This is a powerful illustration of why Americans remain so confused about the Iraq War: “General Barry McCaffrey discusses his view of Iraq”, NBC Nightly News (19 March 2008). Excerpt (bold emphasis added):
BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: And now we turn to the future of Iraq, and for that, we turn to a veteran of so many trips there and a veteran of decades in the US Army, military analyst, retired four star General Barry McCaffery. General, every time you come back from one of your trips, we get a three-ring binder containing your findings. That is to say, you’ve covered it so closely and analyzed it, how do you see the future of Iraq?
McCAFFREY (NBC News Military Analyst): Well, I don’t think we know, Brian. Objectively, the snapshot is extremely good. I mean, the violence is down dramatically. Iraqis are out in the streets. Their–the stores are open. The road networks seem to be much less barred. These 80,000 concerned local citizens are providing a level of security, certainly in the Sunni areas, that is unprecedented. That’s all good news.
Unprecedented! How true, if “unprecedented” means “not seen since 2003”. To understand this, we must return to the ur-text of modern government language.
‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone,’ it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.’
‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’
‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master – that’s all.’
Alice was too much puzzled to say anything; so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again. ‘They’ve a temper, some of them – particularly verbs: they’re the proudest – adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs – however, I can manage the whole lot of them! Impenetrability! That’s what I say!’
‘Would you tell me, please,’ said Alice, ‘what that means?’
‘Now you talk like a reasonable child,’ said Humpty Dumpty, looking very much pleased. ‘I meant by “impenetrability” that we’ve had enough of that subject, and it would be just as well if you’d mention what you mean to do next, as I suppose you don’t mean to stop here all the rest of your life.’
‘That’s a great deal to make one word mean,’ Alice said in a thoughtful tone.
‘When I make a word do a lot of work like that,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘I always pay it extra.’
*** From Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There, Lewis Carroll (1871)
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For more posts about these things, see Archive of links to articles about the Iraq War.