Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Civil War

Check out this Foreign Affairs series of responses to the big Iraq roundtable they recently did. The following statement is key:

"I don't think that Iraq is in a 'low-grade ... civil war,' as Kevin Drum writes. At the current rate of killings, the annual civilian death toll is now 20,000. This is no longer 'low intensity.'"

Do any of you continue to maintain that there isn't a civil war going on in Iraq right now? It seems to me that many war supporters object to the term because they're unwilling to cede any more polemic ground to the opposition than they've already been forced to cede, rather than on the basis of any real distinction they see between the current sectarian violence and an "actual civil war," whatever that is. For example, I doubt most people who know anything about it would object to the use of "civil war" to describe the conflict in El Salvador in the 80's. But if that was a civil war, why not Iraq?

9 Comments:

Blogger Germanicu$ said...

I don't believe there is a civil war going on in Iraq.

Kevin Drum seems to think that once some "killing rate" is attained, a civil war is born. Your comment suggests you think it's more a matter of intensity, by analogy to the particularly nasty conflict in ES.

For several practical purposes, what is going on in Iraq today may be classified as a civil war. But for it to make sense to me, there have to be two sides with clear objectives of power and control.

Unless I have been brainwashed by the liberal media, I have not seen any organized group stepping forward with any concrete demands of power-holding or -sharing. Nobody even has their shit together enough to come up with a snappy acronym.

Who are the sides in your so-called civil war?

6:00 PM  
Blogger Jeff said...

"But for it to make sense to me, there have to be two sides with clear objectives of power and control."

Why? According to whom is this the definition of a civil war?

My point is that the term is pretty ambiguous and flexible, and is usually applied by the media and other fonts of authority, without much controversy, to situations in which two or more opposing sides (in this case, secular Sunni Ba'athists, religious Sunni radicals, and Shia parvenus) are tearing their country apart in the pursuit of mutually exclusive goals.

The only reason it's controversial now (besides the more general issue of the Republican postmodernist approach to language and power), is that war opponents, in the run up to the invasion, claimed that invading and occupying Iraq was likely to lead to a civil war that we could neither suppress nor manipulate to our ends. Thus the stubborn refusal to call a spade a spade, and be publicly wrong yet again.

9:51 PM  
Blogger Germanicu$ said...

"According to whom is this the definition of a civil war?"

According to me. As you say, the term is somewhat flexible, and the way it has to bend in order to qualify in my judgment as a civil war, there must be clearly defined and structured groups vying for power or control. The "mutually exclusive goals" of the groups you mention - have you heard these goals clearly elucidated? Again, maybe the liberal media is keeping it under their hats, but I haven't read the Secular Sunni Baathists' manifesto for change, or heard their demands to take back the government.

The killing these insurgent groups are doing seems more designed to cause terror and mayhem; they're not blowing up bridges into towns they are attempting to bring under their control.

As I said, there are many reasons why calling it a civil war makes sense - the doves' vindication you mention being a fine example, or pointing out the GOP's head-in-the-sand mentality. But a vaguely defined "civil war" between sides that aren't clearly defined just doesn't sit well with the dictionary in my brain.

9:16 AM  
Blogger Jeff said...

"The killing these insurgent groups are doing seems more designed to cause terror and mayhem; they're not blowing up bridges into towns they are attempting to bring under their control."

Of course the violence is designed to cause terror. It's a civil war taking place against a backdrop of foreign occupation, and would certainly increase in magnitude if the foreign occupiers were gone. The various sides do, in fact, control respective towns and regions, whether or not they blew up bridges to gain such control.

As for the mutually exclusive goals of the various sides, you can find indications all over the net if you just look a little: the Ba'athist nationalists want to rid the country of the occupiers and re-establish a secular authoritarian state; the Shia obviously would like a state based on their religious law; the Sunni extremists pretty clearly want a Wahibist state, with the contingent of foreign fighters among them probably opting for a pan-Islamic caliphate under an OBL, or someone of his ilk. How much more specific and mutually exclusive do you need these goals to be before they sit well with the dictionary in your brain?

9:58 AM  
Blogger Germanicu$ said...

I need them to have snappy acronyms, that's all. My brain-dictionary loves acronyms.

10:34 AM  
Blogger sexyretard said...

Do you believe the current Hizbollah/Israel situation is related? That is, do you think that US occupation of Iraq made Hizbollah more likely to instigate a conflict?

As for different groups wanting different things, I certainly agree that one can ascertain clearly definable goals, what I don't know is how sure the various groups are of their own political success. I think the terror right now is born out of rage than political initiative, and if any given group of terrorists had to trade their dreams of whatever (regional caliphate, secular Baathist government, or just hotter hausfraus at the tea garden) for a couple of thousand more dead Americans, they probably would.

2:04 PM  
Blogger Jeff said...

"That is, do you think that US occupation of Iraq made Hizbollah more likely to instigate a conflict?"

I don't think there's any reason to suppose that, but how would any of us ever know? You could make a far-flung case that, if Iran is behind Hizbollah's attacks, it's a response to the US sabre-rattling that is part of the neocon assault on the Axis of Evil, and that, were it not for us being bogged down in Iraq, Iran might not feel so emboldened. However, that's just bullshit speculation, and has at least as much chance of being wrong as it has of being right.

On the other hand, I think it's a particularly bitter failure of the Bush administration that they decided early on to not even attempt to broker peace in Israel-Palestine (though, given their overall job performance, "do no harm" should probably guide their efforts). I think that has had lots of negative repercussions for America's image throughout the region.

3:04 PM  
Blogger hurtleg said...

"On the other hand, I think it's a particularly bitter failure of the Bush administration that they decided early on to not even attempt to broker peace in Israel-Palestine"

What could Bush have possibly done? Clinton gave Arafat everything he wanted and Arafat walked away. What evidence is there that Arafat would have said yes to Bush?

10:49 AM  
Blogger Jeff said...

"What could Bush have possibly done? Clinton gave Arafat everything he wanted and Arafat walked away."

Everything but a viable state. Arafat was a criminal in many ways, but I'm always amused by people who get their Irish up at Palestinians uncompromisingly fighting for a viable, contiguous state, while Israel's having done the same thing up until 1948 (and beyond) is somehow considered a completely justfied fait accompli.

"What evidence is there that Arafat would have said yes to Bush?"

There's no evidence, which is why I talked about the "image" of the US being damaged by ignoring the process. I don't think the US will ever get anywhere as a broker until it insists that Israel accept the existence of a contiguous Palestinian state. The fact that George W. Bush is too beholden to evangelical doomsday-lovers to ever even consider this doesn't make him immune from criticism on that count.

12:49 PM  

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