In my article And The Prize Goes To… (The Incompetence of George W. Bush) posted on November 25th, I posed the questions: “When will they actually call it (the war in Iraq) a civil war rather than saying the country is on the brink of all out sectarian civil war?? Is there an agreed upon tipping point?” In the article I said that I felt that in fact the war is a civil war.
Interestingly- my question was timely. In Sunday’s New York Times there was an article about the very subject. In his news anlaysis “A Matter of Definition: What Makes a Civil War, and Who Declares It So?” Edward Wong writes, “Though the Bush administration continues to insist that it is not, a growing number of American and Iraqi scholars, leaders and policy analysts say the fighting in Iraq meets the standard definition of 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.
According to the Times article some scholars now say civil war began when the Americans transferred sovereignty to an appointed Iraqi government in June 2004. That officially transformed the anti-American war into one of insurgent groups seeking to regain power for disenfranchised Sunni Arabs against an Iraqi government led by Prime Minister Ayad Allawi and increasingly dominated by Shiites. Others say the civil war began this year, after the bombing of a revered Shiite shrine in Samarra set off a chain of revenge killings that left hundreds dead over five days and has yet to end. Mr. Allawi proclaimed a month after that bombing that Iraq was mired in a civil war. “If this is not civil war, then God knows what civil war is,” he said.
And today NBC News took the next step and labeled the conflict a Civil War. Matt Lauer opened this morning’s “Today” with these words: “Good morning. Civil war. A bloody weekend of sectarian clashes in Iraq and no sign it’s letting up.”Lauer declared: “For months the White House rejected claims that the situation in Iraq has deteriorated into civil war. For the most part news organizations like NBC hesitated to characterize it as such. After careful consideration, NBC News has decided the change in terminology is warranted and what is going on in Iraq can now be characteritized as civil war.” Lauer later brought in retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey to make the case for the change in terminology. Well it is about time that one of the networks decided to finally deal with the fact that when something looks like a duck, walks like a duck- it is a duck.
Of course Fox News will probably talk about the insurgency being in its last throes. I would imagine the self proclaimed languange guru of the New York Times, conersvative Bill Safire, will have a pithy and biting analysis of NBC’s turn of phrase. But alas – I guess I would be relegated to one of Safire’s nattering nabombs of negativism.
Not surprisingly the White House immediately stated that NBC was incorrect that the conflict is not a Civil War and that Iraqi President Jalal Talabani also does not believe that this is a Civil War. As Steve Young wrote on “The Huffington Post”, when reporting about the White House’s disagreement with NBC over the term “civil war, “The White House objected to NBC’s terminology, because, well, because. Tony Snow added that the Lincoln-Jefferson Davis thing is more of a problem with Negro terrorists who don’t understand that the so-called slavery issue is just a disagreement over room and board.” WAY TO GO STEVE! LOVE THE APT ANALOGY!
Americans have a pesky habit of not being excited about being in the midst of someone else’s civil war so even though polls show a preponderance of Americans want out of Iraq, it would likely increase to near 100% if the current civil war would be called a civil war. The Bush administration just can’t have that! I would assume that now that NBC has taken the step, other news organizations will follow suit.
Maybe by the time the 110th Congress is seated in its mostly blue chambers, there will be other media that call the Iraqi Civil War a civil war. This might give the Democratically controlled legislative branch another bullet in its arsenal to stand up to Bush and his war. But alas that means that the Democrats actually have to stand up and show some gumption. Is that too much to as? No. It is too much to expect? Most likely.