On the January 5 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, senior political analyst Bill Schneider suggested that Bush administration officials and other Republican figures have used the word "surge" to describe possible plans to increase the number of U.S. troops in Iraq because "it sounds temporary." Schneider noted that an alternative term for such a proposal -- "escalation" -- "sounds long-term." At the moment, it is unknown whether Bush plans to propose a short-term or long-term increase in troop levels. Those strongly advocating additional troops, however, such as Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and American Enterprise Institute (AEI) resident scholar Frederick W. Kagan, have made clear that they envision a "sustained" increase, perhaps for as long as 18 months. But despite these facts and despite the implication of "surge," according to Schneider, CNN anchors and reporters have used the term numerous times to describe the potential increase.
In a January 5 report on what Situation Room host Wolf Blitzer labeled the "great surge debate," Schneider noted that the words surge and escalation imply different timeframes:
SCHNEIDER: Why "surge"? Why not "escalate"? Because "surge" sounds temporary. Waves surge and decline. "Escalation" sounds long-term. President Lyndon Johnson escalated the deployment of U.S. troops to Vietnam in 1965. That war did not end for another 10 years. Whatever you call, it sending more troops would provoke a political firestorm.
Minutes earlier on the program, CNN had aired a clip of McCain emphasizing that a "small, short surge of U.S. forces" would not suffice and clarifying that he specifically supported a "significant and sustained" increase in troop levels, adding: "We've tried small surges in the past, and they've been ineffective because our commanders lacked the forces necessary to hold territory after it was cleared."
Another advocate of bolstering troop levels in Iraq, Kagan has also made clear that he envisions a long-term increase. From a December 27 Washington Post op-ed he co-wrote with retired Army general Jack Keane:
Bringing security to Baghdad -- the essential precondition for political compromise, national reconciliation and economic development -- is possible only with a surge of at least 30,000 combat troops lasting 18 months or so. Any other option is likely to fail.
The Bush administration is reportedly considering various proposals involving troop increases at the moment. But whether he is leaning towards a short-term or long-term plan is not publicly known. Nonetheless, a review of CNN on January 5 alone turned up several instances of anchors and reporters describing the potential increase as a "surge," notwithstanding its "short term" implication as noted by their colleague Schneider. They included: Blitzer, senior national correspondent John Roberts, White House correspondent Suzanne Malveaux, anchor Tony Harris, and White House correspondent Ed Henry.
From the January 5 edition of CNN's American Morning:
ROBERTS: You were talking about this surge. President Bush expected to surge troops from anywhere from 10,000 to 40,000 over the next few weeks in Iraq, mainly to get security in Baghdad. He has not confirmed that he's going to do it, but yesterday, in that press conference with Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany, he did sort of tilt toward the idea that he's thinking about that, and here's what he had to say.
From the January 5 edition of CNN's Newsroom:
MALVEAUX: Well, that's right. Top changes in the military as well. And what we think this really reflects is the notion here -- what we are being told from sources from the Pentagon, not from the White House, is that the president is very likely to go ahead and sign off on a U.S. troop surge. Anywhere from 20,000 to 40,000 additional troops.
Those in the Pentagon who are now out were ones who did not want that troop surge. They were calling for less U.S. troops, more training with Iraqis. Those who are coming in seem to support this idea of a U.S. troop surge. So it underscores, really, what we're seeing here, the possibility of, really, a new approach to the Iraq policy.
HARRIS: So let's sort of -- Suzanne, let's sort of take a moment and recap here. So, it appears as though the president has floated all -- or the White House as floated all of the trial balloons it will float on this idea of a military surge. And with Ambassador [John] Negroponte in place [as deputy secretary of state], maybe we get a sense of the diplomatic surge to come as well.
From the January 5 edition of CNN's The Situation Room:
DANA BASH [CNN congressional correspondent]: Senator John McCain, the Republican from Arizona, and also likely presidential candidate, he came out today as well, making clear what he wants. And what he said is that the idea of troops in Iraq should be -- is a good idea, more troops. He's been arguing for that for quite a long time. You would think that considering the fact that the president does -- is thinking about sending about 20,000 troops, we understand, that Senator McCain would be happy. But instead, what Senator McCain said is that the president should have more troops in Iraq and do it in a sustained way.
McCAIN [video clip]: This troop surge be significant and sustained, otherwise don't do it. It has to be significant and sustained, otherwise do not do it. Otherwise, there will be more needless loss of American lives.
The worst of all worlds would be a small, short surge of U.S. forces. We've tried small surges in the past, and they've been ineffective because our commanders lacked the forces necessary to hold territory after it was cleared.
BLITZER: While the great surge debate, as it's being called, rages among political and military leaders, what do the American people think about adding additional troops instead of withdrawing them? For some answers, we'll turn, as we always do, to our senior political analyst, Bill Schneider -- Bill.
SCHNEIDER: Wolf, there is a lot of anxiety here in Washington in anticipation of the president's speech next week, all because of one word.
The first official use of the S-word came when the new defense secretary went to Iraq last month.
ROBERT GATES [secretary of defense]: We've discussed the possibility of a surge and the poss -- and the potential for what it might accomplish.
SCHNEIDER: The same day, President Bush was asked if he supports a surge in the number of U.S. troops in Iraq.
BUSH: I'm just interested in the Iraqis' point of view, and then I'll report back to you as to whether or not I support a surge or not. Nice try.
SCHNEIDER: Why "surge"? Why not "escalate"? Because "surge" sounds temporary. Waves surge and decline. "Escalation" sounds long-term. President Lyndon Johnson escalated the deployment of U.S. troops to Vietnam in 1965. That war did not end for another 10 years. Whatever you call it, sending more troops would provoke a political firestorm.
HENRY: Wolf, the president plans to reveal his latest Iraq strategy in a prime-time address next week. We're expecting it to be Wednesday, though officials say it could slip to Thursday, depending on how all the final details are worked out. And officials saying privately the expectation, as you heard from Dana, is that the president is going to call for a troop surge, something in the neighborhood of about 20,000 U.S.troops.