Sweet column: Surge? Escalation? Augmentation? It depends on who’s talking.

SHARE Sweet column: Surge? Escalation? Augmentation? It depends on who’s talking.
SHARE Sweet column: Surge? Escalation? Augmentation? It depends on who’s talking.

Different language is very deliberately used in the debate over President Bush’s controversial order to send 21,500 soldiers to Iraq.

Surge? Escalation? Augmentation?

SURGE: A Bush White House word that is falling out of official favor after riding a wave of mentions.

Bush did not use the word in his Wednesday speech defending his decision to send more troops to Iraq because it would be attacked as inaccurate.

Surge describes a temporary situation. Bush never set any timetable for pulling the U.S. military out of Iraq.

ESCALATION: An example of Democratic word-smithing is calling any buildup an “escalation.”

Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), in his Tuesday speech at the National Press Club, put it this way: “An escalation, whether it is called a ‘surge’ or any other name, is still an escalation, and I believe it would be an immense new mistake.”

AUGMENTATION: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Thursday verbally jousted with Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), a Vietnam veteran, in order to avoid being associated with the word escalation. Rice’s word of choice: “augmentation.”

“I think, senator, escalation is not just a matter of how many numbers you put in,” Rice replied when pressed by Hagel.

“Would you call it a decrease?” Hagel asked.

“I would call it, senator, an augmentation that allows the Iraqis to deal with this very serious problem that they have in Baghdad,” Rice said.

Talk show guests briefed

“The Bush administration is trying to create a new lexicon for this war,” Frank Luntz told me.

Luntz is the pollster, focus group master and author of the new book Words That Work. It’s Not What You Say, It’s What People Hear.

Luntz said the word “surge” puts focus only on the numbers of soldiers in Iraq, rather than the mission or what Bush is billing as a change of strategy. “Escation” causes people to link the Iraq war to the unpopular Vietnam conflict.

Luntz usually advises Republicans, but the insights about the political use of language are so useful in his book that the new Senate majority whip, Sen. Dick Durbin, made sure that everyone on his press staff got copies.

“The White House does not understand the damage language is doing to support for the war and the Republican image,” Luntz said.

Durbin and Rep. Rahm Emanuel, the new Democratic Caucus chairman, are the new message masters for their respective chambers.

Each Saturday afternoon, Durbin and the other Senate Democratic leaders teleconference with congressional guests booked on Sunday talk shows. They brief the guests about major themes the leaders want to emphasize and to suggest ways to talk about the message, such as calling sending more soldiers to Iraq an escalation and not a surge.

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