The Opposite of “Support”

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… is no longer “oppose.”

I’m interested in the choice of words in this lede from an article in the “St. Louis Post-Dispatch”:

WASHINGTON â€â€? The administration’s talk about sharply reducing the number of American troops in Iraq starting as early as next spring gets a strong endorsement from military experts, both those who support the war and those who question it.

The newspaper’s writer chooses to see the spectrum of opinion about the Iraq War as black and white. Or rather, black and gray. On the one side, people “support” the war. The opposite of “support” typically is “oppose.” But not here. Here they merely “question” it.

Do none of these “experts” who question the war go so far as to oppose it? Do none who support it ever question it — I support it, and I constantly question that support, checking it against the shifting realities. I have met people online who began by supporting the war and who then came to oppose it by process of questioning. Andrew Sullivan does this several times in the time it takes to watch a baseball game.

I think I just spent more time thinking about this choice of words than did the writer who actually made the choice. But if I’m right, that — the reflexive nature of the writing — is why this choice of two words is an insight into newsroom mentalities.

* * *

For proof that “supporters” do, in fact, “question,” consider Michael Young reviewing “Losing Iraq: Inside the Postwar Reconstruction Fiasco” by David L. Phillips.

His conclusion: “For those who supported the war and still do â€â€? present company included â€â€? Phillips’ book makes for arduous but obligatory reading.” I’m not sure I would agree with them that dissolving the Baath Party and the armed forces were “irresponsible moves,” especially compared to not dissolving them. But, overall, Young makes his points well. It’s a sobering assessment.

For all the hopes it placed in Iraq, the Bush administration fouled up when it could have avoided doing so. Phillips’ book is a reminder that Iraq was not necessarily about neo-colonialism, oil, Israel, or racism toward Arabs. Yet those are the reasons often cited to explain American difficulties in Iraq, as if they mandated divine retribution for hubris. U.S. hubris was certainly a factor in the downward spiral in Iraq, but as Phillips makes clear, success was always achievable. He does not use principle to blame the administration; he questions its competence, while accepting that Saddam had to be overthrown. What makes Phillips’ book so damaging is that it was written by a onetime believer.

Young and Phillips, however, do not occupy the same ground as the anti-war cassandra crowd that opposed the whole enterprise before it happened. In fact, Young suggests what has gone right — such as the January 30 election and the ripples of democracy throughout the region — were exactly the outcomes the anti-war voices were most certain would not happen.

These two, and others like them, see Iraq as a grand opportunity “botched,” one that, at best, will improve the Islamic Middle East in many senses, but worsen it in some others. The failure, such as it has been, lay in the execution, not the conception.