Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Sunday, May 27, 2007

  That "surrender" date in Iraq

For the last two months, George Bush and his Republican defenders have been tossing the term "surrender" in the faces of his critics. Advocates of withdrawal from Iraq, they claim, are proposing to "surrender to the terrorists"; a timetable for withdrawal is a "surrender date".

Originally this rhetorical trope was invented when Republicans needed to vilify Rep. John Murtha for urging withdrawal in 2005. Mission accomplished, the rhetoric of "surrender" earned some well deserved R&R until the Democratic victory in the 2006 election. The old trope was dusted off again to smear anybody trying to force Bush's hand.

Does it make the slightest sense at all to liken withdrawal from Iraq, to "surrender"?

White House Spokesman Dana Perino recently insisted that it does. In regard to the supplemental bill being drafted by Congress last month, she was asked about the tone of the debate:

Question: I'd like to ask you about the level of political discourse about Iraq. The Vice President and President are accusing the Democrats of being defeatist, they're talking about surrender dates...

MS. PERINO: Well, I think that what happens in Washington at times of high drama and passion on both sides of the aisle, and on both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue, that there are times when you're trying to make your substantive point, that the rhetoric can sometimes lead you to say things that you might not otherwise say in a one-on-one conversation.

I do think that when talking about a surrender date, it is very descriptive of what we believe is in the legislation. It says, you must leave on this day, and we think that that tells the enemy that they've won and that we've surrendered. And I think that's a good way to explain it to the American people.

Question: Well, and you say that you're not questioning their patriotism, but by calling them defeatist and talking about surrender, you don't think that that gets close to that line of not--

MS. PERINO: I think that what we have done is argued on the merits and on the substance of our arguments. And I don't know if that's always been the case on the other side. I grant you that I think that tension is high, because the stakes are high. And we feel very strongly that leaving before the job is done is turning over the victory to the enemy.

You could hardly hope to discover a more obtuse and obnoxious defense of the term "surrender". Especially puzzling are Perino's assertions that setting a date for withdrawal or "turning over the victory to the enemy" (sic) are equivalent to "surrender". It's a spectacularly unsuccessful attempt to explain how withdrawal from the occupation of Iraq should be described as an act of "surrender".

Even after Congress capitulated to Bush on the Iraq funding bill, as John McCain demonstrated on Friday, Republicans were keen to level against Democrats every egregious accusation from their long, long list of Iraq talking-points.

Republican presidential candidate John McCain assailed Democratic rivals Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama on Friday for voting against legislation paying for the Iraq war, accusing them of embracing "the policy of surrender."...

McCain also implied that the country would be less safe if Clinton or Obama became commander in chief. "I wouldn't use the words 'less safe,' I would use the wording that our national security would be at risk if we pursue the policy and cut off funding," McCain said.

In an earlier statement, he called his Democratic rivals' opposition to the spending bill "the equivalent of waving a white flag to al-Qaida." He said he was "very disappointed to see Senator Obama and Senator Clinton embrace the policy of surrender by voting against funds to support our brave men and women fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan."

You would never turn to John McCain for sense regarding Iraq, and he doesn't disappoint here. But he does put the rhetoric of "surrender" right back in the limelight once again.


In the past, I've pondered this expression long and hard: How in the world could any adult make the basic error of likening withdrawal of troops from the midst of a civil war, to "surrender"? Nobody but nobody is proposing that American troops surrender to any of the Iraqi guerrillas (even if it were feasible to surrender to people you can't identify). So what is the connection between these two very different things? Why did Republicans take it into their heads to substitute one term for the other? They certainly didn't use this trope when Reagan withdrew the Marines he had foolishly inserted into the middle of the Lebanese civil war.

It sure is a puzzle. Reminds me of the curious substitutions you sometimes see in student papers, the ones who hunt and peck for impressive-sounding words in a thesaurus. I sometimes wonder how completely inappropriate terms have managed to get shoe-horned into undergraduate papers...just as I've puzzled over the mysterious parallel that Republicans see between withdrawal and "surrender".

I had nearly given up trying to make sense of it, until the truth finally struck me—there is in fact a parallel. Republicans in Washington have been trying to explain it to us, and we haven't been listening carefully enough.

The reason for surrendering an army is identical to the reason why you might withdraw from the midst of a civil war—a desire to save the troops' lives. These two options both presuppose that the situation on the ground is futile, and therefore it's pointless to get any more soldiers killed trying to salvage what is beyond remedy.

Republican "leadership" likens withdrawal to surrender because they see nothing positive whatever in either option.

I see only two alternatives: Either the Republicans don't care about saving our troops, or they can't tolerate having to admit that the situation in Iraq is beyond remedy.

And yet Bush has admitted that Iraq is beyond actual remedy. Nobody in the White House has talked about an "end of violence" in Iraq since last summer. This year, Bush has acknowledged that the goal of the occupation has been scaled back to reducing the level of violence in Iraq—rather than ending it—and training more Iraqi troops rather than achieving a political reconciliation among Iraqis.

[Bush's] new policy would focus on training and advising Iraqi troops rather than the broader goal of achieving a political reconciliation in Iraq, which senior officials recognize may be unachievable within the time available...

"Sectarian violence is not a problem we can fix," said one senior official...U.S. officials offer a somber evaluation of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki: His Shiite-dominated government is weak and sectarian, but they have concluded that, going forward, there is no practical alternative.

The fact that Bush has changed the goal posts is an admission that the situation in Iraq is indeed futile. Even if the goal of reducing violence were somehow met, that would mean American troops will continue to be slaughtered in the midst of that civil war.

The only tenable conclusion, then, appears to be that Republican "leadership" doesn't care to save the lives of American troops and deeply resents those who would try.

crossposted at Unbossed

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