2006/03/30

Weapons of Mass Unconventionality

In a March 27th article on newly released Iraqi documents that might contain evidence of al Qaeda links, the NY Times makes a subtle change in wording when referring to weapons of mass destruction. They say (emphasis added) -
American intelligence agencies and presidential commissions long ago concluded that Saddam Hussein had no unconventional weapons and no substantive ties to Al Qaeda before the 2003 invasion.
The term unconventional weapon is not uncommon, especially in the last three years, but it usually refers to novel uses of explosives and unusual delivery systems.

Nuclear weapons can hardly be considered unconventional. They've been around for 60 years; Almost a dozen countries, with more to come, can be considered nuclear-armed states; The US alone has over 12,000 deployed warheads (down from a high of over 30,000). Likewise, to hear the administration tell it, countries the world over are cranking out biological and chemical agents--there again, hardly unconventional.

So what's with this semantic shift? Is the Times just getting sloppy? Is the administration using new language--rhetorically softening us up for a broader definition the circumstances necessary for a preemptive US strike?

Launching stinky wheels of Brie from a catapult might be considered "unconventional". Weapons of mass destruction...no so much. I'd say something "unconventional" is going on here...

Thanks to Graeme Anfinson at HNDBUITB for the inspiration and for his excellent analysis of how the right are using these same documents to bolster arguments and connections that the administration currently disavows.

3 Comments:

It does seem like Frank Luntz may be at it again. Private accounts become personal accounts, estate tax becomes death tax, and now weapons of mass destruction become unconventional weapons. Every time he manipulates the language, there's always a reason (and the reason usually means bad news for the American people).
"subtle change in wording"? Subtle??... as subtle as a hand grenade...
I'm embarrassed to say that I had to look up Luntz, but not that I have, I suspect you're right. "Semantic drift" seems to be common theme in political rhetoric these days. Get us used to a set of terms that bolster the oppositions' position and then spring something new and objectionable on us.

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