President Bush’s order to send additional troops to Iraq has prompted a delicate war of wording in Washington — call it a surge in political vocabulary.

The latest to weigh in is Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who sees the troop deployment as an “augmentation,” but absolutely not an “escalation” of forces. And Rice was careful Thursday to avoid any use of the already well-used “surge.”

Rice bandied with lawmakers during her appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to defend Bush’s latest initiative.

“Putting 22,000 new troops, more troops in, is not an escalation?” said Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb.

“Well, I think, senator, ‘escalation’ is not just a matter of how many numbers you put in. ‘Escalation’ is also a question of: Are you changing the strategic goal of what you’re trying to do?” Rice said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, like many Democrats, prefers the e-word. She criticized Bush for choosing to “escalate our involvement in Iraq’s civil war by proposing a substantial increase in the number of our forces” that will place “additional burdens on our already overextended military.”

“Surge” first entered Washington’s war lexicon last month.

“I believe there was talk of surges and other things,” White House press secretary Tony Snow told reporters Dec. 15. “And if you were going to be demanding more troops, you’re going to need more troops.”

But Bush did not like any of those words during Wednesday’s televised address to the nation to defend his new policy. He repeatedly called it, simply, an “increase.”

“If we increase our support at this crucial moment and help the Iraqis break the current cycle of violence, we can hasten the day our troops begin coming home,” Bush said.

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