Huffpost Politics
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Randall Amster Headshot

Caution: Surge Ahead ... and Slide Back

Posted: Updated:

In what is rightly being viewed as a Bush Redux, we are yet again about to experience a military escalation of potentially tragic proportions. Somehow, the forlorn word surge has once more found itself bound up with perpetual warfare and an Orwellian phraseology of having been (in President Obama's words) "compelled to fight" in the name of "common security" in a war where "our cause is just," one that of course "we did not ask for" -- all wrapped in the mantle of "peace, prosperity, and human dignity."

Strangely enough, the word surge itself seems to have a history of ironic etymology in its humble midst, likely deriving from the Old French surgir, meaning "to rise, ride near the shore, arrive, land" -- making it particularly apropos for use in a war escalation context. The definition provided by Dictionary.com contains an especially pointed illustration that might serve to define the morass likely to ensue in the days ahead: "a strong, wavelike, forward movement, rush, or sweep: the onward surge of an angry mob."

Obviously we've been through the news cycle already and know that we're looking at 100,000 troops in Afghanistan until at least mid-2011. Many already have opined that it's an unwinnable situation in a place where empires go to die, with almost no al-Qaeda left there by now, and that instead we're facing an emboldened nativist resistance that will likely fight to the bitter end. The fact that the former anti-surge candidate is now the pro-surge president only adds to the pervasive anguish and the utter sense of incredulity.

In times like this, it is often helpful to consult spiritual tracts. For me, that means Wikipedia, where entries evolve magically and many of the tales told are essentially apocryphal. Indeed, the Bible itself was likely written in similar fashion, by putting a call for contributions out to the erudite and informed. So, in the interest of uplifting and enlightening all concerned, I offer the following expurgated passage to help ease the shock and perhaps remind us that there's still a sense of wonderment in the world:

"Surge may refer to: a soft drink formerly made by The Coca-Cola Company; the revised U.S. counter-insurgency strategy in the Iraq War; a video game publishing label owned by Namco Bandai Games; the student radio station of the University of Southampton; a comic book character and mutant in the Marvel Universe; a gym Leader in the Pokemon video games; and/or a multihop protocol for data acquisition used in Wireless Sensor Networks."

Okay, so this last one is bewildering. But the others, if one is conspiratorially inclined, paint a fascinating picture -- linking Coke (clandestine drug reference and imperialist corporate product) with video games (obvious military training tools developed by the Pentagon), comic books (classic good-vs.-evil, pro-war scenarios), and college radio stations (commercial inducements masking as rebellion) -- all intertwined with explicit counterinsurgency efforts in 21st century Middle Eastern wars. This cannot simply be an accident of random chance, as it clearly reflects a hidden military-industrial agenda to corrupt and co-opt not only our minds but, indeed, the unassuming concept of surge.

What then do we make of the most recent addition to the list? We might call it "an increase or expansion of a dangerous or foolhardy policy," or "a boon to certain construction and service firms whose stock has already risen on the good news," or even "a resurrection of outmoded and failed strategies reminiscent of a previous Administration that will be remembered for its callous indifference and adventurism." In each case, the spirit of surge can be found lurking in the shadows of an angry mob arisen.

It's an intriguing prospect to consider that smiling faces on the Sunday morning talk shows went out of their way to disavow any intended "exit strategy" that might be contained within the new surge. It appears that we will be surging in Afghanistan for quite some time, and despite tepid predictions from higher-ups suggesting that this strategy might "degrade" (rather than defeat) the Taliban, there's really not much reason to expect anything more than a hollow declaration of "victory" and a slow drawdown at some unspecified (and increasingly murky) date in the future -- at which point we'll likely rush headlong toward the next front in the generational war without end.

The fallout, however, will be with us for an even longer time: soldiers and their families with disrupted lives and the wounds of war; Afghans left to rebuild from the rubble of a literal and figurative power vacuum; America sitting on monumental debt and unfulfilled domestic initiatives at home; a destabilized geopolitical spectrum based on a preemption doctrine long abandoned in international law; and a further institutionalization of fear and vengeance masking as foreign policy. In this sense, it is mainly misery and futility that will surge ahead, while decency and responsibility continue to inexorably slide back.

Indeed, it almost sounds like this could be a viable storyline for a comic book or a video game, but it's all-too-real. And no amount of Coke or college radio can drown out the inherent illogic and despair. Some will try to rationalize it away because they still want to like this new president, others will couch their bloodlust and race-hatred as strong-willed and sound military policy, and still others will cast their lot with a bald-faced fleecing of the treasury under the guise of "national security" and "promoting democracy."

Poor old surge, getting caught up in all of this mad rush. (I guess if it happens again, at least the wags can have at it with references to the "Three Surges" or something equally sublime.) Alas, in the end it seems that we've taken yet another step backward with this new headlong offensive aimed at "peace and prosperity" -- and no amount of linguistic manipulation toward "forward movement" can effectively counter that actuality.

Register To Vote