The Blog

The War on Terror's Newest Bad Cliche

" . . . or the terrorists will have won" is replaced by a new, equally-annoying trope.

11:00 PM, Nov 25, 2003 • By MATT LABASH
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SOME DAYS, when the after party in Iraq isn't going so well--which is to say, most days--I'm put in mind of the Bush administration's admonition to be sunny-side-up journalists, to eliminate the negative, to accentuate the positive. God knows I try.

I take stock in small victories, often overlooked. Like there was the time military engineers in Fallujah cleared a field of garbage, covered it with fresh soil, then erected goal posts to make a soccer field. Sure, the next day the goal posts had been stolen, and the dirt scraped from the field. "What kind of people loot dirt?" one frustrated Army captain asked the Washington Post. But you've got to crawl before you walk.

Then there was the Department of Defense press release which announced that veterinarians had purchased $42,000 in equipment for the Baghdad zoo, including an autoclave for instrument sterilization and a vaporizer to measure anesthesia drugs. (Damn you, New York Times! How could you let your liberal media bias get in the way of this triumph of the human/animal spirit?) Or how about when Marines in Qadisiya Province set up a Rotary Club--another advance that caught Big Media looking. Now, Iraqis, freed from tyranny's grip, will have the inalienable right to gather in dingy meeting halls, listen to mediocre speeches, and to eat dried-out chicken.

Color me a gloomy Gus, but these undisputed successes don't seem to mitigate say, the 25-member Iraqi governing council dwindling into the 24-member council on account of assassination, or U.S. choppers getting pegged out of the sky on milk-run transport missions, or U.S. soldiers getting their throats slit and their bodies desecrated in the streets of supposedly friendly cities like Mosul.

So that's when it's time to find a quiet place, take a deep breath, and let the rationalizing begin. This is most easily done by clinging to the cliché du-jour, as seen on TV. It used to seem that the Left had the monopoly on stupid war clichés. Who among us hasn't become accustomed, every time a Hummer breaks down, to hearing that we're facing "another Vietnam"? Who hasn't winced while opening the morning paper to Doonesbury and Garry Trudeau's 315th straight day of blood-for-oil, Halliburton groaners?

Still, as of late, the Right has given the Left a decent run in the stupid war clichés department. In the immediate aftermath of September 11, hawks and doves alike had a tough time encouraging citizens to take any pedestrian, non-heroic action, without warning that if these actions weren't taken, the terrorists will have won. Over the summer, as we were continuously assured by the administration that the bad guys were desperate and on the run, we could not turn on our television sets without hearing that "the noose is tightening." (Whether around Saddam's neck, or ours--nobody seemed to specify).

Now, the most fashionable pre-fab rationalization to use when the news isn't going as swimmingly as we want it to, is to select a place in Iraq, then a corresponding place in America. If the two places start with the same letter, all the better. Next, state baldly that no matter how lousy things are going, you'd rather fight the terrorists / Baathists / whoever-it-is-we're-fighting in the first location, rather than the second. Lastly, sit back with a self-satisfied smile, as if that settles the matter.

So, for instance, Paul Bremer would "rather have us fighting [terrorists] somewhere outside the United States, than fighting them inside the United States." President Bush is spoiling for a fight "in Iraq and Afghanistan and in other places" rather than in "New York or St. Louis or Los Angeles." Still confused? Bush states it more simply: he'd rather fight them, "there than here."