Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Lipstick on a Pig

Overseas Contingency Operation. That’s the new way of saying “Global War On Terror”. Gradually, over the past few months, the Obama administration has been using the new term to replace the old, in official memos and in public appearances.

Since late March, the new crowd in power in Washington has been trying to get away from using one of George Bush’s signature phrases when talking about our military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, early in President George W. Bush’s second term, then-Defense Secretary Rumsfeld started calling it the “global struggle against violent extremism”, but his new phrase never caught on.

Rummy had been listening to the advice of some of the more senior military commanders at the time, who said “Global War On Terror” seemed to give al-Qaeda and other radical groups the appearance of being a unified front, and calling it a “war” overstated the strength and nature of the enemy.

The Washington Post spoke with John Nagl, the former Army officer who helped write the new manual the military follows in dealing with counterinsurgency. Nagl, who’s now with a think-tank in Washington DC told the paper “We are facing a number of different insurgencies around the globe - some have local causes, some of them are transnational. Viewing them all through one lens distorts the picture and magnifies the enemy”.

How we use words and phrases affects how we think about what those words or phrases represent. Let’s face it: “Overseas Contingency Operation” has none of the emotional punch of “Global War On Terror”. An even more current example is the growing use of “Health Insurance Reform” rather than “Health Care Reform”. Most people seem to be happy with the care they’re getting from medical professionals, so some of the forces trying to shape the public debate are trying to capitalize on using different wording.

It’s sort of like the difference between “pro-life” and “anti-abortion”. It’s the same thing, but the emotional tone of one is far different than the other. The old joke about how city subdivisions are named is another example. The cynics say if it’s called “Park View”, you can bet there’s no park, and there’s no view.

No matter what the current administration chooses to call the fight against terrorists, it still means our military is involved, our soldiers are going to be in harm’s way, and you can pretty safely assume it’s going to cost us a lot of money for a lot more years. “Overseas Contingency Operation” may not be an attempt to put lipstick on a pig, but it sure sounds a lot different than “Global War On Terror”.

1 comment:

  1. 'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, 'it means just what I choose it to mean -neither more nor less.'

    'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you can make words mean so many different things.'

    'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is to be master—that's all.'