A war of semantics

Defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s Pentagon press conference this week was notable mainly for his musings on the semantics of the Iraqi insurgency.

In what he described as an “epiphany,” the secretary said the people behind the insurgency should not be described, as everybody does, as “insurgents” because “that gives them a greater legitimacy than they seem to merit.”

And what should these illegitimate _ revolters, insurrectionaries, malcontents, extremists, nogoodniks _ be called?

Answered Rumsfeld, ” ‘Enemies of the legitimate Iraqi government’ _ how’s that?” Clunky, actually, and the acronym, ELIG, is awful as well.

This is typical of a deeply held Bush administration faith _ undented by reality _ in public relations, that spinning it so will make it so. As Washington Post reporter Dana Milbank reminds us, the secretary this summer thought the “war on terror” might go better if it were renamed the “global struggle against violent extremists.” GSAVE didn’t catch on with the headline writers either.

But that press conference _ an appearance with the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Gen. Peter Pace _ was also notable for something more important than vocabulary.

Asked what U.S. soldiers should do if they find the forces of the legitimate Iraqi government torturing prisoners, Rumsfeld said that wasn’t the soldiers’ responsibility.

But Pace responded, “It is the absolute responsibility of every U.S. service member, if they see inhumane treatment being conducted, to intervene, to stop it.”

Rumsfeld intervened, “I don’t think they have an obligation to physically stop it; it’s to report it.”

Pace politely _ and rightly _ differed. “If they are physically present when inhumane treatment is taking place, sir, they have an obligation to try to stop it.”

Thank you, general. Among many other qualities, that kind of honorable and humane conduct _ our traditional values, if you will _ is what separates us from the ELIGs and why we will ultimately win the GSAVE.

(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)SHNS.com)