Paul Greenberg

When is a coup not a coup? When it's "a complex and difficult issue." That was the unconvincing word from White House press secretary Jay Carney when he was asked about Egypt's latest coup. Poor Jay Carney. He may be the least credible White House press secretary since Ron Ziegler, who had the sticky job of defending the indefensible Richard Nixon as the truth closed in on his boss during the late unpleasantness known as Watergate.

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When is a coup not a coup? When it's "a very fluid situation," according to State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki, demonstrating that you can always count on Foggy Bottom to evade a question.

When is a coup not a coup? To quote the president himself, who's supposed to be a great speaker, when it's "a transition to democracy." The way dictatorship leads to freedom? That rationale sounds like a party slogan out of George Orwell's 1984." Who says our leader doesn't have a sense of irony, even if unintentional?

By now, in its eagerness to avoid calling a coup a coup, this administration has turned the English language every which way but loose. By my ringside count, it's lost three falls out of three with the language, but keeps coming back for more punishment. Rather than accept the simple meaning of a word.

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Last week, our secretary of state was still dutifully echoing the administration's line, explaining that a coup is no coup when it's just "restoring democracy." That was John Kerry speaking during a stopover in Pakistan. Presumably with a straight face. The show, or rather farce, must go on.

Webster's defines coup as "a sudden decisive exercise of force whereby the existing government is subverted," which would seem a fairly accurate description of what happened in Egypt on July 3, 2013. But when mere reality collides with the official line, it's reality that must give way.

Why? Because if the administration admitted that a coup is a coup, then it might have to respect American law, to wit Section 508 of the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, which decrees that no American aid shall be granted "any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by military coup or decree." Which is what happened in Egypt. But since the administration isn't about to cut off billions in American aid to the one institution now holding Egypt together, it's had to scramble to ignore the obvious.

When the law gets in the way of this administration's desires, it doesn't try to change the law -- that would be too forthright -- but the language. So it covers the subject in verbal fog and hopes nobody will notice. Naturally, everybody does. But anything is better than acknowledging the simple truth. However obvious.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.