19 March 2011

Words of War - Odyssey Dawn

As Operation Odyssey Dawn - a title with its own interesting connotations - were about to kick off, Secretary of State Clinton used some interesting words. What I mean by that is the words she used, her diction, seemed rather odd for what has turned into a barrage of more than one hundred cruise missiles. According to the Washington Post:

Questioned on whether the mission was aimed at ensuring the safety of civilians or at pushing Gaddafi from power, she said, “It is to protect civilians and provide access for humanitarian assistance.”
I don't want to seem like I'm picking apart her words, but she is the lead diplomat for the United States and diplomatic words are meant to be picked apart. First, her words are in my opinion not meant necessarily for a foreign audience, which may seem odd at first. They are meant for folks in the US who are understandably very, very leery of hopping into another foreign adventure, especially one as apparently disconnected from US interests as a civil war in a North African country of 6.4 million. After all, if supporting rebels against dictators were a cause for war, the US would be actively engaging in many more countries in the region at the moment.

So Secretary Clinton instead mentions "protecting civilians" - a euphemism. After all, if one protects, then one guards, one stands watch; to protect has a defensive connotation. This is a much more palatable and perhaps even laudable perception of Odyssey Dawn. Unfortunately, the euphemism is a thin cover. One side in Libya is made up of Gaddafi's military; the other is made of up civilians who have taken up arms. "Protecting" these civilians means, in actuality, taking a side against Gaddafi. Not that doing so is a bad thing.

But what the government is selling, through its words, is not a war, regardless of how many munitions actually get fired into and dropped on Libya. What the government is selling is a defensive action of civilians only and providing a route for humanitarian assistance.

To paraphrase President Obama, make no mistake - America is engaged in a war in Libya. It may be short, it may be long. We may be limited players in a coalition. We may only send in cruise missiles and keep our fighters and bombers above the reach of any Libyan arms. But we are at war. The least the administration can do is not euphemize on the subject, but perhaps they don't think highly enough of either the goal in Libya or the American electorate to say it straight.

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