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  • The President’s Mixed Military Metaphors

    The Merriam-Webster dictionary notes that the word “campaign” dates back to the mid-17th century and has two meanings. The first is “a connected series of military operations forming a distinct phase of a war;” the second is “a connecting series of operations designed to bring about a particular result.” In the case of the latter, it has defined the political realm. Politics abounds with military metaphors: “standard-bearers” who speak in “bullets” and plan their operations in “war rooms,” while “veteran strategists” identify “battleground states” and rely on “partisans.”

    Earlier this year while trying to energize conservatives, former Governor Sarah Palin was criticized for suggesting “Don’t Retreat, Instead – RELOAD!” Yet, presidential candidate Obama faced no such criticism from the left when, in a 2008 campaign speech, he invoked Sean Connery’s Officer Malone of The Untouchables regarding “the Chicago Way”: “if they bring a knife, we bring a gun.”

    Nevertheless, when it comes to armed conflict, the administration has been wary of military naming conventions. The Global War on Terror, for example, has been replaced by the far more benign and amorphous Overseas Contingency Operations and officials are also loathe to admit that there is a common theme among the 9/11 attacks, and the attempts by Richard Reid, Umar Abdulmutallab, Faisal Shahzad or the shootings by Major Nidal Hassan and Abdulhakim Muhammed or the New Jersey men recently tied to Al-Shabaab. If avoiding Islamic terminology in order to appeal to Muslim nations was the goal, then recent polls in other countries suggest that has failed.

    What is far more curious is why the President began his speech last night about on an environmental disaster with a series of military metaphors: “an oil spill that is assaulting our shores and our citizens,” “we will fight this spill,” “our battle plan,” and “there will be more oil and more damage before this siege is done,” as well as terms. No one is underestimating the damage this oil spill has done and the effects on Gulf Coast citizens, but we shouldn’t abandon phrases and concepts that define national security realities and use them only when they meet campaign or political opportunities.

    Posted in Security [slideshow_deploy]

    9 Responses to The President’s Mixed Military Metaphors

    1. Dave, Colorado says:

      Sorry — I think comparing a disastrous oil spill that will affect the lives of so many — and require the cooperation of so many to remedy– to an invasion of a military sort entirely appropriate. Of course, this is not what precisely what the President did in his speech, but I'll play along with the minimal quotations game. You can do better.

    2. Charles, Boston says:

      The problem with your examples of military metaphors is that those words and phrases have been used in so many other contexts that they don't come anywhere near your claim that they "define national security realities". In fact, if the President were to use those same phrases while talking about an actual military operation, I'm certain conservatives would criticize him for having a superficial knowledge of military operations, which is why I'm surprised people are so critical of "Overseas Contingency Operations" which is a more accurate description than the semantically challenged "Global War on Terror". Don't fall into the trap of thinking everything is a political opportunity.

    3. Pingback: The President’s Mixed Military Metaphors | Plug The Bleeping Hole

    4. Brad, Chicago says:

      I think this is a perfectly valid argument. This administration has been very cognizant of terminology, most notably with the renaming of the war on terror. I think we should pay attention to specific words that come from them. The oil spill has been used to create a bad guy, or an evil empire, out of BP, so oil drilling becomes evil and the cause of environmentalism, by contradiction, becomes good and righteous. I don't doubt that there is some intention to improve the country/world driving the administration's actions. However, I think they are using dirty tactics (emotional and ideological appeals instead of factual information, legislative tricks like reconciliation, etc.) to reach their goals and I distrust them because of those tactics.

    5. Billie says:

      yeah let's not pick on obama when we can put down a woman. what a man you are, Dave?

      clean up should've started day one. he blatantly avoided clean up as he refused help from other countries and denied Governor Jindahl necessary equipment to clean it himself. It is obama's job to protect this country regarding such disasters as this one.

      Had he made the proper decisions to clean up this mess from day one, it would've avoided many job and revenue losses to the state of Louisiana.

    6. Tom, US Virgin Islan says:

      The gov't structured ICS- Incident Control System appears slintered with no discernable Commander to make the decisions. Hands tied? Not suppose to be. ALL resources should be at the Commander's disposal, figure out the rules of politics later. Take charge and get 'er done.

    7. Spiritof76, NH says:

      Forget the military metaphor.

      We need to impach him for being negligent. His administration turned away the Dutch offer of significant sludge removing capable vessels at the site within three days of the oil spill. He didn't want to waive the Jones Act (union thuggery). Mr. Bush did that after Katrina. Miles of boom sitting in a warehouse in Maine not being used to contain the oil. He refused to help the state of Louisiana when they proposed a containment solution by sitting on the request. He refused to allow foreign ships in helping with the clean up. He has failed to act on the proposal of a Texas company with oil skimming equipment. He was partying and attending fund raisers while all this was going on. He is bent on destroying the economy of the region in order to grab more dictatorial powers. BP was prevented from dispersing the leak using chemicals. It was prevented from buring the oil by the inept Obama administration.

      BP requested that they drill at 500ft. deep loction. Louisiana issued permit. The federal governmnt overrulled it and pushed BP to locate it at 5000ft, a depth that has never been operated at before. The federal government issued all the various permits. It decalred the platform safe to operate. It kept the liability cap at $75 million eventhough BP was pushed to operate at ten times the depth level of their experience. I want to know why there is no accountability of the culpability of the federal government.

      The federal government caused the problem and then Obama stood in the way of claning up the oil. Even now, Obama is not reaponding to the leak containment as a top priority. He is bent on destroying the domestic oil industry. It is a clear obstruction most likely due to political desires.

      Obama appoints yet another commission staffed by political hacks and environmental wackos who have no knowledge on oil productio technology.

      Can we afford to wait until November?

    8. Al, Fl says:

      The way this administration conducts itself with respect to the military jargon, it totally misses the point. You need to clearly identify the goal if you wish to succeed and terms such as “Overseas Contingency Operations” hardly drives home the threat and reason for waging an effort against that threat. We are at war against Islamic Jihadists both here and abroad. We clearly identified the enemy in several ways during WWII.

    9. Tommy, TX says:

      I think that the military leadership needs to turn against Mr. Lawyer and take back our country from this little dictator by force. Even martial law with conservative common sense would be better than the leftist progressive agenda destroying the nation. DC needs to be cleaned up by force as I fear all future elections (2010, 2012, etc.) will be fixed Chicago style in the proud methods of Chavez and Mao used by our beloved "leader." I no longer have much faith in the election process to clean up the DC mess. There is far too much corruption and people are easily coerced and bought out by those corruption experts in power. “The barrel of a gun” is probably how the clean up will eventually take place IMHO.

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