Politics

Is it a War or an Occupation?

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Yesterday, NPR ran a segment that discussed how, in the lead up to this year’s elections, politicians will use language to influence popular opinion on the Iraq War. Interviewed was linguist and sometimes Democratic advisor George Lakoff, the patron saint of spin doctors whose ability to manipulate language is matched only by his inability to understand the average American. So it was interesting to hear his take on the Iraq war.

Except, according the Lakoff, it’s not a war. It’s an occupation. This, he believes, is not linguistic trickery but raw fact and has been imploring Democrats to use the word as often as possible so that all of America will understand the true nature of what we’re doing in Iraq.

But even if our involvement in Iraq isn’t a war in the traditional nation-state versus nation-state definition, is occupation the right word? Or is “occupation� just Lakoff’s attempt to manipulate the American people into believing the task is complete and the stakes of retreat are low. After all, an occupation implies we have won and our continued presence is just a matter of choice, rather than a moral and strategic necessity.

I don’t buy that Iraq is an occupation. It’s still a war, albeit a new variety of war�a more complex war where surrender and victory will not happen in a general’s tent or on a warship’s deck. But it is very much a war in the sense that the enemies we fight will not stop their attempts to kill us or our allies (the Iraqi people in particular) just because our troops leave.

Japan and Germany after World War II were occupations. Iraq is something quite different. So while Lakoff claims the word will open the eyes of the American people to the truth, it really only clouds the debate more. In the same way some Republicans use “cut-and-run� to silence even reasonable criticism of our strategies, Lakoff wants Democrats to use “occupation� to silence even reasonable arguments that the conflict is no longer one of choice but one of necessity.

The conflict in Iraq and the greater radical Islamist threat will not be solved through clever words choices. No matter how much someone repeats them.