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Disgruntled folks

Bush names sulkers in Iraq

George W Bush has recently been giving a lot of speeches and press conferences about the “war on terror”. Some of his pronouncements have been surreal, as in this during a White House press conference:

You know, we used to think we were secure because of oceans and previous diplomacy. But we realized on September the 11th, 2001, that killers could destroy innocent life.

The idea that this was the first time killers had destroyed innocent life was reminiscent of Fox News’ description of the July 2005 London bombings as “the first homicide attacks in Western Europe”. The nature of the threat was metaphysically unprecedented. No one had ever before been a victim of homicide, or been killed. Truly was it a time to declare war on murder.

But in Cleveland, the President had something very revealing to say about the insurgency in Iraq:

The enemy in this case is disgruntled folks inside of Iraq, coupled with an al Qaeda presence there that wants to harm Americans again.

“Disgruntled folks”, hmm?

The Oxford English Dictionary defines disgruntlement as “sulky dissatisfaction or ill-humour”, as in a line of fragrantly evocative perfection that it quotes from a Victorian novel: “Tabitha retired to her room somewhat disgruntled.”

This, then, is excellent news. If the people fighting in Iraq are merely “disgruntled”, flouncing around in a sulk like a bunch of modern-day Tabithas, it will presumably be a simple matter to get back on their good sides with some calming words, a cup of tea, or perhaps a shower of cuddly toys falling from the skies, as in last year’s Operation Teddy Drop.

On the other hand, “disgruntled” also has a clever implication: that Iraqis can have no authentic grievance with the ways in which the war and occupation have been conducted. Perhaps the President was thinking of the earthier phrase used internally by the US military – POIs, or “pissed-off Iraqis”. But “disgruntled” is much softer than “pissed-off”. You may be pissed off for a very good reason. But if you are disgruntled, it is your own fault for over-reacting and retiring to your room in a kind of elegant tantrum.

In any case it was remarkable that Bush acknowledged the fact, long known to the military, that the insurgency comprised many people who were not simply “terrorists” or ex-regime types but, as Iraq forces commander Lt Gen John R Vines described them last summer, a “broader group” of Iraqis who “want to see all foreign forces leave the country”.

This fact unfortunately gives the lie to those commentators who describe everyone fighting the occupation as “Jihadists”, which is no more accurate than the distastefully heroic term, “resistance”, employed by their adversaries.

Obviously such an acknowledgment of the complicated situation in Iraq was not really on-message. Happily, Bush had a chance to correct himself a week later in the fragrant Rose Garden, where “disgruntled folks” were nowhere to be seen, having disappeared in favour of the usual suspects, “the terrorists and former regime elements”. One thing we know about terrorists, I think, is that they are always gruntled. 

  1. 1  Shawn  April 15, 2006, 7:54 pm 

    Unfortunately, Bush is only going around giving speeches to boost his sagging approval numbers. It worked in the past to some extent, but is failing miserably now.

  2. 2  Richard  July 15, 2008, 6:53 pm 

    I was doing some research regarding the abuse of language and re-read some of Unspeak and followed some of the books sources. For Operational Teddy Drop, the press release used for the book states it was one solder’s idea, albeit inspired by other individual’s humantarian projects, which was suggested to his chain-of-command and was supported by friends and family. Unspeak says pilots “were instructed” to go through with the operation. Unspeak in unspeak?

  3. 3  Steven  July 16, 2008, 12:02 am 

    Mea culpa, I think. Though the pilot in question does say “we” dropped teddies, so it’s possible (though unclear) whether his wingmen, as it were, were in fact “instructed” to drop teddies along with him. But I was certainly wrong to give the impression that it was a wheeze thought up by the brass.

    The press release in question is here.

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