Wednesday, December 5, 2007

War as 3D-chess in the dark and other strategic turns of phrase

Check out Rod Nordland's nifty piece in Newsweek for a guide to jingoistic -linguistics emerging from the Iraq morass.

Early on it was robust and muscular. "Shock and awe" set the tone; verbs were strong, simple and always in the active voice. But as the situation worsened, there was much less talk about "victory over antiregime elements" than about "achieving our mission" in Iraq...In the beginning there was much talk about how coalition troops were going to "kill or capture anti-Iraqi forces" and "destroy high-value targets." The enemy comprised "terrorists, criminals and regime dead-enders," supplemented by foreign jihadis. America's mission was to "create a secure and stable Iraq" or create the "conditions for security and stability" so that the "political process could move forward."

After the country's elections in January 2005, though, the "kill and capture" formulation fell into disfavor. The military began focusing on training the Iraqi police and military in what became known as "standing up the Iraqi security forces." Subsequent rhetoric also promised to "stand up" Iraqi ministries and local government agencies, as if they were all a bunch of pieces on the board that had toppled over (which is sort of what happened with the invasion).And later came a recognition, in a phrase uttered by one general after another and now heard right down to captains and literate lieutenants, that "the enemy gets a vote too."

Throughout it all, the American military continued to "own the battlespace" or at least "dominate the battlespace," even when a lot of people were getting killed in it by rival factions. And officers started routinely talking about distinguishing between "kinetic operations" (i.e., blowing people away) and "nonkinetic operations" (i.e., winning their hearts and minds—never a popular phrase in Iraq). The military command became concerned that the Iraqi government wasn't taking advantage of the "breathing space" that had been created by the relative decrease in violence. And at last count, I've heard no fewer than four generals, six colonels and innumerable junior officers talk about the "window of opportunity" that has been created for the Shiite-led government to reconcile with Sunnis.

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