Surge vs. Insurgency: Cautionary Words for Cautionary Times

"Surge" is in the news. Big time. But like a film submitted too late for Academy Awards ballot consideration, the word "surge" failed to make the list of the top ten words of 2006.

"Truthiness," as many of us already know, was the winner, according to dictionary publisher Merriam-Webster.

But did you know that "insurgent" was also on this list? That it shared billing with memes like "decider," "sectarian," and "quagmire?"

"Surge" made its surge way too late in the game to make an impact with online voters; its sudden and overused politicized appearance came right after the release of the Iraq Study Group report in mid-December.

Right from the start, "surge"--as in potential troop surge--became the White House rebuttal to the scathing critique by the Iraq Study Group. There's a reason the administration avoided hot-button words like "escalation" or "additional" or "increase". Furthermore, "redeployment" was stale; it had already been tried earlier in the year with limited military success; an original term was symbolically needed to reflect fresh thinking.

"Surge" seemingly connotes a newfound precision and top-down professionalism in the war theatre: that victory is right around the corner if only another 20,000 or 30,000 U.S. troops would be allowed to surge into the Baghdad to contain the rising violence

"Surge" even gave off the E-Ring whiff of something operational, deliberate, and non seat-of-the-pants. This is from an administration that didn't know what to do after it successfully invaded Iraq in 2003.

With its naked, monosyllablic simplicity, "surge" implies progress and hope that Baghdad can be fixed and brought back to sanity.

"Surge" is not a neutral word. Repititive usage by its Pentagon and White House proponents does two things: it is softening us for that fateful day when Bush will publicly announce that he's going forward with this doomed-to-fail action plan. It will be his January's non-surprise surprise to America. The term also implies that Bush is still in charge of events in Iraq that he can no longer control; he's moving forward with renewed optimism and sharper focus. He's surging with new ideas, new vigor.

Yet "surge" is really the patron saint of hopeless cause and misguided pride. It's a reckless stop-gap measure at best; a charge of the Light Brigade, climbing over the trenches at Gallipoli, or as Huffpost's Jane Smiley recently suggested, just like Pickett's Charge but in another's nation's civil war.

Despite their cover-my-butt caveats, top Pentagon generals are loyally falling into formation behind the White House party line. And all this is occurring while two-thirds of the country are opposed to the way Bush's handling the war.

And what will the "surge" accomplish? Most likely, a "surge" of U.S. troop deaths.

It's interesting to note that "surge" is the spawn or twin of "insurgent." They do share the same five letters. They eerily mirror each other. But in the end, the insurgents will defeat the surge. Or that will it turn into a lethal stalemate, and then political pressure will demand troop decline. Destabilization will immediately return.

I certainly don't look forward to one day seeing "surge" being named one of the top words of 2007. For this dubious honor, there will only be blood on George Bush's hands.

Two years ago, "surge" referred to the tsunami in Indonesia: a wall of water crashing onto shore. A quarter of million deaths.

The numbers will be smaller in Baghdad, but the losses will be felt as keenly and tragically in many American households.

Is it too late to mount a "countersurgency" to halt this madness?