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Iraq: The Precipice, the Brink, the Abyss

And Other Images from a No-Name War

| Thu Mar. 2, 2006 3:00 AM EST

Look at the polls. When Gallup's pollsters go out to ask Americans about the Bush administration and Iraq, they frame their questions this way: "Do you think the United States made a mistake in sending troops to Iraq, or not?"; "Do you favor or oppose the U.S. war with Iraq?"; "Who do you think is currently winning the war in Iraq?" Mind you, never the Iraq War -- like the Korean War, the Vietnam War, or the Gulf War -- but the war in Iraq. The CBS and NBC/Wall Street Journal pollsters sometimes use that formulation too, as does Zogby (which has also used, "the war against insurgents."). On the other hand, the pollsters at the Pew Research Center, like those at ABC/Washington Post, CBS, Newsweek, the Associated Press/Ipsos, Time, Fox News, and NBC News/Wall Street Journal all like to put the phrase "the situation in Iraq" into their questions. Pew also employs: "the U.S. military effort in Iraq." Sometimes in follow-up questions, pollsters simply speak of "the war" (always lower-cased) or, as with Harris pollsters back in November 2005, just "the situation."

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As a further experiment, go to the Pentagon's website, click on "transcripts of news briefings," "transcripts of background briefings," and "speeches," and put into the search window "Iraq War." Curiously, what comes out of the archival depths of our five-sided, war-fighting headquarters is essentially nothing, or rather the words, "Iraq" and "war" in the same paragraph or even sentence but quite unconnected -- as in "Iraq" in one place and the Cold War, the War on Terror, or the Long War somewhere in the vicinity. At best, you can find our garrulous Secretary of Defense at a news briefing with Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Gen. Peter Pace, telling reporters that our military is "able, at a moment's notice, to respond to the pleas of millions across the world, while at the same time fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere around the globe." And here's an odd thing: As far as the Pentagon search engine can tell, "Iraq War" doesn't come up normally even in the questions reporters ask Rumsfeld and other Pentagon figures, though "the situation" obviously plays a major roll in Pentagon press briefings and announcements.

Or give a shot to the Iraq part of the U.S. Central Command's website (still headlined, by the way, Operation Iraqi Freedom) where two references pop up: one as part of a question from a Stars and Stripes reporter in a news briefing ("Throughout the Iraq war, we've been relying fairly heavily on the National Guard."); the other to the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s. Or, just for the heck of it, check out the White House website which archives presidential and vice-presidential speeches, announcements, press conferences, radio addresses, and statements. The top item that comes up there is this: "President Addresses Nation, discusses Iraq, War on Terror." Pretty typical, it turns out.

The President's most recent major address -- to the American Legion (given after the Golden Mosque's dome was blasted to smithereens in Samarra) -- not surprisingly uses "war" twenty times and yet never directly in conjunction with events in Iraq, even though "freedom's progress" there is up for discussion, as are "our efforts in Iraq," as is "our clear strategy of victory in Iraq" (though strangely not in the Iraq War or even the Iraq war, no less the war in Iraq). What we're doing there, it turns out, is "working to defeat? every terrorist working to stop freedom in Iraq." Our goal is to make Iraq in victory our "strong ally" in the only war in town -- not the one in Iraq, even though the President that evening was grimly assuring his audience that "this is a moment of choosing for the Iraqi people" -- but the "war on terror." Only in the context of that great "global war," that multigenerational conflict which, according to the Vice President's office, gives the President all those commander-in-chief powers as a "unitary executive," can he say in no uncertain terms, "[W]e remain a nation at war."

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