It depends on what the meaning of "throes" is

The vice president defends his rosy outlook on Iraq -- but acknowledges that there's still "a lot of bloodshed" to come.

By Tim Grieve
Published June 24, 2005 12:55PM (EDT)

Five U.S. Marines were killed when a suicide bomber blew up his vehicle next to their convoy in Fallujah Friday, and the general in charge of the U.S. Central Command is telling Congress that, contrary to the recent remarks by Dick Cheney, the insurgency in Iraq is alive and well and swelling with fighters from foreign lands.

So is the vice president ready to re-assess his rosy view about Iraq? Well, no. On May 31, Cheney told Larry King: "The level of activity that we see today from a military standpoint, I think, will clearly decline. I think they're in the last throes, if you will, of the insurgency." Since he spoke, at least 66 U.S. soldiers and God knows how many Iraqis have been killed, and military officials and senators from both parties have said that there's a "disconnect" between the optimism in the White House and the reality on the ground in Iraq.

So what does Dick Cheney have to say for himself now? Cheney was back on CNN yesterday, and if we were to read the interview to you and not tell you that it was the vice president speaking, you would most certainly believe that it was, oh, the sort of thing that Republicans used to call "Clintonian." See, it depends on what the meaning of the word "throes" is. "If you look at what the dictionary says about 'throes,' it can still be a violent period, the throes of a revolution," Cheney explained. "The point" of his earlier comments had been that "the conflict will be intense, but it's intense because the terrorists understand that if we're successful at accomplishing our objective -- standing up a democracy in Iraq -- that that's a huge defeat for them."

The vice president is pretty handy with his dictionary, but there's one small problem with his lexicographical analysis. He didn't say last month that Iraq is "in the throes" of the insurgency; he said that Iraq is "in the last throes" of the insurgency. And our dictionary defines "last" as meaning "coming after all others in time or order, final; met with or encountered after any others; the lowest in importance or rank."

So which definition did Cheney have in mind? He didn't say, but perhaps we can help. Since Cheney now says that there will still be a "lot of bloodshed" in Iraq, he must not have meant "last" in the way most of us would have understood it, as a synonym for the word "final." Instead, maybe what he had in mind was the other dictionary definition -- "the lowest in importance or rank." After all didn't George W. Bush tell us -- more than two years and 1,588 dead U.S. troops ago -- that "major" combat operations were over?

Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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