2010/09/17

The PSOE's non-guerra in Afghanistan

I don't think anyone would dispute that Iraq destroyed the PP as an electoral machine for a decade. For a multitude of reasons, the increasing chaos in Afghanistan is unlikely to have the same effect on the PSOE, but Zapatero rolled into La Moncloa on chants of "¡No a la guerra!", and so considerable pressure remains to present the situation there as a pacifistic if troublesome security operation rather than a ferocious and perilous conflict with well-motivated adversaries, but . On Wednesday the PP leader Mariano Rajoy suggested to the government that it might like to start using the word guerra with reference to Afghanistan since everyone else already was - just look at Obama! Ah, said PSOE parliamentary spokesman José Antonio Alonso, just because it's a war doesn't mean it's a guerra:

"in the logic of English language usage the word 'war' is polysemic", so that one can talk of "the war against narcotrafficking", against crime or against terrorism.

This was the cue for predictable mirth, because Alonso seemed to be implying that guerra in Spanish requires armed hostilities between two nations, and that this was not the case in Afghanistan. If he was indeed saying that war has a semantic range denied to guerra, then he was clearly talking nonsense. The current RAE entry contains several metaphorical senses:

1. f. Desavenencia y rompimiento de la paz entre dos o más potencias.
2. f. Lucha armada entre dos o más naciones o entre bandos de una misma nación.
3. f. pugna (‖ entre personas).
4. f. Lucha o combate, aunque sea en sentido moral.
5. f. Oposición de una cosa con otra.

Moreover, these uses are not fresh imports. The oldest Academy dictionary (1734) cites them, quoting Antonio Hurtado de Mendoza's Vida de Nuestra Señora:

Reverente, hermoso, humilde,
le aparece joven tierno,
fiel Ministro, à quien hacen
poca guerra los secrétos.

And the etymology given in the modern dictionary ("Del germ. *werra, pelea, discordia...") suggests that this wider interpretation may have always been available.

So what was Alonso and the PSOE's message? Surely not that, while the US went into Afghanistan prepared to take casualties in the interests of humanity and its geo-political objectives, Spain by insisting its forces were deployed in low-risk areas and by generally keeping them on-base wasn't prepared to make a similar sacrifice to achieve its worthy goals? If so, what will Morocco be thinking?

[
Thanks to JL. More political screwups of all colour welcome: as you will have noted, the PP is not exempt.
]

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