Search Google News for temporary surge Iraq and you’ll get some 1,660 results. The idea of bolstering American forces with an additional 30,000 or so troops for a short period of time has become popular enough that even U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., the incoming Senate majority leader, briefly endorsed it.
But what is really on the table? Last Friday, a segment on the NPR program “On the Media” strongly suggested that the press has misunderstood the term “surge,” with its connotation of a temporary increase. In fact, it appears that the “surge” the Bush administration is reportedly considering consists of a long-term increase in troop strength, temporary only in the sense that the Bush presidency will end at some point.
The transcript has finally been posted, and it’s revealing. Take a look at this exchange between Frederick Kagan, a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and the author of the “surge” proposal now being considered by the White House, and “OTM” co-host Brooke Gladstone:
Kagan: The media has been using the term “surge” very loosely. And I think that’s actually a bit of a problem, because there have been various ideas floated for very short-term troops surges of relatively small numbers of troops. And I think that that would be a big mistake, and it’s not what we’re calling for.
We’re actually calling for an increase of troop strength in Iraq of about 35,000 combat troops; 20,000 of those would go into Baghdad. So I think a part of the problem that we have is that people are not being sufficiently precise about which proposal they’re discussing when they talk in terms of a troop surge.
Gladstone: So when Harry Reid, the incoming Senate majority leader, refers to a surge, he’s talking about two or three months; you’re talking about anywhere between 18 to 24.
Kagan: Yes, exactly. It’s really important to keep that distinction in mind. The idea of a two-to three-month surge is not meaningful. And the enemy expects to do that sort of thing. They expect us to come in briefly and leave. Doing that kind of thing plays right into the enemy’s hands.
As Gladstone and her other guest, Foreign Affairs magazine editor Gideon Rose, speculate, the use of the word “surge” is more a matter of marketing than it is policy, although Kagan assures Gladstone that he’s not part of any such marketing effort.
Rose puts it this way: “The problem is that the real version of this involves a sustained, increase in troops and a long presence in Iraq. And there’s no appetite in Washington for any policy like that. I mean, when Kagan talks about a sustained surge, he’s really talking about a long-term escalation.”
That’s something the media need to keep in mind. Because when reporters allow themselves to be deceived, they end up as conduits for deceiving the public as well.