November 30, 2005

"Finish" is an exquisite word choice.

"Finish the war" means something different from "end the war," right? Or will it mean whatever you need it to mean, later?

Just a thought about a very carefully crafted quote from Hillary Clinton:
"We must set reasonable goals to finish what we started and successfully turn over Iraqi security to Iraqis."

UPDATE: "Complete" is the word choice of President Bush, in today's speech on the war. Speaking of the troops fighting in Iraq, he says we must "complete their mission." "Mission" is a much stronger expression than Senator Clinton's "what we started." Do you think we should complete our mission or finish what we started? Or do you think they're the same thing? I don't.


Mark said...

I've always thought that "to finish" and "to end" were synonyms. But English is not my natiive language, so perhaps there's a difference that I am not aware of.

Mark said...

Sorry for the typo, I meant "native", of course.

Nick said...

I think finish and end are both pretty vague.

"Win" would have been much better, and actually made a stand.

SippicanCottage said...

It is easy to be brave when there is no danger

Mark said...


I think "win" is even more vague than "end" or "finish." There are thousands of ways to define "win" in Iraq war.

XWL said...

I think Sen. Clinton meant that we need to "Finnish" the war.

What we need is some Finlandization in Iraq.

As far as the semantic difference between 'finish' and 'end' I perceive the difference in being the comparative emotive value of the two words.

They are synonymous, but, to finish something is to actively come to a conclusion suggesting agency (you finish a race), while to end something is to reach a conclusion whether or not you had agency in the outcome (his life ended after a long struggle).

Damn you, I thought I was finished with this sort of poststructuralist hair splitting, guess once some pathways are excited they never fully dissipate.

The Drill SGT said...

I disagree that finish and end have the same meaning when applied to "___ the war.

I argue that in this context


as in "Complete the Mission"



as in "End the War Now!"

XWL said...

One more thing, also notice Sen. Clinton's choice to use the word 'success'.

Many other Democrats are choosing to say the same thing she did along the lines of 'We must END our involvement in this miserable FAILURE and bring the troops home'

Subtantively both are calling to bring the troops home as soon as possible (when pushed even the loudest, miserable failure-ites like Sen. Biden say no immediate withdrawal), but her statement calls the return home a success while the other way of speaking calls the return home an ignoble return of the defeated and deluded.

Which would you rather follow?

(but then, she will be vulnerable in the primaries from the left in '08, and possibly even in '06 if some in the left begin to suspect that she actually means what she says)

the Rising Jurist said...

Man, I don't read any of that into her quote. "Finish what we started" just makes more sense as a phrase. "End what we started"? That's just poor usage. Finish is to start as end is to begin. That's all I see.

Bruce Hayden said...

I find it very crafty wordsmanship (wordswomanship?). "Ending the war" has come to mean "cutting and running". Finishing it may mean the same thing as ending it, or it may mean, as previous posters have pointed out, more active agency, plus possibly staying until it is won.

Anonymous said...

Drill Sgt clearly has it the most right of all the interpretations here.

Finish is rather different then end. End means stop no matter where you are in a process. Finish means finish the process.

I think what Ann is pointing to is the the Clintonian flourish here - she's looking for language that doesn't alienate the lefties nor the centist righties.

I think the more interesting part of Ann's post is in the update. For me FINISH WHAT WE STARTED is hugely different than complete the mission. FWWS has a huge critique in it (this war wasn't necessary - we started it).

Complete the mission is a weak position for Bush to take - it suggests that we need to continue because those are our 'orders' and does nothing to bolster a sense of the rightness of those orders.

tefta said...

The compassionates are debating semantics again.

Finish what you started sounds like a chore or project left undone and cluttering up the house.

Can you end a war unilaterally?

Complete a mission? Sounds like a successful bombing run over Berlin in WW2.

What Bush said makes the most sense, as Iraqis step forward to provide police and military protection, we'll stand back. When the democratically elected leaders of Iraq in agreement with our military leaders think it's time for us to withdraw, that's when we'll do so while most likely maintaining a military presence where we are invited to do so, probably in the Kurdish areas.

Kurds aren't stupid.

The Drill SGT said...
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The Drill SGT said...

I'm in agreement with Bruce and Stranger.

BTW: I picked my example of "Complete the Mission without having noticed Ann's update (if it was even there at the time)

working on the second language test: Do you think we should complete our mission or finish what we started? Or do you think they're the same thing?

They are not the same thing. Mission in my mind is a pre-planned (military?) operation of limited scope and duration

Finish what we started doesn't have a clear definition, but putting a maternal spin on it rings to me like:
"clean up your mess"
Nothing implied in the phrase that implies planning or thought.

I think Hiliary's use of "Finish" was clearly designed to be different things to different people and provide plausible deniability for any eventuality. A true lawyer/political/trianglulator

essentially the points that xwl was making about "success"

The Drill SGT said...


"Can you end a war unilaterally? "

You can end an occupation of Iraq unilaterally.

You can't end the Goblal War with Islamofascists unilaterally.

You can surrender. You can win, You can suppress/reduce the threat. You can't end the war if they don't agree to a peace.
Ah for the good old simple days when you could tell who won and who lost the war. In those days, winning was defined as planting your flag on the rubble of the enemies capital and putting the King's head on a Pike.

A Roman Peace. Those guys knew how to solve problems. Just kidding here.

But I doget frustrated when my mother mouths that old left wing platitude:

War Never Solves Anything!

I mention Carthage or Hitler or Tojo and point out that might not be the case.

Mark said...

I like it when you guys spin Clinton's words as being somehow crafty or "triamgulating" while Bush is of course firm and resolute.
Again, "complete our mission" is meaningless if "the mission" keeps getting re-defined. What is the mission exactly? It used to be building a stable and democratic Iraq. Now it seems to be leaving Iraq when it's barely able to stay together as a single state, without disintegrating into a civil war.

Let me quote what Senator Feingold said, who I personally think is the Democrat with the best position on Iraq:

“While today’s speech by the President was billed as yet another attempt to lay out a plan for finishing the military mission in Iraq, the only new thing the administration gave the American people was a glossy 35-page pamphlet filled with the same rhetoric we’ve all heard before. Today’s action by the White House isn’t a step forward, it’s a step back. In fact the booklet the administration released to accompany the President’s speech is described as a “…document [that] articulates the broad strategy the President set forth in 2003…” That alone makes it clear that the President seems more dug in than ever to the same old “stay the course” way of thinking. This is not a strategy, and it certainly is not a plan to complete the military mission in Iraq.

The American people, an increasing number of elected officials, and more and more military and intelligence officials understand what the President doesn’t - that our seemingly indefinite presence in Iraq, and the lack of a plan to redeploy troops, feeds the insurgency and hurts our national security. We need leadership, and we need a policy on Iraq that includes a flexible timetable for completing our military mission there, so that we can focus on our national security priority – defeating the global terrorist networks that threaten the U.S. The President missed a vital opportunity today. Our brave service members, their families, the American people, and the Iraqi’s themselves deserve and demand more.”

Craig said...

"Come on baby, finish what you started.
I'm incomplete."

Tristram said...

Think of it in terms of racingL is there a difference between ending the race and finishing the race? Of course there is. Ending can mean/implies forcing everyone to finish prematurely.

That is, finsihing is what the participants do, but ending is what the organizers do.

In that sense, of course, only the military can finish it, yet clearly the legislative or executive branch can end it...

tcd said...

When did Bush ever advocate cutting and running? Seems to me that it's been the Democrats who want to cut and run.
Nice to see you got the new Democrat talking points memo: Bush is no longer lying about the war, he's now losing the war.

Mark said...

I didn't say he was cutting and running. Instead, I said that the "mission" is constantly being redefined. "Cut and run" is the way Republicans want to frame the debate, nice to see that you got their talking points. If you want to talk seriously, yes, the presence of the US troops is the most important factors flaming the insurgency. I've been saying it for a long time. It doesn't mean we should withdraw all forces right now, but it does mean that we need to start gradually withdraw. Incidentally, I believe that's exactly what Bush will be doing next year.

Do you wanna bet that significant amounts of troops will be withdrawn before the 2006 midterm elections? If you believe that many troops will be withdrawn in 2006, can you say with a straight face that internal US politics won't be a part of the decision to withdraw?

Mark said...

Speaking of Iraq, how do you all like that the US appears to be planting favorable stories in the Iraqi media? What a great example of democracy that we're supposedly building there!

Anonymous said...

Democrats like Hillary have a hard time making specific statements because their party is fragmented.

For example, who best represents the Democratic party's position on Iraq: Murtha or Lieberman?

Another example: "I voted for the $87 billion before I voted against it."

Mark said...

As if Republicans are united. Who best represents Republican position: McCain, Hagel, Warner, or Bush?

There's nothing wrong in having different opinions on anything in a political party.

Anonymous said...


Why wouldn't you think Bush's position represents the Republican Party? He was twice elected president, right?

And what about my comment that the Democratic Party has a hard time being specific because their party is fragmented? Don't you think the debates between the Kossacks ( and the Democratic Leadership Council is significant?

Don't you think Hillary will experience significant intraparty opposition in '08 as a centrist?

me said...

brylin said:
"Don't you think Hillary will experience significant intraparty opposition in '08 as a centrist? "

Actually, I think Hillary will face intraparty opposition in '08 b/c she's seen as too liberal and unelectable -- what Southern state will she carry? Mike Warner would probably get Virginia, and if he got all the other states Kerry won in '04 + VA, he would probably win (not sure on the numbers there though). Hillary would have a very hard time winning Va.

Goatwhacker said...

I like it when you guys spin Clinton's words as being somehow crafty or "triangulating" while Bush is of course firm and resolute.

Hmm, I don't know if I'm one of "you guys" but both Clinton and Bush are vague on specifics. While it's reasonable to say we'll stay until the job is done, it's also reasonable to have a discussion on what exactly that means - what are the parameters one uses to define victory and how do we achieve them. Both Clinton and Bush leave a lot of wiggle room in their comments - my perception is that Clinton does so in order to leave herself an out depending on the eventual outcome, while Bush does so in order to avoid committing to specifics that may be unacceptable later.

I don't view Clinton's comments negatively at all. They seem to be the comments an astute politician would make.

Mark said...


The fact that Bush was elected as a President doesn't mean that he best represents current Republican position on Iraq. But even if Bush represents the Republican position, my point was that both Democrats and Republicans are fragmented on Iraq, not just Democrats as your previous post implied. There are differences of opinion in both parties and they will only get bigger as we approach the 2006 and 2008 elections.

Of course, Democratic party doesn't speak with a single voice on Iraq and doesn't have a united position. But not being specific may reflect not only fragmentation, but also a political strategy: it's a Bush war; Bush is in power, so it's up to Bush to present a plan. Given that it will be Bush who determines US policy toward Iraq until the end of 2008, I myself see little value in Democrats trying to come up with one single position on Iraq until at least 2007. It's next to impossible to come up with one position and it's also useless since Democrats do not hold Presidency yet.

Mr. Dart said...

Around our family dinner table we have a shorthand for when our 16 year old son answers a question in a way that gives him wiggle room later. We tell him he's Clintonizing. He always replies, "What does "is" mean." Hillary's answer just shows she's getting better at Clintonizing-- although, in her case it will be called Rodhamizing.

Mark said...

Sorry, the last comment should have been addressed to Brylin.

And I think you're right, Hillary will have a very serious opposition from guys like Feingold and Warner if she decides to run.

Pooh said...

Mission in my mind is a pre-planned (military?) operation of limited scope and duration.

I completely agree that finishing the mission/job/shopping trip is neccesary. So, what is the mission?

The problem many non-partisan-hackish liberals have is that we just aren't seeing a defined strategy. Now, we could be wrong, there could be one. But I just don't see it. (And before you accuse me of advocating 'cutting and running', I think more troops is probably the best solution. To plagarize myself: "Sadly, the best solution is probably more troops, for now, not less. If we're going to occupy, then lets occupy. Let's remove insurgents from villages and stick around and make the town safe. If we provide actual safety, infrastructure can emerge. And we'll be out sooner. But that will never happen, because it involves either the Dems or the GOPs proposing the measure first. And if you thought Murtha got slammed, wait til someone says we need more troops...")

Basically, my preference order, in a vacuum would be.

1. Do it right (300k troops or so, provide meaningful security to civilian Iraqis.)
2. Don't do it at all (if we weren't ready to do #1 than we shouldn't have gone in the first place, but that's spilled milk)
3. Do it half-assed (present situation.)(NOT a criticism of the troops, they can only run the plays that the coach sends in.)
4. Leave the job unfinished.

Anonymous said...

If you look at Hugh Hewitt's straw poll results (and consider that those who voted are likely Republican primary voters), McCain is getting only about 5% compared to Giuliani's 27%. However, McCain is very popular with independents and Democrats. Consider the scenario where Giuliani wins the Republican nomination and McCain bolts for a new party (like Teddy Roosevelt's Bull Moose Party). In a 3-way race, Hillary would probably be the next president. 1912 all over again in 2008?

The Drill SGT said...
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The Drill SGT said...

Not sure if it will be feingold and warner in the race with Hillary. At this point I'd define the Dem 08 race with three horse.

Not_hillary on the Left
Not Hillary on the Right

that is why she ducks and weaves across the middle of the spectrum. Makes it hard for anybody to carve out a spot in the "electable middle"

wildaboutharrie said...

full text of her letter

Sloanasaurus said...

"....1. Do it right (300k troops or so, provide meaningful security to civilian Iraqis.)"

I don't understand why people think more U.S. troops is better?

More U.S. troops could also cause more resentment from the local populace because we would have alarger presence and more U.S. military deaths because of the lack of armor for more troops, which would further erode support at home.

More troops is the answer.... but we need more Iraqi troops. And that is Bush's plan, and its working.

Pooh said...


As I understand it, the biggest tactical problem US troops currently face is that once we 'clear' an area of insurgents, we leave. And then they come back. And then we come and clear it again. Which can't be all that much fun for the people who actually live there. Its almost like we are attempting to checkmate with a King and a knight, which is impossible, whereas using a king and queen is relatively simple.

I'm not sure how more troops means more casualties. I would actually tend to think the opposite, in that there will be fewer places to hide.

I would also tend to think that the more actual security we provide, the more patient the average Iraqi will be with the 'nation-building' effort.

Buck said...

The Drill SGT says: A Roman Peace. Those guys knew how to solve problems. Just kidding here.

Lotsa truth there, Drill Sgt. I have mixed emotions about our "kinder, gentler" age, especially when it comes to Islamofascists. Does anyone think, for one moment, those (insert obscene disparaging term here) would treat US the way we treat them should they win this war? They view us as being weak and pathetic, an unworthy adversary.

Win the war. And plow their fields with salt.

Barry said...

Interesting semantic insight in these posts. I suppose I should read the Bush pamphlet to figure out what mission we're completing now, since he already declared the mission "accomplished" many months ago.

I don't think it's going to get any easier to sell the necessity of a continuous war on perceived threats if the war is always framed in terms of missions that can be "completed". We're always getting two visions from the pro-war side: one of success just around the corner, and another of a state of ever-vigilance against perceived threats. It's going to take some Orwellian maneuvers to get us all to accept the perpetual war vision.

Sure, the way to effectively tackle a huge problem is to solve the smaller tasks conatined within it. It's unclear whether we're supposed to accept Iraq as just a part of the larger problem, or as a large problem in itself (which it most certainly is). I'm hoping that the strategy pamphlet gives an indication of how we'll accomplish the smaller tasks to complete the big mission of a new, free Iraq. If not, then even those that support the war could see that we don't have the right people running it.

wildaboutharrie said...

A little off topic, but -

Seumour Hersh's piece in the New Yorker is pretty distrbing. I've been looking for a response that challenges his picture of the President's approach to the war. Can anyone point me to one?

Ann Althouse said...

Monkeydarts: "in her case it will be called Rodhamizing"

I think it would be more idiomatic to say "Rodhamming it up."

Charlie Martin said...

Wildabout, i'd recommend Joe Lieberman's op-ed.

Sarge et al., I'll point out that sowing the desert with salt may not make that much difference. Now, if they just had elephants, man.

Nick, if you check Bush's speech, I believe "win" was featured prominently.

wildaboutharrie said...

Charlie (Colorodo) thanks, I did read that, but I'm thinking of someone who answers the specifics in Hersh's article.

Help appreciated.

The Drill SGT said...

Buck is referring I think in this line:

"And plow their fields with salt. "

to part of the Roman peace alleged to have been imposed on Carthage after the 3rd Punic War.

Rome fought Carthage over a hundred plus years 300 BC - 146 BC when Scipio Aemilianus finally put an end to the "Carthaginian Problem".
After a 3 year siege, Carthage was taken by storm. Accounts have it that:
- The city was burned for 17 days
- the city was systematically raze so that no two stones stood together
- all the men were killed
- the women and children sold into slavery
- the soil for 5 miles around was sown with salt. (some say this was only symbolic)

thus ended the Carthaginian problem.

"Carthaginem esse delendam"

reader_iam said...

Boy, I'm late to the party (well, all of them, today).

Anyway, here's my pithy 2 cents:

The word "finish" has a patina to it that "end" lacks.

Peter Hoh said...

Ann, I think you've found a linguistic Rorschach test.

In "finish what we started" I find no implication that the war was not necessary. If Bush had said it, I don't think anyone would suggest that his words held that implication.

A blind reading -- that is, someone comparing the phrases without knowing who spoke which one -- would be useful. Otherwise, we're in the Spin Zone.

"Finish what we started" and "complete the mission" are fairly close in meaning. Neither means "cut and run." Both are a departure from "stay the course."

reader_iam said...

See number 2.

reader_iam said...

(And there's a pun in there, too.)

wildaboutharrie said...

I think "finish what we started" could be read as a reminder that what has happened in Iraq has on many levels been different from what was predicted. It does, isolated like this, sound a little like "clean up the mess we made" or "well, we're stuck here". "Complete their mission" makes it sound like we've always been on this particular track.

By the way, I think her letter was well done (I am in general not a fan of hers).

Peter Hoh said...

Okay, if we're going to get back to puns, I want to pick up where XWL left off.

When it was clear that Saddam was defying the UN, some wanted to Gabon, while others wanted to Russian. Now we're looking for a way to Finnish. It's clear that the President doesn't want to say Iran.

wildaboutharrie said...

"doesn't want to say Iran?" That pun Israel bad.

Anonymous said...

Wildabout, I would say your intial mistake is taking Seymour Hersh seriously. Go back and read his previous National Enquirer-worthy efforts (full to the brim with unnamed sources) that never quite pan out when the actual facts are examined. He must have his own slew of unimpeachable Bill Burketts advising him on the sly. Then re-read that article with a grain of salt, or wagonload as needed, perhaps borrowed from those Romans on their way to Carthage to "finish" the job they started.

reader_iam said...

Sheesh--I'm such an instigator.

(By the way, the pun reference had to do with my first post, not the linked definition one. And "play on words" would have been far better a characterization than pun.)

reader_iam said...

Peter: heheheheheheheheh.

Also, I absolutely admire your ability to, without skipping a beat, walk right through a door so obviously opened.

You go, guy!

Charlie said...

The funny thing is Bush chose tough words that sounded soothing to his audience.

Clinton toned her words down, but they clanged on the ears of her audience. Still too harsh for the Dems, too weaselly for me. I don't think the poor woman learned a thing about triangulating from her hubby.

vbspurs said...

In a tangential way, I am reminded of Churchill's crafty use of the English language during his magnificent war speeches.

He preferred Anglo-Saxon words as being more pro-active, and muscular in tone:

Fight never battle

You can see the intensity of the word fight, which sounds aggressive, rather than the French/Latinate battle, which suggests a certain elegantly relaxed effort -- not at all the kind of language to inspire a nation.

Similarly, "finish" is Latin, whereas "end" is Germanic.

I prefer neither.

I favour the word "continue".


Peter Hoh said...

Victoria, I wish that the President could channel Churchill. We could use some stirring rhetoric.

By the way, both "complete" and "mission" have Latin roots.

I liked the directness of "they can run but they can't hide." Unfortunately, that's one phrase that the President will not be repeating any time soon (though I'd love to proved wrong).

theMickey's said...

complete? finish?
..git `er done?

(one of the )
only complaints, other than deaths, I have w/the war is we needed more troops initially; from jump. we`d be alot closer to 'complete'-'fins'

Anonymous said...

Jimmy Breslin in Newsday weighing in on Hillary:

"If Hillary Clinton wants this war to go on, then she should send her daughter to fight in Iraq."

wildaboutharrie said...

Hi, Kcom. Yes, I'm aware of opinions about Hersh, particularly when it comes to his speeches. But when he writes for the New Yorker, I can usually find responses. This time I'd like to find other perspectives on anticipated problems with air strikes in Iraq.

I'll keep checking.

Tristram said...

"Victoria, I wish that the President could channel Churchill. We could use some stirring rhetoric."

I am listening to 'The Last Lion' vol 1 (Churchil Biography to, birth to 1932). I wish ANY modern politican could channel Churchill. Not a single politician today could hold his own, as Churchill wrote all his speeches, and prepared all his remarks himself. The only modern politician close was Reagan, as his 'In His Own Hand' book shows he wrote most of radio commentary bits from the '70s.

And Churchill really, really did not like using long words when dhort powerful ones would do. Listen/read his speeches. The only times he was ambiguous was when he MEANT to be. Unless he didn't want to commit to something, you always new what he meant. Clinton, Bush, Kerry, Delay, et al would just be emabarrassed trying to verbally joust with him.

Tristram said...

Ah, just remembered one instance:

A Lady told WSC that if she were his wife, she would poison his dinner.

He replied isntantly, if she were his wife, he would eat it.