FRAMESHOP:FRAMESHOP: STUCK IN THE MIDDDLE, CAUGHT, TRAPPED

As big media sources in the U.S. start to use "civil war" to describe Iraq, progressives should give some thought to how we talk about U.S. soldiers currently serving. For some time, now, Democrats have used this two-part formula: I...

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Jeffrey Feldman, Editor-in-Chief
Frameshop, 11/29/2006

As big media sources in the U.S. start to use "civil war" to describe Iraq, progressives should give some thought to how we talk about U.S. soldiers currently serving.

For some time, now, Democrats have used this two-part formula:

  1. I support the troops
  2. I am against the policy (e.g., against how the policy was conceived, carried out, etc.)

While not a bad formula, as the frame for Iraq shifts to "civil war," progressives might revise their formula to begin with these one of these key metaphors

  1. Stuck in the middle
  2. Caught
  3. Trapped

These three metaphors help to orient the debate--to explain the situation of U.S. troops in terms of one object in the middle of two opposing forces. 

The purpose of using these metaphors is to drive the debate into a logic of "freeing" our soldiers.

Stuck  In the Middle
In the logic of the "civil war" frame,  Iraq is engaged in a war between opposing sides--both of which are endangering the lives  of our soldiers. 

Fareed Zakaria at Newsweek, for example, frame the situation our soldiers face in terms of being "shot at by both sides":

"We're in the middle of a civil war and are being shot at by both sides."

Notice how this "stuck in the middle" logic clearly defines two issues:

  1. The danger to our troops (being in the middle)
  2. The key to ending that danger (getting the heck out of the middle)

Zakaria's phrase "being shot at by both sides" can be a very effective way for progressives to define the terms of the debate.

Caught
Once progressives orient the debate in terms of the danger our soldiers face (e.g., in between waring sides), the next step is frame the difficulties they face getting out of that danger.

One way to do that is to use the metaphor "caught" to link the danger in Iraq to the politics that are holding back change.  That might look like this:

Our soldiers are caught in President Bush's dangerous policy

Here the idea is it to define what is holding us back from liberating our soldiers from being caught in the middle--it is not "Al Qaeda" or Iraqi leadership, but President Bush's policies.

Trapped
Finally, progressive can talk about the consequences of the situation in terms of our soldiers being "trapped."  Here we can see the three stages of this kind of framing:

  1. Define the danger (stuck in the middle)
  2. Attribute the cause (caught by Bush's policies)
  3. Name the consequences (trapped in a no-win situation)

So far, this idea of being "trapped" has been tossed around by politicians who talk about "no military solution" to the problems in Iraq. But progressives could also talk about this problem in much more basic terms:

Our soldiers are trapped in a no-win situation, leading only to more deaths.

"Trapped" is a powerful metaphor not just because it is an accurate description of the situation in Iraq, but because it leaves no option but change. Safety and survival become understood in terms of "freedom from" or "being released from" the trap.

From  "Civil War" To "Trapped"
The bigger picture, here, is that the progressives must be looking ahead beyond the "gotcha" politics of using the phrase "civil war."  It is true that most progressives have been describing Iraq as a civil war for more than a year.  But the important task, now,  is to define the situation of our soldiers such that the solution to their plight becomes clear to as many Americans as possible.

And to do that,  progressive should talk about them being stuck in the middle, caught, and trapped.

©  2006 Jeffrey Feldman, Frameshop

© Jeffrey Feldman 2006, Frameshop

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