To call something a “civil war” simply because there is a high level of violence is lazy thinking. Is the genocide in Darfur a “civil war?” There is certainly a high level of violence but no one seems to call the violence in Darfur anything but "genocide."Lazy thinking? Now that's an ad hominem argument, subtle, but still, if I've ever seen one. Anyway, I digress.
Patterico, over at his Pontifications, notes the LA Times is calling the Iraqi situation a civil war. Patterico notes, with a heavy dose of sarcasm, that the debate on what to call "it" is over.
For the record, the LA Times piece, by Solomon Moore, opens with this paragraph:
Iraq's civil war worsened Friday as Shiite and Sunni Arabs engaged in retaliatory attacks after coordinated car bombings that killed more than 200 people in a Shiite neighborhood the day before. A main Shiite political faction threatened to quit the government, a move that probably would cause its collapse and plunge the nation deeper into disarray.As an aside, I was partial to Steven R. Hurst's Associated Press article, New savage twist to violence in Baghdad:
Revenge-seeking Shiite militiamen seized six Sunnis as they left Friday prayers, drenched them with kerosene and burned them alive, and Iraqi soldiers did nothing to stop the attack, police and witnesses said.Now that's a lead that will knock your socks off, if you know what I mean. And, staying away from the loaded language of "civil war," it sticks with less troublesome language like "drenched." Sorry; I digress, again.
John Keegan and Bartle Bull suggest in their opinion piece at Prospect that "Lessons from history suggest that Iraq, though in chaos, has not yet reached civil war." Their piece is worth a read and is a worthy strategy & policy essay. I take issue with their conclusions, however. For instance, they claim that what we're seeing in Iraq is not a "war." If not a war -- armed conflict to achieve an end by measures other than political (to paraphrase, poorly, Carl von Clausewitz) -- what is it? A gang conflict?
Well, at least we're having the conversation, although there's a part of me that wonders if finding the answer will make a difference. We seem to all agree that things are for shit in Iraq. However, making the correct label would allow policy makers and strategy creators to focus on the correct centers of gravity.
Question to ponder: what difference does it make if what we're seeing is a civil war or if it's not?