You can’t blame a frog for posing as a prince. It’s not the frog’s fault if there’s a line of princesses waiting to bestow the magic kiss.
The prince has turned out to be the usual frog, a politician trying to spin his shortcomings as successes. A lot of people idolize a prince, but President Obama is learning that a frog is just something to step on.
Mr. Obama announced V-I Day this week, but if he expected to set off a victory celebration in Iraq, it sounded like something less than V-J Day that marked the end of World War II. There was the usual “rebranding” ceremony: Henceforth, the American effort in Iraq would be “Operation New Dawn.” No more “Operation Iraqi Freedom.” But that looked like only a paper moon over the ceremonies.
The president retrieved his alter ego, good old Joe Biden, from the White House attic and sent him to preside over the ceremonies at Saddam Hussein’s gaudy al-Faw Palace, a hunting lodge of plastic and fake marble now used as the U.S. military headquarters in Iraq. Where better to celebrate a plastic peace? The America GIs remaining in Iraq, good old Joe said, “are as combat-ready, if need be, as any in our military.” And a good thing, too, because they’ll still have to fight - or, as it may be politically correct to put it, to “counsel peace and brotherhood” to eighth-century barbarians with guns, bombs and knives.
President Obama may think he is delivering on a campaign promise, to eliminate “combat missions” by the beginning of Sept. 1, 2010, but everybody else knows better, the troops most of all. While good old Joe was trying to exchange high fives with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, American troops were sealing off the village of Hawija in northern Iraq while their Iraqi counterparts raided houses and detained dozens of “insurgents.” The insurgents, many armed with unsheathed knives, loaded guns and other paraphernalia of what we used to call “war,” did not look like they expected peace counseling.
The senior officers in Iraq, responsible for both the job at hand and the morale of their troops, are talking as plain as they dare. “Iraq still faces a hostile enemy, who is determined to hinder progress,” said Gen. Lloyd Austin, the newly installed commander of 50,000 remaining men who look like, talk like and fight like American soldiers. “Make no mistake, our military forces here and those of the Iraqi nation remain committed to ensuring that our friends in Iraq succeed.”
In the village of Hawaji (it sounds a little like “Hawaii,” but nobody would confuse the two), Lt. Col. Andy Ulrich employed blunter speech to buck up his troops, who could be forgiven if they think their commander in chief and his men back in Washington have had an attack of the vapors. “You are all combat troops and not doing a combat mission,” he said, “although it looks, smells, feels and hurts a lot like combat. Don’t worry about what the politicians are saying because we have a mission. The bad part is, we can’t go kicking in doors ourselves and get these guys. We’ve got to kind of convince the Iraqis to do it, but the good part is, they’re kind of willing to do it.” The colonel’s remarks were a study in subtlety, not lost on his troops.
Saying tough things in subtle language, particularly now that many voices are available to translate spin into plain English, is not lost on the public, either. The politicians just don’t get it yet. President Obama is not the first president who imagines that he can persuade the public that a dog has five legs if you count his tail as a leg. Harry Truman, one of our plainest-speaking presidents, nevertheless never could call the Korean War a “war.” He insisted that it was “a police action,” though the 50,000 young Americans who came home from the police patrol in pine boxes looked a lot like dead soldiers and Marines.
In fact, the decline in plain speech about war can probably be traced to the “rebranding” of the War Department to the Defense Department at the end of World War II, when we were told that henceforth, the United Nations would take care of making bad guys behave themselves. The wordsmiths at the Ministry of Euphemy have been busy since, spraying perfume on plain speech and rebranding everything. Meanwhile, those are still real bullets coming out of the business end of real guns in Iraq.
*Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.
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