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It's Neither a Surge Nor an Escalation

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I posted the other day on the "surge" idea and got some comments chiding me for not calling it an "escalation." I take the point, but I don't think either term quite does this justice.

"Surge." A hurricane-driven wave. The sudden electrical charge that fries your laptop. Something powerful, but temporary. It moves through, sweeping all before it, then is gone. Reliably focus-grouped to sound politically appealing and cost-free!

An "escalation" is broad and strategic in nature, something that could lead to a conflagration down the line. It's more or less ongoing and quagmire-ish, until the whole thing explodes or implodes, a la Vietnam.

But both terms ascribe a kind of grandeur to the Bush proposal that it lacks. I hate to mix clichés, but they're flying already: Kabuki. Pantomime. Potemkin. Fig leaf. A situation in which the politics obscures a sorry, threadbare reality.

That reality - the previous four years' toll on the military, the scale and bewildering complexity of the current challenge - has placed insurmountable limits on what we can do with troops and money, especially in a situation where Iraqi politics have so deteriorated.

Early on, we heard as many as 50,000 troops might constitute the surge/escalation. Now the numbers are in the 20,000 range. But we've had temporary increases on this scale before, and they haven't worked particularly well. There will be changes in the strategy - this influx may last longer, for instance. But the situation is significantly worse than before.

It's the worst of both worlds - almost certainly not enough to make a significant difference, but enough to get us in a little deeper, sacrifice more lives on the way toward an eventual pullout. That's not a surge or an escalation. It's just sad.