Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The BFM in Iraq

In an act of media chutzpah, NBC has declared that the conflict in Iraq is a civil war. I’m not sure why the network feels it has the authority to define reality, but apparently the top dogs at NBC believe they’re clarifying the situation for us poor confused viewers.

Please. Calling the violence in Iraq a “civil war” is not a bold move. It’s another example of a major media outlet trying to simplify a complex situation. They just want to better package it with simplistic narratives and flashy graphics. Sure you can call the conflict in Iraq a civil war. You can call it an insurgency. You can call it a terrorist-fueled proxy-battle. You can call it sectarian violence. You can call it anarchy. It’s all accurate to some degree. But picking a label doesn’t clarify the situation.

Calling it a “civil war” makes the violence seem to have precedent. Civil wars are defined conflicts with eventual ends. More importantly, they are internal conflicts where resolution rarely requires outside intervention There may be moral and even strategic reasons to intervene in someone else’s civil war, but there is almost never a national security reason to do so.

That’s the trouble with labels. Yes, we need them but they more often constrict than illuminate. NBC’s labeling does nothing to help and, in fact, confuses the matter by choosing language that minimizes the regional and global threats posed by the violence in Iraq.

Personally, I’d like to see the conflict referred to as the BFM in Iraq. That’s short for the Big F***ing Mess in Iraq. That’s the most accurate label I can come up with. At least it avoids the kind of simplification of the problem that leads to the useless, simplistic solutions so adored by recent Congresses and their media enablers.

For many reasons, the conversations about Iraq have rarely risen above basic ideology and finger pointing. Now, at what is probably a critical moment, the conversation does not seem to be improving. That’s a shame. What we need are more analyses like The New Republic and their current issue exploring a myriad of Iraq solutions. Unfortunately, NBC and their ilk will be heard much more loudly.



Blogger les said...

You're right that the situation is more complex than can be captured in a quick label; but that doesn't change that i) labels are gonna be used; ii) some are more accurate than others; and iii) to a degree, the labels will steer discussion of options/future courses. It seems to me that "civil war" implies more than one, substantially indigenous, organized groups fighting for control of their own gov't/ country. That also seems a better description than the administration's preferred meme, al Qaeda or insurgency, implying an essentially foreign group trying to destabilize a country. It seems to me that those two situations lead to significantly different policies and options. If--and I think they are--the administration is sticking to one label and denying another to support its strategy/tactics, or hide its lack thereof, its good if a more accurate label is put into play. Best, as you say, if you get analysis; but it's not apparent that's happenin'.

2:02 PM  
Anonymous Hamilton said...

If it is not currently a civil war... is there any possibility that it will not BECOME a civil war after the U.S. troops leave?

Can anything at this point prevent Shiites from engaging in ethnic cleansing of Sunnis?

I suppose the Kurds have benefited the most from the war.

Allegedly liberally biased NBC says 'Civil War.' Allegedly conservatively biased Fox News shows one 'liberated' family celebrating when the verdict against Saddam is announced. Propaganda coming at us from all angles!

- Hamilton

8:14 PM  

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