A new diplomatic cable leaked by Wikileaks shows top commanders in Afghanistan wrangling over the issue of what to call yet another troop escalation to re-gain footing in their faltering nine-year effort to control the country. “The Surge” used in Iraq was a fresh, sufficiently masculine and strength exuding name for the troop escalation, without actually referring to a “troop escalation” and being divorced from connotations of the ensuing gore and violence. Public opinion tolerated, and was even perhaps vaguely stirred by “the surge,” which struck a nice balance between the need to project strength prudently while avoiding the pale of Rumsfeld’s premature “shock and awe” rhetoric so many years into an ageing war.
But by the time “the surge” was re-deployed by General Petraeus in Afghanistan, it had already become somewhat stale-sounding, and uninspiring. Similarly, when George H.W. Bush invaded Iraq the first time, it was dramatically named “Operation Desert Storm,” with the troops being led by Stormin’ Norman Schwarzkopf, but using the same name for the second invasion by George W. Bush simply was out of the question, so the second military action was idealistically re-branded “Operation Iraqi
In its tenth year, support for the Afghanistan war is wearing thin, and “the surge” branding is thought by commanders to be losing appeal. Cables revealed that among candidates for re-branding the latest troop escalation (and reasons for rejection) were:
The billow and the swell weren’t manly enough. The torrent seemed too excessive and “raging.” The throb reminded everyone of headaches and boners. The blast was too violently explosive. The gush implied a loss of control — open wounds and broken pipes gush. The pulse reminded everyone that Dick Cheney hasn’t one. The uptick sounded small bore; plus it’s often used in the phrase “the uptick in violence.” The heave was associated with vomiting and death throes. The punch, the prod, the squash, and the squish sounded too aggressive, hectoring even. The push and the shove seemed rude. The squeeze were a band from the eighties. Everyone agreed it was “great song-writing.” The goose seemed “too butt grabby.” The thrust and the poke were too phallic. The press and the dig raised some eyebrows, but were somehow vague or basketbally. The dragooning reminded everyone of good old-fashioned browbeating and rendition. The ram, the steamroller, the bulldozer, pouring it on, going to town on, putting the screws to, etc., were dismissed as signs of growing frustration with the brainstorming process. It really was difficult to find a phrase having all the qualities of “the surge” without the negative associations. Finally, one commander suggested, “Howzabout just tellin’ ’em we’re “puttin’ some starch in our shorts?“”
The cables indicated that Petraeus will soon be announcing the nudge, something that can be done to persuade and encourage friends and allies without appearing overly domineering.