Monday, October 09, 2006

"Now, As For The Comma..."

Many apologies for not reaching into the trough to extract the rhetorical spew and backpedaling executed by Tony the Snow job revolving around W's "comma" statement the other day. With my new gig, I've been a bit sidetracked by work.

I realize that, in the blogisphere, a couple of days of elapsed time is considered late to the discussion. Even so, I thought I would go back and see how hard it was for Tony to dig his president out of yet another pile of steaming dung that W stepped in.

Let's unpack this a bit.
...Now, as for the comma --
First, intent and meaning are lost on interpretation. As we already know, truth is a slave to perception. Regardless your position, when you articulate something in public, there is no way you can stop people from interpreting it their way. Skip to the second paragraph for Tony's first dip into the cesspool.
Q It sounded like an ultimatum to North Korea.

MR. SNOW: Well, again, it's a statement of our policy, which is we don't think they should have nuclear weapons. And I think the Chinese agree, and the South Koreans agree, and the Russians agree, and the Japanese agree. So all the parties to it, with one possible exception in the six-party talks, and that would be the North Koreans -- agree. And we hope that they will agree, to.

As for the comma. This has been brewed around; Peter had a word or two to say about it today. The comma refers to the period of time between last year's election and today. We're talking about -- well, the President is making the point is, when you look at a history book, a 10-month period is a comma. Now, some people have tried to say, how dare the President refer to this as a comma; he's being glib about the deaths of Americans. That's outrageous, and the people who say that know it. What they're trying to is, willingly or not, wrench a statement out of context and try to use that as an opportunity to accuse a President who is deeply aware of the human cost of war of being calloused about those costs. It's just not true.

And I've talked to him about this a number of times. It was simply -- what he means is that in the grand sweep of history, 10 months is not an epic. Now, there is -- if there is a chasm in here it has to do with what the President said and the way it's been twisted by people who know what the context was.
I don't think it is so outrageous that people interpret the president's comma statement as being glib and overly insensitive. What did you think when you heard the president's statement?

Moreover, we know that you can't restrict the terms and dates of your speech expose facto. I sure wish I could retract a few things that I said when I meant something entirely different. However, when you fail to specify duration in your speechifying, you don't get to go back and restate the parameters.
Q The war is three-and-a-half years old.

MR. SNOW: I know, but notice that "comma" reference was simply referring to the time since -- what he really is referring to is the short lifetime so far of the government. Everybody trying to say, ah-ha, and trying to draw conclusions, is it working, isn't it working; do you have confidence in the Prime Minister, do you not? It's 10 months old. It's a government that is still in its infancy and trying to deal with a host of complex and very important issues. So when you take it in the broad sweep of history, and as we look back -- you and I probably -- well, you may, centuries from now, but I don't think I'm going to last as long as you will, Helen -- but the facts is --

Q Tough. (Laughter.)
Is it me or do people usually resort to humor, and in particular sarcasm, when they have no other means to support their arguments in a futile attempt to deflect attention where it need be focused?

The truth of the matter is that even if you look at only the past ten months, things in Iraq are not going to well, are they?
MR. SNOW: Yes, probably. But if you look in the broad sweep of history, that will be seen as a comma. That small beginning of a new government -- that's what he's referring to. He's not talking about the war as a comma.

Q But isn't that 10-month period significant only because, in fact, the violence has been so terrible? I mean, the reason we're talking about that time period is the trauma that's going on in Iraq.
Well, certainly, we see that Tony is going to make some nice retroactive excuses for how poorly it is going in Iraq. Pay particular attention to when he suggests that they were expecting violence to spike and ask yourself this: If you expected it, why didn't you do something to stop the violence from spiking?
MR. SNOW: No, it's significant, Peter, because it is the dawning of a new government. And if you take a look, the violence is a factor. We've been saying for some time that we expected it to spike up, but also you have a number of things that are going on that are very important. You probably saw yesterday they demobilized a police unit in Iraq because of suspicion that they've been working with militias in committing acts of terror. That was one of the things that we have talked about, the importance of getting control of the police, having assertiveness on the part of a national government to make sure that you had all the institutions working toward the benefit of the people.

So there are a number of things that have been going on that you would expect at the beginning of a government. It's being tested, and furthermore, as the 90-10 document -- that is the Pentagon's quarterly paper -- noted back in May -- this was the one that Bob Woodward cites -- that the bulk of the violence right now, you have some sectarian violence and you also have a fair amount, although it's a small wedge of people, of al Qaeda and other terrorists who are trying to inflict maximum damage. That's to be expected.

But on the other hand, what you also see are concerted efforts to create a sense of national reconciliation so that especially those who are involved -- the so-called rejectionists, people who have so far rejected an invitation into government, will, in fact, decide that it's in their interest to be part of a political approach to putting together a unified and peaceful Iraq.
So, let's get to it. If the President was trying to be specific in terms of the limited scope of his comma, why didn't he clarify it for us as he used the term?

Q The President's statement was open to misinterpretation, let's say. Why did he use it a couple more times after he first did and people reacted --

MR. SNOW: Because he didn't think he had --

Q Why wouldn't he want to avoid any misunderstanding on something so obviously --

MR. SNOW: Maybe he didn't think that people were going to be -- were going to spend so much time trying to twist it out of context. But I'm pleased to have been able to place it in context.
Ah, I see - here's where I start to question the honesty of this administration once again. They are so good at generating fodder for the presidential propaganda catapult, I have to think that every word is carefully selected for such speechifying by the President. There is no way that they didn't think about the use of the term comma. Where they got it wrong was that they didn't realize how offensive the use of the term was and is.
Do you think that Tony has successfully cleared this up for the W, Rove and Co?

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