat it. Deal?

Sounds right to me.