By Greg Mitchell
** Inside reports suggest President Bush has already decided on sending many more troops to Iraq starting next month. Until now, the media has bought into his labeling of this as a mere "surge." But the media needs to call it by its proper name: "escalation." **
Editor & Publisher
December 29, 2006
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."
ESCALATION IS NOT THE ANSWER
By Senator Barack Obama
December 28, 2006
As the New Year approaches, we are told that the President is considering the deployment of tens of thousands of additional troops to Iraq in the desperate hope of subduing the burgeoning civil war there.
This is a chilling prospect that threatens to compound the tragic mistakes he has already made over the last four years.
In 2002, I strongly opposed the invasion of Iraq because I felt it was an ill-conceived venture which I warned would "require a U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undermined cost, with undetermined consequences." I said then that an invasion without strong international support could drain our military, distract us from the war with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, and further destabilize the Middle East.
Sadly, all of those concerns have been borne out.
Today, nearly three thousand brave young Americans are dead, and tens of thousands more have been wounded. Rather than welcomed "liberators," our troops have become targets of the exploding sectarian violence in Iraq. Our military has been strained to the limits. The cost to American taxpayers is approaching $400 billion.
Now we are faced with a quagmire to which there are no good answers. But the one that makes very little sense is to put tens of thousands more young Americans in harm's way without changing a strategy that has failed by almost every imaginable account.
In escalating this war with a so-called "surge" of troops, the President would be overriding the expressed concerns of Generals on the ground, Secretary Powell, the bipartisan Iraq Study Group and the American people. Colin Powell has said that placing more troops in the crossfire of a civil war simply will not work. General John Abizaid, our top commander in the Middle East, said just last month that, "I believe that more American forces prevent the Iraqis from doing more, from taking more responsibility for their own future." Even the Joint Chiefs of Staff have expressed concern, saying that a surge in troop levels "could lead to more attacks by al-Qaeda" and "provide more targets for Sunni insurgents." Once again, the President is defying good counsel and common sense.
As I said more than a month ago, while some have proposed escalating this war by adding thousands of more troops, there is little reason to believe that this will achieve these results either. It's not clear that these troop levels are sustainable for a significant period of time, and according to our commanders on the ground, adding American forces will only relieve the Iraqis from doing more on their own. Moreover, without a coherent strategy or better cooperation from the Iraqis, we would only be putting more of our soldiers in the crossfire of a civil war.
There is no military solution to this war. Our troops can help suppress the violence, but they cannot solve its root causes. And all the troops in the world won't be able to force Shia, Sunni, and Kurd to sit down at a table, resolve their differences, and forge a lasting peace. In fact, adding more troops will only push this political settlement further and further into the future, as it tells the Iraqis that no matter how much of a mess they make, the American military will always be there to clean it up.
That is why I believe we must begin a phased redeployment of American troops to signal to the government and people of Iraq, and others who have a stake in stabilizing the country -- that ours is not an open-ended commitment. They must step up. The status quo cannot hold.
In November, the American people sent a resounding message of change to the President. But apparently that message wasn't clear enough.
I urge all Americans who share my grave concerns over this looming decision to call, write, or email the President, and make your voices heard. I urge you to tell them that our soldiers are not numbers to add just because someone couldn't think of a better idea, they are our sons and daughters, our brothers and sisters, our neighbors and friends who are willing to wave goodbye to everything they've ever known just for the chance to serve their country. Our men and women in uniform are doing a terrific job under extremely difficult conditions. But our government has failed them so many times over the last few years, and we simply cannot afford to do it again. We must not multiply the mistakes of yesterday, we must end them today.
May this New Year bring a turn in our policy away from the stubborn repetition of our mistakes, so we can begin to chart a conclusion to this painful chapter in our history and bring our troops home.
U.S. Senator Barack Obama