Words! Words! I'm so sick of words!
I get words all day through;
First from him, now from you! Is that all you blighters can do?
My Fair Lady, lyrics from Show Me
Charles Krauthammer has a good oped in the Washington Post on what passes for debate on Iraq in the halls of the Senate.
I don't deny that this is a fair application of "civil war" to the current situation. What I note with dismay, however, is how important -- and absurdly irrelevant -- the application of certain loaded words to the situation has become.
What is striking is how much of the debate in Washington about Iraq has to do not with the war but with the words. Who owns them, who deploys them, who uses them as a bludgeon. NBC's announcement in November that it would henceforth use the term civil war -- a statement far more political than analytical, invoking the same fake authority with which the networks regally "declare" election winners (e.g., Florida to Al Gore, Nov. 7, 2000) -- set the tone of definitional self-importance.
Words. We had weeks of debates in the Senate about Iraq. They eventually went nowhere, being shut down (temporarily) by partisan procedural disputes. But they were going nowhere anyway. The debates were not about real fighting in a real place. They were about how the various senators would position themselves in relation to that real fighting in that real place. At issue? With what tone and nuance and addenda to express disapproval of a troop surge that the president was going to order anyway.
When it came to doing something serious about the surge, the Senate ducked. It unanimously (81-0) approved sending Gen. David H. Petraeus to Baghdad to do the surge -- precisely what a majority of the senators said they did not want done.
If you really oppose the surge, how can you not oppose the appointment of the man whose very mission is to carry it out? Yet not one senator did so. Instead, they spent days fine-tuning the wording of a nonbinding -- i.e., entirely toothless -- expression of disapproval.
Read the whole thing. It won't take long.
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