Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Bard on Iraq

Shakespeare penned a lot of famous lines, but none is more famous than this one from Romeo and Juliet: "What's in a name? that which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet . . ."

Because no one is coming out of Iraq smelling like a rose, a naming controversy has erupted over the conflict there.

On Sunday, the New York Times carried a story that asked whether Iraq's circumstances fit the academic definition of "civil war." The consensus was that there is in fact a civil war going on in Iraq.

This week, numerous media outlets began using the term "civil war," some with considerable fanfare. President Bush, however, remained unmoved. Yesterday, in fact, a headline in the New York Times read, "Bush Declines to Call Situation in Iraq Civil War."

On Monday, the Borowitz Report detailed the president's latest plan to deal with the situation:

President George W. Bush said today that he would not allow a civil war in Iraq to erupt on his watch, and said that in order to prevent that from happening the United States would aggressively search for new synonyms for the phrase "civil war."

In order to seek out the most sanitized alternatives to that phrase, the president announced that he was launching an ambitious new mission called Operation Noble Euphemism.

Showing his trademark steely resolve, Mr. Bush told reporters at the White House that the US was prepared to hunt down every last thesaurus on Earth and would not quit until the job was done.

What's in a name? Perhaps a constructivist should answer that question. Over at Duck of Minerva, one does. Peter Howard concludes that the naming controversy is "a political power play to set the terms of the discourse for national security policy."

Of course, it could be that the naming controversy is simply about reclaiming a connection with reality. Back in March, Ayad Allawi, who was formerly the United States' man in Iraq, said, "If this is not civil war, then God knows what civil war is."

(For more on the debate from Jon Stewart and John Oliver, go here.)