April 22nd, 2019



Paul Greenberg

By Paul Greenberg

Published Jan. 26, 2016

It's a language all its own. Only a beginner may need a guide for the perplexed. Those fluent in it just let it wash over them the way Angelenos do the smog. Examples abound.

--What they say:

"I would do a tax, and the tax, let me tell you what the tax should be. The tax should be 45 percent." --Donald Trump, speaking of how much still-Communist China's exports to this country should be taxed.

What they mean:

"There, that ought to please all the voters who yearn for an old-fashioned, mutually destructive trade war like the one that led to the Great Depression. It may or may not be good policy now -- what do I know or care about economics? But I do care, very much, about how many votes I can get in the primaries. And I'll say anything to get them. Who says I'm not sincere?" --The Donald, to himself, cagily.

--What they say:

"Everything this year should be infused with a sense of possibility. Don't take the foot off the gas pedal." --The Hon. Barack Obama.

What they mean:

"Look at me. And how positive and upbeat I can be. Pay no attention to all those ghost writers behind the curtain. Or all those Republican presidential candidates so eager to confirm that I'm just another lame-duck president. Look at me. Look at me...." --The Hon. Barack Obama to himself.

--What they say:

"What he is saying is completely consistent with what he has said in the past...." --The Hon. Adam Schiff, U.S. representative from California, speaking of Gen. David Petraeus' testimony before the congressional committee investigating the massacre of American envoys at Benghazi.

What they mean:

"Lay off the president, will you? I'm only saying what an equally partisan Republican mouthpiece would say in my place."

--What they say:

"The guiding assumption was that Iran would not moderate its behavior. The president considered it absolutely critical to get this nuclear deal because we had no assessment that in the foreseeable future Iran would change its approach." --Rob Malley, the president's top Mideast adviser.

What they mean:

"We knew all along that Iran was not going to change a thing on account of this nuclear deal. It's always best to have your excuses made before everything falls apart, complete with a cliche like 'foreseeable future,' as if anything in the future were foreseeable."

--What they say:

"Let's give it a few days. It was made clear. We shall monitor [the nuclear deal with Iran] but do nothing." --A nameless American diplomat.

What they mean:

Absolutely nothing.

--What they say:

"If you were working on the nuclear deal, you were saying, 'Don't do too much.' " --Michael McFaul, former senior National Security Council official at the White House before becoming ambassador to Russia in 2012.

What he meant:

All the usual cliches about adopting a policy of benign neglect, watchful waiting and don't borrow trouble that were already old when you heard them in U.S. Foreign Policy 305.

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Paul Greenberg is the Pulitzer-winning editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.