Fighting the Iraqi Civil War

(or so say Matt, Meredith, and NBC News)

By Mark Kilmer Posted in Comments (45) / Email this page » / Leave a comment »

Friends, Iraq is now in a state of Civil War. It's official.

On Sunday, CBS News's flighty Lara Logan told Centcom chief General John Abizaid on their 60 Minutes infotainment program that he should be "talking about how to manage defeat in Iraq." (HT, Michael Rule at NewsBusters.org.) That's the buzz, and what we have evidently lost is, by journalistic decree, a CIVIL WAR.

Proof that Iraq is now a civil war comes from no less as source than the NBC morning entertainment program Today Show, the Matt 'n Meredith vehicle. Again, NewsBusters has the transcript.

Matt Lauer, who many would sooner see interviewing the dancers from Little Shop of Horrors, has spoken:

"As you know for months now the White House has rejected claims that the situation in Iraq has deteriorated into civil war and for the most part news organizations like NBC have hesitated to characterize it as such but after careful consideration NBC News has decided a change in terminology is warranted. That the situation in Iraq with armed militarized factions fighting for their own political agendas can now be characterized as civil war. We're gonna have more on the situation on the ground in Iraq and on our decision coming up."

Wow! A bunch of giggling journalists have put on their serious caps and decided: "I'm serious, yes, and I think that this is a civil war. I'm profound. Okay, hands up, who wants to be the North? I'm not going to be the South! No fair! You got to be the North last time! I never get to win this civil war game!"

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Geoffrey Dickens at NewsBusters quotes NBC newsreader Ann Curry.

They will discuss what NBC News has decided to now call a civil war in Iraq.

Next hour:

On Wednesday he goes to Jordan to meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki to talk about what NBC News is now calling a civil war in Iraq."

As the transcript shows, Matt talked to retired General Barry McCaffrey, and they both agreed that Iraq was now a civil war. Oddly enough, they agreed with the White House that the problem was limited mainly to Baghdad, but McCaffrey pointed out that the capital contained a quarter of the population.

So by McCaffrey's admission, this is a national civil war in Iraq involving up to 25-percent of the population residing in one city. I guess the NBC kids can term this an "Unconventional Civil War," as I'd never before heard of such a thing. A small fraction of the population in a single city are killing each other and we have a Civil War? That does not do it for me. Sorry.

The New York Times runs a piece declaring that "scholars" think it is a civil war.

The common scholarly definition has two main criteria. The first says that the warring groups must be from the same country and fighting for control of the political center, control over a separatist state or to force a major change in policy. The second says that at least 1,000 people must have been killed in total, with at least 100 from each side.

American professors who specialize in the study of civil wars say that most of their number are in agreement that Iraq’s conflict is a civil war.

The writer later adds that a civil war must include a sovereign government. He does not mention that involves only a fragment of the population mostly in a single city, or that the editors of the Times have not yet put on their serious journalism caps and decided that they were profound and that this is a civil war.

Maybe it is not official until the Old Gray Lady says it is. And does anyone know what that MSNBC sportscaster is spouting on this matter?

Without assigning motives, being the first major news organization to decide that they, by golly, want to start calling it a civil war has to help ratings and personal feelings of journalistic importance. Wind sweeps through their collective hair as they declare WHAT WE ARE NOW CALLING A CIVIL WAR! News makes news.

As the Times admits in the analysis piece above, calling the war in Iraq a Civil War is bound to reduce support for the mission amongst the American public.

"Our troops are involved in a Civil War!" the dirtbag protestor will spit, with one of his fellows adding helpfully: "For oil!" The public will demand that we get out of Iraq, the hope is, and the journalists will be Bob Woodward all over again, "truth to power." Up go the ratings.

I wish these small-minded people would realize that our soldiers are not fighting in a word game, sacrificing for a group of nouns. This war is about big ideas and we cannot let it be trivialized by little people.

They are not fighting the TV news ratings war, either, or for a slap on the back from an old journalism professor.

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Fighting the Iraqi Civil War 45 Comments (0 topical, 45 editorial, 0 hidden) Post a comment »

who decides what is a civil war? I tend to go with scholars and can't really support a propaganda movement as you are suggesting. A rose by any other name...

Regarding NBC and their decision to call it a civil war...

NBC is owned by General Electric (part of the military-industrial complex Eisenhauer warned about) who are huge Bush Administration supporters and have repeatedly dictated to the news departments what they can and cannot say. Lorne Michaels was even complaining that they aren't allowed creative freedom on Saturday Night Live. They played a skit where they were making fun of GE and it was subsequently cut from reruns. If NBC made a collective decision to call Iraq a 'civil war', you can bet it signals a 'shift' in the upper levels of conservative politics.

Start looking for a change in policy...

Please tell me what to think, Mr. Media Man!

Evil prevails only when good men do nothing.

If we assume a population of 25 million in Iraq, then the violent death of 0.004% of the population of Iraq constitutes a civil war? Somehow, the MSM didn't call Saddam's killing of 300,000+ Shiites a civil war, but that couldn't be reported so that CNN could keep an office in Baghdad.

By that definition, there is now a civil war in Lebanon, and there was one last year in France.

Or even in America, between drunk drivers and pedestrians. Since our police send drunk drivers to jail, does that mean we've become a police state? Oops, I shouldn't give the MSM any ideas...

The bad news: Conservatism is hard to sell. The good news is that it works.

Or have we all forgotten about the more than 1,000 French police and firefighters murdered by the same people who were rioting last year when responding to emergency calls.

"The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal comfort... has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself."
--John Stuart Mill

I believe the actual amount is 0.

You're only off by a thousand; the number of casaulties amongst authorities during the riots was zero.

Per wiki, which has a good synopsis:

A few firefighters were injured by broken glass or Molotov cocktails, while there are reports of an attack using fine pellet air guns.

Molotovs, BB guns, 1000 deaths, close enough. I guess it's okay to make up numbers in an I Hate France tangent.

at 50 yards (I haven't tried farther). I don't think you should discount the deadly capabilities of a weapon just because it uses compressed air as a propellent rather than burning cordite.

I'm not supporting the 1000 deaths statement because I don't have any info pro or con. Just saying you shouldn't laugh at being shot with pellet guns or having molotov cocktails thrown your direction, both can be deadly.

Socialism doesn't work. It looks nice on paper, but it's been tried and it's failed miserably every time (usually accompanied by widespread death and suffering).
Proud member of the V.R.W.C.

This year. SINCE the riots. Not during the riots. Ya'll would do well to practice reading.

"The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal comfort... has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself."
--John Stuart Mill

Went back and reread my previous post. I wasn't particularly clear on that.

"The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal comfort... has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself."
--John Stuart Mill

"As you know for months now the Media has rejected claims that the situation in France has deteriorated into civil war and for the most part news organizations like NBC have hesitated to characterize it as such but after careful consideration NBC News has decided a change in terminology is warranted. That the situation in France with armed militarized factions fighting for their own political agendas can now be characterized as civil war. We're gonna have more on the situation on the ground in France and on our decision coming up."

Evil prevails only when good men do nothing.

I'd go to France for vacation in a heartbeat. I would not go to Iraq for a million dollars.

and you go to France on vacation.

I'll go to the Kurdish region. Very peaceful there.

You go to the banlieue where the poorest Muslim people live.

Who do you think will be better off?

My point is that there are "safe" and "dangerous" areas everywhere, even when there's a "civil war" going on.

Socialism doesn't work. It looks nice on paper, but it's been tried and it's failed miserably every time (usually accompanied by widespread death and suffering).
Proud member of the V.R.W.C.

I know Marines there.

I would consider going to France, but only if I could take Marines with me. But then, the French government would feel compelled to surrender to me and I don't have any idea what I would do the whole, stupid country.
_______________________________
If "pro" is the opposite of "con", what is the opposite of "progress"?

Frolick in Social Welfare Wonderland!
Be amazed by the Small World of Chirac's Corruption!
Buy and sell favors at Kofi's Adventureland!
Don your burqa as you avert all eyes in Tommorrowland!

--
"I will guarantee you that John Kerry will be president of the United States." - Nancy Pelosi

We'll accept the surrender and sell the place to you. Put $500,000 in escrow and I'll turn the country over to you. You have to provide your own squad of Marines for security after you own the place.
_______________________________
If "pro" is the opposite of "con", what is the opposite of "progress"?

...but I think I can cut corners on security. My guess is that France can be secured by the seven dwarves and Peter Pan's lost boys.

I'll even save a place for Chirac as Dumbo.

--
"I will guarantee you that John Kerry will be president of the United States." - Nancy Pelosi

There are areas of France ("banlieues" close to major cities dominated by North African immigrants) where French police no longer patrol, because any of them making an arrest would be quickly overwhelmed by the numerous first and second cousins of the arrested person. The Iraqi police are far from perfect, but they are present in dangerous areas.

As a matter of fact, I do go on vacation in France, every summer, because my wife is French. There are large areas of France that are still safe for tourists. But there are also large areas of Kurdistan that are safe for tourists. The problem is flying into the country through Baghdad--Paris is a lot safer, if you know your way around.

How about a solution to the French civil war? Sarkozy for President!

The bad news: Conservatism is hard to sell. The good news is that it works.

Sarkozy, favorite to represent the mainstream right in next year's elections, says police are paid to detect crime, not play the social worker.

I wish someone would tell that to RT Rybak and Cris Coleman (Mayors of Murderapolis and St Paul).

Evil prevails only when good men do nothing.

I've been though Baghdad a few times. I think I would choose going again over going the neighborhoods where all the "youths" live. Where ""The simple presence of men in uniforms in some areas is no longer a provocation but a declaration of war in the minds of some louts,"

Where 14 police officers are hurt every day. I wonder there are 14 soldiers wounded on in Baghdad on a daily basis.

Evil prevails only when good men do nothing.

The situation in France can be define as sporadic protests.
The protestors are not seeking control of territory or state power, plus the number of victims is negligible.

Kissinger:

If you mean by 'military victory' an Iraqi government that can be established and whose writ runs across the whole country, that gets the civil war under control and sectarian violence under control in a time period that the political processes of the democracies will support, I don't believe that is possible," he told the British Broadcasting Corp.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/11/19/AR200611...
Allawi

We are losing each day as an average 50 to 60 people throughout the country, if not more - if this is not civil war, then God knows what civil war is.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/4821618.stm

Why so many people wish to play semantics on the issue.

There are significant factions inside Iraq that do not recognize the legitimacy of the existing government. These factions are willing to act violently in order to change the political order of Iraq.

Whether you call it a Civil War or a Armed Political Uprising makes little difference.

And to compare Iraq to France borders on the surreal.

"There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why... I dream of things that never were and ask why not." George Bernard Shaw

Yep. Over the Thanksgiving day weekend, Iraq the Model reported that different neighborhoods in his area were exchanging *mortar fire*. Whether we call it a civil war or not doesn't matter...it's bad.

let's say Iraq is in a state of Civil War. Let's just say. Does it freaking change one thing about what the goal was?...what the goal still is and should be?

I think the goals have changed. Right now, we're trying to prevent the complete collapse of our client-government in Baghdad. If we can do that, we will deprive Al Qaeda of a massive propaganda win. If we can't, well...

I think our other plans for the country have been overtaken by events. The white house seems resigned to Iranian influence in the Shia dominated government. This may have been inevitable anyway: there's a reason that Saddam Hussein targeted the Shia during the Iran/Iraq war -- It's because he rightly saw that they were sympathetic to Iran.

What we have to figure out is whether there are still any viable political actors on the Iraqi scene who are committed to a version of civic as opposed to ethnic nationalism. And to figure out if they are strong enough to risk gambling more of our blood and treasure to prop them up.

of calling it a civil war? This is the most insane and deranged problem that I have with the Matt Lauers and Chris Matthews of the world. They naively believe that if we get our soldiers out nothing bad is going to happen. General Abizaid has told them more than once that the front line of the war is going to be wherever our soldiers are stationed. They are in Iraq so now it is Iraq. If the soldiers are in Europe the war's front line will be in Europe. If the soldiers are in the USA the war's front line will be in the USA. The fools will not listen to the people with knowledge. Just be thankful we still have the 2nd amendment.

You’re a persistent cuss, pilgrim.
John Wayne to Jimmy Stewart in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

I don't care what it is called lets just take out Sadr and keep a lock down on the city until all the milita weaponary is taken away and give the government about 6 months to get their crap together then leave, however I should hope to keep a US Base of operations for the region there. That's the least we can expect for bringing Saddam down.

Peace through superior fire power:)

If it is civil war, then it is a weird kind of one. Both sides seem to be playing Sherman marching through Georgia (although he targeted more infrastructure rather than civilians). It is not really armed men fighting against armed men; it is armed men on both sides fighting against the other side's civilians. More likely it is armed men on both sides fighting against unarmed people on neither side.

We're there. The US military presence prevents any faction from openly engaging in military operations.

If we were to pull out we would likely see a lot more overt military action in the region as the various factions would be willing to take each other on without the much more powerful US force interceding.

"There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why... I dream of things that never were and ask why not." George Bernard Shaw

it's armed savages on all sides killing because they can. And, they know the rest of the world doesn't have the guts to deal with them properly. Civil war or not, the operative word is ..savages...and peace can be achieved..at a cost

I think the problem is that we don't really have a term to describe what is happening in Iraq.

I mean, "civil war" brings to mind something like the US Civil War, which was essentially a conventional war but fought between two governments that were nominally still part of the same country.

This is very different to what appears to be happening in Iraq. The insurgent groups have political aims in a very general sense (ie, "We are going to bring down the government") but don't seem to have much beyond that. The situation in Iraq almost seems like a Hatfields and McCoys or an LA riot that has gone completely over the top. Calling the situation an "sectarian feud" might be more correct, but doesn't really portray the level of violence that "civil war" does.

how calling it a civil war trivializes it.

rhetoric if they call it a Civil War, and I agree. It was not a decision they took likely, Matt Lauer intoned, this decision to change words on us.

Now, youse and me, we've been through the William of Ockham quagmire. Or call it Paddy McAloon: "Words are trains..." I'm assigning this switch o' terms a singular gravity only because it's what Matt tried to do. And I pulled that gravity out from under it, so we watch it float.

We have exquisitely armed street gangs battling over ancient feuds or modern feuds or power or for money. (Some of these fighters, we're told, are for hire.) In a city.

Is there a civil war in Iraq when people are butchering each other in Baghdad?

I didn't mean to claim that NBC picking words to use to describe what's happening is a form of trivialization, but now that you mention it... If they think it's a civil war, they should call it a civil war. They'd be jumping the gun, of course, but it would not be as bad as calling it a civil war while telling everyone that you're calling it a civil war. All that was missing was the press conference with the stars and the "NBC News calls it a civil war" launching party.

What would you call it? It is what it is that is important, whatever that be, not that NBC News is calling it this or that.

Was Vietnam an actual civil war?

So it's the making-a-big-production-out-of-what-to-call-it that is trivializing. I can see that. I think the most insightful thing you said was that "news makes news". It seems like the media (the "mainstream" media, at least) feels a constant, unshakable pressure to say exciting things -- in this case, things from which not much of use follows. Even President Bush's reactions seem to indicate that calling it a civil war would be an admission of something undesirable. But what would that be? That things aren't going well?

Maybe there's some point of strategy that hinges on seeing it as a civil war. One commenter here on Redstate said "I am also at a loss to see how refereeing a civil war was part of the bargain." In that way, I guess the idea that it's a civil war could be used as a reason to bow out.

Maybe it's a matter of gravity to call it the right thing because it would help us to see problems more clearly, and hence, the solutions. If that's the case, then I'd say that the term "civil war" does more to cloud the issue than to clarify it.

To answer your question, I wouldn't personally call it a civil war. I think of a civil war as involving two viable governments in opposition. I'm not sure Iraq has even one of those.

I'm ruefully unknowledgeable about the Vietnam war. They were already partitioned before what we call "The Vietnam War" began, right? I guess if they didn't see themselves as being *really* partitioned, it could be considered a civil war. There were two governments involved.

What would we call a hot war between the PRC and Taiwan?

I think another part of this is to draw parallels between this and Vietnam, as they all want to be their forbears protesting that war. I think some journalists imagine themselves as playing a grand role, society's ombudspeople or some such.

The terms used to not alter the reality of what is. Bill Keller of the NYT has now taken an approach of letting his reporters call it "civil war" if they want to do so.

Why does it matter what they call it? Why do they think it matters what they call it? It's the tide of public sentiment. The media turned it against the Vietnam war, and these cats want to do the same with Iraq. Just, I think, because they can. They want to be remembered by future journalists in the same noble clouds of myth with which they remember those reporters whom they see as ending the Vietnam war. It has always troubled me when the reporters try to become part of the story.

The military historian John Keegan has written an essay on this subject. He gives three elements that have to be present for a conflict to meet the definition of "Civil War":

1. The conflict must be "civil"; that is it must take place within the boundaries of a national territory it must be carried on largely by the people who reside within the territory, and there must be a high degree of popular participation.

2. It must be a "war"; that is it must involve a degree of organization, formality and identifiability in the opposing forces. War is defined as "hostile contention by armed forces"-- in a civil war the sides have to be clearly established.

3. Most important, the aim of the war has to be establishing or maintaining national authority. Revenge, genocide, mass criminality, economic gain or fighting for rights do not suffice to make a conflict a civil war. The opponents must be fighting over national control.

According to these standards there only five real civil wars in history: The English Civil War(1642-49) the American Civil War(1861-65), the Russian Civil War(1918-21), the Spanish Civil War(1936-39) and the War in Lebanon(1975-90).

The conflict in Iraq meets the first of these -- it is confined to a national territory and involves fighting among and between the people of the territory. But it meets the second only partly, and the third not at all.

To state the obvious, the war is not military in nature - the Sunni and Shia militias lack military organization and the conflict does not take the form of battles and campaigns but rather terrorism directed at civilians (and US forces). Most importantly the Sunni ans Shia leaders don't state their aims overtly but profess to want peace. That was not how Trotsky or Lincoln handled their wars. Only the national Iraqi army states its true goal -- defending the state.

On the third point, there are no national or territorial goals involved. Keegan sums it up: The conflict in Iraq is really a political struggle with military wings of the parties involved in rather indecisive low-level violance. Keegan adds the pessimistic conclusion that Islam has been in constant civil war since the succession to Muhammad in the 7th century, and only enjoys stability during periods of profound repression.

The whole essay can be found here, it is well worth reading for the historical background on civil wars:

http://www.prospect-magazine.co.uk/printarticle.php?id=7951

since there isn't anyone in the press cable of reading and understanding an entire paragraph by Keegan, much less an entire essay, his views will not have much impact on their triumphalism.


John
--------
Ethic humor is part of human nature. The Dutch tell Belgian jokes. The Belgians tell French jokes. The French tell English jokes. The English tell Irish jokes. The Irish tell Irish jokes.

Others might also check out the comments of Donald Kagan - professor of history and classics at Yale University - over at The NewsHour site
http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/middle_east/july-dec06/civilwar_11-28.htm...

He says that it is definitely not a civil war and those that are calling it such are doing it for propaganda purposes to break American will to do what is necessary to win over there.

Are you kidding?

The Shi'ites / Sunnis / Kurds have no national or territorial goals relating to each other?

Turkey will be relieved to hear that.

If I understand my history right, no Southerner wanted to take countrol of the government in the District of Columbia and rule the entire United States. Since the South was fighting for Independence, wouldn't a better example to that war be the American Revolution rather than the other four you listed?

Disagree with you that Iraq lacks #3. Iraq could easily be divided into three countries and at least two are fighting for that very thing. To say the Sunni and Shiite militias lack military organization is incorrect in my opinion. They do not wear uniforms and there are no obvious established battle lines, but there are parts of the country that the US dare not go.

I want us to win in Iraq, but we have to be realistic and deal with what we face. We can't look at it through Bush colored glasses.

authority, that is, its right to govern itself, while the Union fought to maintain the authority of the national government over the seceding part. These were both national goals and understood as such by the populace, historians, etc

The Sunni and Shia militias not only lack military organization, hierarchies and discipline, they lack any recognizable or stated goals. They are not fighting for independence or self rule, and indeed they deny wanting anything other than peace.

Frankly, we would be better off if it were a civil war in Iraq, with identifiable forces squaring off in pursuit of national pollitical goals -- we could decide who(if anyone) to support and fight till we achieved an unambiguous military victory, followed by a surrender, peace treaty, real occupation etc.

What we are facing though is a weak central government which lacks the ability to guarantee basic civil safety of its citizens, let alone economic and material development. In the absence of a strong government, criminal and political gangs are perpetrating violence on their own people.

This is not a civil war, however, and defining it as such is yet another mistake.

Was Post-Czarist Russia a civil war when the Reds and Whites were killing each other off?

How bout 1930s Spain?

"There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why... I dream of things that never were and ask why not." George Bernard Shaw

in my original post above I gave three conditions required for a conflict to be a civil war and then listed five conflicts which met those conditions, including both those you mention.

I was arguing that the iraq war did not meet the conditions.

Not sure why those particular conditions are relevant. But given those conditions this is not a Civil War. It's just a armed uprising of varying militant factions.

"There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why... I dream of things that never were and ask why not." George Bernard Shaw

 
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