Friday, March 24, 2006

The Meaning of Civil War

Charles Krauthammer thinks Iraq is in a civil war and that it has been a civil war for a long time.

By definition that is civil war, and there's nothing new about it. As I noted here in November 2004: ``People keep warning about the danger of civil war. This is absurd. There already is a civil war. It is raging before our eyes. Problem is, only one side'' -- the Sunni insurgency -- ``is fighting it.''

Indeed, until very recently that has been the case: ex-Baathist insurgents (aided by the foreign jihadists) fighting on one side, with the United States fighting back in defense of a new Iraq dominated by Shiites and Kurds.

Now all of a sudden everyone is shocked, shocked to find Iraqis going after Iraqis. But is it not our entire counterinsurgency strategy to get Iraqis who believe in the new Iraq to fight Iraqis who want to restore Baathism or impose Taliban-like rule? Does not everyone who wishes us well support the strategy of standing up the Iraqis so we can stand down? And does that not mean getting the Iraqis to fight the civil war themselves?

Hence the gradual transfer of war-making responsibility. Hence the decline of American casualties. Hence the rise of Iraqi casualties.

Krauthammer supports the war. As does Callimachus over at Done With Mirrors. But Callimachus thinks there isn’t a civil war in Iraq. Yet, he makes an interesting point:

Is it really a civil war? First, the media doesn’t care. It’s latched on to those two words and started the tug-of-war, and eventually it will win. Because it cares more about claiming the word than anyone else does.

O.k., so if this is a game of semantics, we can conclude that Krauthammer, knowing that the term civil war is going to stick, is using his time to redefine civil war so that it is a good thing.

But is it a good thing? Hard to say. It’s very likely that we have passed the tipping point where mass sectarian violence was preventable (if it ever was preventable). At this point, the violence will end when one side subdues the other. Either the Iraqi people will rally behind the central, democratic-oriented government or they will rally behind religious and ethnic leaders seeking total dominion over a specific region or the whole nation.

Our job is to give as much support to the central government as we can because, in the long run, a unified democratic Iraq is far preferable than a splintered Iraq incapable of keeping out and perhaps even welcoming in terrorists. Problem is, for a certain number of Iraqis, our very alliance with the central government is reason enough not to support it.

Unfortunately, if we were to pull out we would be all but ensuring the collapse of the central government. Our choices here are not exactly perfect even as they are incredibly important. We certainly have not yet failed. But victory is not yet close. In the end, whether or not we call the current violence a “civil war” is far less important than how we handle the situation.


Blogger Jonathan C said...

From Merriam Webster:

civil war
Function: noun
: a war between opposing groups of citizens of the same country

I think krauthammer's right: it's been a civil war from the begininng. An argument about semantics isn't going to affect what is actually happening on the ground.

2:35 PM  
Blogger AubreyJ said...

The definition of Civil War is in the eyes of the beholder... A Civil War can be as little as a few minor conflicts within a country... like riots. America has had a lot of Civil Wars in that case. Within the last year I might add. So is Iraq in a Civil War??? I say no...

Alan... You’re correct about the importance of how we handle the situation over there though. I think we have been handling the situation very well of late. So far we have let the Iraqis handle this mess mostly on their own and they have stood up and handled the violence well. We have a lot to be proud of in that country... with some shame too...

11:01 PM  

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