Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Supporting the Troops

During the Vietnam War, I and other opponents of the war ran into the roadblock that the American people seemed to be unable to distinguish between the two concepts "supporting the troops" and "supporting the President." The same problem has arisen again in the case of our current war in Iraq, but now, finally, Congress is about to draw the distinction between these concepts.

A majority of the members of Congress oppose the Iraq War and this includes a nontrivial number of Republicans. In order to express its displeasure with Bush's handling of the war, Congress is about to debate a nonbinding resolution opposing Bush's proposal to increase the number of troops in Baghdad. The mission of these troops will be to attempt to suppress the violence on the streets of Iraq. According to my morning paper, the effort went well on the first day. But if the troops leave the areas they have cleared, the bad guys will return. Moreover, 4 Americans were killed elsewhere. One step forward, one or two steps backward.

The Democrats have been forced to issue a fairly weak resolution opposing the troop surge in order to bring some Republicans along with them. However, even this very weak action counts as failing to support our President and is therefore a very worthy thing to do at this time for it shows the people that it is acceptable to oppose the President publically. The main reason the action is so weak is that the Democrats are afraid to give Bush's Pit Bull in Chief, Dick Cheney, the opportunity to argue, in his typically sophistic way, that Congress is putting our troops in danger. The Pit Bull in Chief, whom I never tire of reminding you evaded the Vietnam War with something like 5 student deferments, has already harried war opponents, as arm chair warriors always do, on the grounds that they are giving comfort to the enemy by passing this resolution. Cheney, of course, has never let the truth interfere with what he wants to say.

Conceptually, Congress has made it acceptable to draw the distinction between supporting the troops and supporting the President. The problem is that there are few ways in which Congress can create legislation that limits Bush's options. He acted quickly enough to make this opposition not only ineffective but moot since the troops have already begun the mission of clearing the streets of Iraq. Will Congress cut off funds to provide the reinforcements required to help them complete their task? I think not. Congress has so far never run a war -- has never deployed troops or laid out battle plans -- and this would not be the right time to start. They could set an end date for the war, however. They might dictate a deadline of January 1, 2008 for the removal of the troops by giving that date as the date the money will stop flowing in furtherance of this war. It would be claimed by the Pit Bull that the enemy would be emboldened. Perhaps it would. But no one really knows what will happen. Americans have proved to be pathetically unable to predict what enemies from markedly different cultures like SE Asia and the Middle East will do in response to what we do. That is the interesting thing about the future. It is like Forest Gump's mother's box of chocolates.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I read your post about sloppy language and I totally concur. I am finding this type of "language looseness" (faulty word use and logic)more and more now that I have been enlightened thanks to you. I alway did it a bit myself but now I am hyper aware of things. Two questions for you:
1. Don't you find yourself over thinking every word you use?
2. As to this post, doesn't "support" have different meanings for people? Couldn't we/you find some happy middle ground in your views of the war and the president?

11:51 AM

Blogger The Language Guy said...

Thanks for your comments. I will try to answer your quesitons.
1. I think my many years doing linguistics, specifically pragmatics, has made it possible to use words they way I think I should fairly effortlessly. You can do the same thing over a period of time.
2. You make a good point about different interpretations of "support." In fact, the term is very vague and I didn't point that out. So you have caught me being a bit sloppy. Happens to us all I fear.

9:54 AM

Blogger Karl Keller said...

On the issue of how to interpret the word "support," we have to keep in mind that "support" is a transitive verb. You have to support "something."

If you say, "I support the troops"...well, that's so vague an expression as to be totally unhelpful. By that you can mean, I want them to be safe, I want them to have good equipment, I want them to have enough food...it's so all encompassing as to be useless as a distinguishing concept, no matter what POLITICAL side you are on.

Now, if you say, "I support/don't support the plan to increase the size of our force in Iraq"...well, THAT'S more precise.

Bottom line, if you don't support the "surge/escalation" you don't support the mission. And if you don't support the mission, you believe the mission is not going to work, and the soldiers who are putting their lives on the line are doing so in the service of a going-to-fail mission. Is it any wonder, then, that this whole affair generates some strong emotions?

In the end, our founders were wise men. They gave Congress a role, and the President a role. Congress shows its "support" for actions of warmaking/foreign policy by funding, or not funding the means to execute those policies. Everything else is political theater. The President exercises his authority to "support" by creating those policies, those strategies and signing off on tactical plans that he and his advisors in the executive branch (the branch that EXECUTES) believe will work.

One final political comment. I believe the American people in general, above all, want success. They support sucess. Some, however, do want failure. Others, more subtly, believe success is not ours to manage or confer.

We'll see who is right.

1:10 PM

Blogger Ethan said...

I have just found your blog and find a lot of your posts very interesting. Can you recommend any books about how language can imply underlying ideas or prejudices(like your post on Sen Biden's comments). Also I am a student at CU of Boulder and I am putting out a campus magazine at the end of march. I would love to get permission to publish some of your posts. I'd credit all material and have a plug for the site. My email is esklar.econ@gmail.com

12:42 AM


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