Thursday, December 28, 2006

I Thought It Impossible, But

[posted by Callimachus]

The War of the Words, which in American public discourse has creepingly replaced the Clash of Civilizations, just got stupider. Kevin Drum, again [UPDATE: Actually, one of his guest bloggers]. I should just drop him, but he still manages to give me a grimy window I can peer through into the festering madness of the anti-war left without getting any of it splattered on me.

Here he quotes a certain Spencer Ackerman, pointing out something I noticed too: "Surge" is the Iraq Word of the Week, but people most prone to using it don't have any common conception of what it means.

Frederick Kagan, one of the leading proponents of the idea, seems to be talking about what I'd call a muscular re-commitment. A mulligan, a re-do of the entire project. Which, if we actually do that, is the one form of "surge" I'm inclined to believe has a chance in hell of working.

Ackerman calls this an "escalation," which is how it ought to look from an anti-war view. But then Drum and Ackerman veer off into Silly Land by claiming their definition of "surge" is the real one and effectively pouting that those evil neo-cons are stealing their language.

"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.' [Drum]

"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?" [Ackerman]

Let's look at that ol' dictionary, shall we?

1. to rise and fall actively : TOSS [a ship surging in heavy seas]
2 : to rise and move in waves or billows : SWELL [the sea was surging]
3 : to slip around a windlass, capstan, or bitts -- used especially of a rope
4 : to rise suddenly to an excessive or abnormal value [the stock market surgeed to a record high]
5 : to move with a surge or in surges [felt the blood surging into his face -- Harry Hervey] [she surged past the other runners]

Nothing in there about brief, small, or short. Nothing in Kagan's position about rising, but never falling back. Even though the 5th definition seems to allow such a meaning for "surge." When "she surged past the other runners" there's no implication that they then all overtook her again.

There's even a geological "surge" that stretches over millions of years.

I agree we need different words for the idea Kagan has and the one some folks have of a temporary flood of troops in Baghdad, to be quickly pulled back. But I don't agree "surge" automatically ought to belong to proponents of the latter. And to get all catty about a word is, again, what you do when you've willed yourself to stop thinking about reality.

Labels: , ,