What’s in a name?

The topic du jour today seems to be the transition that some major news media outlets are making towards using the words “civil war” in describing conditions in Iraq:

WASHINGTON — NBC’s “Today Show” host Matt Lauer yesterday told millions of American television viewers, many sitting at their breakfast tables, that the network would buck the White House and from now on describe the Iraq war as a “civil war.”

The new policy, which NBC News said would cover all its news shows, could become a benchmark in public opinion about the war, according to media specialists.

Some media analysts compared it to CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite’s declaration in 1968 that the United States was losing the Vietnam War — a pronouncement now considered a turning point in public opinion — and Ted Koppel’s ABC updates on the Iranian hostage crisis of 1979 and 1980 that infuriated Jimmy Carter’s White House.

“How you frame a problem frames what the public thinks is the right thing to do,” said James Steinberg , dean of the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas. “If Iraq is a democracy struggling against insurgents and you describe it that way, people might still support you. If it is a civil war, it is indisputably the case that Americans will say, ‘What are we doing in the middle of a civil war?’ “

In my view it’s all but inevitable (but mistaken) that we will soon be withdrawing our troops from Iraq. No one, however, seems to have told President Bush:

RIGA, Latvia, Nov. 28 — President Bush, rejecting what he called “pessimistic” assessments of his Middle East policy, pledged Tuesday to make necessary changes in Iraq but vowed never to pull out U.S. troops before completing the mission there.

Before flying to Latvia, Bush said in Estonia Tuesday morning that he would press Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for a plan to contain the country’s escalating sectarian violence, although he refused to characterize the situation in Iraq as a civil war.

and his vote, as command-in-chief and chief architect of our foreign policy, does count for something. I continue to believe that Republicans will lead the charge to the rear as 2008 approaches. Senator Chuck Hagel is an exemplar of the point-of-view I anticipate.

I see that Rick Moran’s position on the civil war debate is not unlike mine: the entire discussion is an enormous waste of energy, pixels, and ink. I’d much rather debate what our genuine interests are in Iraq and in the region and how we secure them.

I also see some lining up in the region on whether the U. S. should stay or go in Iraq. Ali Khamenei (and, presumably, the Iranian government) thinks it’s absolutely necessary for U. S. forces to leave Iraq:

Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei told visiting Iraqi President Jalal Talabani that US-led forces had to leave Iraq if security was to be restored in the violence-riven country.

“The first step to solve the security issue in Iraq is the exit of the occupiers from this country and leaving the security issues to the people-based Iraqi,” Khamenei was quoted as saying by state television.

President Olmert of Israel, on the other hand, sees continued U. S. presence as good for security in the region:

“I know all of his (Bush’s) policies are controversial in America. There are some who support his policies in the Middle East, particularly in Iraq, and some who do not,” he said.

“I stand with the president because I know that Iraq without Saddam Hussein is so much better for the security and safety of Israel, and all of the neighbors of Israel without any significance to us,” added Olmert, who was speaking in English.

“Thank God for the power and the determination and leadership manifested by President Bush.

I’ve mentioned before that the Saudis think that our withdrawing from Iraq until the situation there is much more stable would be a thoroughgoing disaster.

So, either our allies are our enemies and our enemy our friend or perhaps a withdrawal of forces from Iraq in the foreseeable future deserves a serious re-think.


I see that Jules Crittenden has titled his post on this subject as I did. Great minds, etc. He makes a point in his post that I’d thought of making here: that the situation in Iraq really doesn’t meet the criteria for a civil war. It’s a helluva mess nonetheless and however many Iraqis are dying, it’s far too many.

Another Update

I see that Sen. John Warner is on the same page as Chuck Hagel.

Yet Another Update

There’s an excellent post at Duck of Minerva the gist of which is that Iraq is obviously in a state of civil war and that the reason for the debate over definitions is actually a debate over the policy implications of Iraq being in a state of civil war.  That sounds about right to me.

10 comments… add one
  • Doesn’t meet the criteria of a civil war?

    You bloody fools. You sad, sad bloody fools. No wonder Iraq is fucked into a cocked hat with this namby pamby dictionary parsing. It’s a bloody civil war – as was Lebanon.

    Sad bloody fools.

  • An added thought, it is exactly this kind of self-deception – “not really an insurgency…” all ‘Main Stream Media’ (in that hackneyed neo Bolshevik phrasing) – that got the US into the position of having lost this war.

    You’ve lost already, and there is nothing you can do in Iraq that is different than Lebanon. So, the sole question is are you going to be bloody self-decieving cry babies and deny the fact until you’re leaving from helocopters, or for the sheer bloody novelty value, step up honestly adn try to see what you can rescue from the disaster and loss.

    I wouldn’t give a flying fuck myself, but the US blundering about like a blinded bull in a china shop is making life more dangerous, and it pains me to see a so-called conservative wing of a populace adopt frankly Bolshevik delusionalism.

    You bloody deserve to lose, frankly, with this level of self-deception.

  • Lounsbury, I do care about the level of violence in Iraq but I don’t honestly care about technical definitions. I also care about the policy conclusions that will inevitably flow from deciding that Iraq is in a state of civil war.

    As I’ve repeatedly written here I believe that the U. S. withdrawal of troops from Iraq sooner rather than later is inevitable. I also believe that, from a domestic political standpoint that departure makes a dramatic retrenchment of the U. S. from the entire region inevitable, too. I don’t think that latter is a good thing and, as our allies in the region are telling us, it won’t be a good thing for them, either.

    But, as I say, I think it’s inevitable now.

  • Then why bloody write the above nonsense?

    I am hardly a militant for American collapse or withdrawal, but for the sake of a bloody fuck, if you bloody well don’t stop being morons arguing like mealy mouthed fools over “civil war” or not – like goddamned Bolsheviks actually over the vanguard state of the fucking mythical proletariat – you’re going to be much more fucked than you – we all in fact – already are.

    Bite the fucking bullet, call it a civil war and try to figure out what the bloody hell can realistically be rescued, else you will indeed be running like beaten dogs (and will deserve it as well).

    It’s maddening, this idiotic pissing and moaning about MSM and “oh it’s not really X because….” – I expect the fucking LEft to be so retarded.

  • I don’t think you’ll find complaint about the media, here. Characterization, yes. Complaining no. And, like it or not, by the political standards here in the States I’m not the Right—I’m demonstrably a centrist (eclectic is probably a better description).

    I’ve been trying to draw out opinion on what can be rescued as you say for months now, both here and on several other blogs on which I am an associate. I’ve received nothing. If you’ve got something to offer, I’d welcome it. I’ve directly solicited by email suggestions from heads much wiser than mine on the region. Their response has been “we shouldn’t withdraw”. I think that at this point from a U. S. domestic political standpoint that’s a forlorn hope.

    My reading of the political tealeaves here is that “civil war” means withdrawal, withdrawal from Iraq is likely to cause something of a withdrawal from the region. I’d welcome speculations on the response in the region from someone like you with more knowledge of MENA politics than I have. Other than reasoning from a plain old “here is how people react in my experience” basis I try to avoid speculating about political reactions other than in the U. S. That I know pretty well. I grew up surrounded by politicians (and newspapermen)—family friends and college buddies of my dad’s. Sometimes I lurch inadvertently into speculations that are beyond my area of knowledge and experience.

    My opinion (purely an opinion) is that we’re poising to withdraw from Iraq and, probably, the region to some extent. National Democratic Party politics in all likelihood means that a resurgence by the Democrats at the national level means moving back in the direction of the Carter Administration. My take on that policy (strictly my take) is that it was, at its heart, isolationist.

  • I also should mention that I think that my writing style makes me sound a lot more certain than I actually am. A lot of what I’m doing here is exploring my own thoughts, what I think of as “musing”, trying to arrive at evidence-based conclusions that are consistent with my experience and understanding. You’ve been very helpful in that process although you’d be more effective (at least with me) if your responses were more temperate.

    Still, one takes what help one can get in whatever form one receives it and I’m grateful for it.

  • donna Link

    Political extremes often live in an Orwellian reality defined by words. This has been very extreme among the Limpbowelers and other Bush supporters. It is faith based reality. Quite literally these people think reality is made on their radio shows and elsewhere. This is what they experience. It is very similar to the “reality” under communism or Saddam. Remember how many really believed US troops were nowhere near Baghdad? Saddam knew not his capacities.

    This administration and it’s followers live in such a womb. To them “correct speak” is the most imortant. Remember how they made Iraq “capitalist” by a flat tax in a country without income tax and wrote that Iraq was more advanaced than we are? Yep right in the National Review.

    Now of course many hates of the administration latch onto key word denials be they “guerilla war” or “insurgency” or “civil war” not jst to tweak the administration because they have in part a similar magical view of reality. This stuff gets down to totems and taboos and “primitive” states of mind.

    It’s hold is amazing.

  • What can be rescued?

    Nothing, you’re fucked, actually. I don’t believe you can rescue anything but lives, but it ain;t me bloody game, is it?

    I am not in the game of playing pundit on matters I am not expert in mate, I know when things are fucked, that’s what I am paid well to know. But I am not a military man and I do not give miltiary advice, so don’t play that empty fucking idiotic party political bullshit with me you idiot. Go rap with Mr Lang at Sic Sempter Tyrannis, he seems miltiary and not a bloody Bolshevik either if you want ideas at what you can rescue.

    As a deal maker, however, I can tell you what the broad outlines of what you might want to start doing:
    (i) Start calling the bloody fucking problem by its real bloody name instead of making moronic posts like this one (and your Iraq one supra) and then scuttling back when called on the same (this advise is general to US policy as well where form is playing over substance)
    (ii) make a realistic analysis of what’s salvagble, as one might do in looking at impaired assets – not the fucking book value you bloody whinging gits, what you can actually save – and stop pissing and moaning about “can’t afford tolose Iraq” like some inexperience pissant traders who think youcan’t recover from blowing 100 million. Well, you blew it. Face the problem, work the problem, don’t claim ‘We can’t possibly accept the problem, ergo it must not happen.” – That is in fact your arguments (and I do mean you) to date, as well as US generally. You fucking lost, it’s a done deal as much as the Sovs in Afghan land in 85 or so. Realistic appraisal of impaired assets means being brutally realistic about what you can pull away. Maybe its Shia dominated dictatorship, with the ugliness of cleansing the Sunni Arabs; maybe its abandoning the centralgovernment and backing the Kurds on the condition they play nice and pretend to back a central Iraq – and don’t themselves engage in too much ethnic cleansing (at least not too bloodily, and above all publically).

    I don’t have fucking answers for you, you bloody sad fucks. I do have a clear bloody view that you’ve fucked yourselves into a fucking cocked hat and unless you start bloody being bloody realistic, you’re only going to be more fucked.

    So, my adivce, stop fucking whinging on about Civil War or other Neo Bolshy Right idiocies and start militating for suciing up reality, and for cold-hard look at what can be salvaged – as much as a financial man looks at what one can do with an impaired asset.

    Else, you’re fucked, and you (the collective you) can fucking whinge on about “Civil War” (oh not really, for it doesn’t meet some rarified abstraction….) until your helos carrying your diplos get fucking whacked as they flee to Samarra….

    There’s my advice.

  • kreiz Link

    Lounsbery, I’ve gotta agree with your first comment- Iraq has morphed into Lebanon, and will likely remain so until a authoritarian regime secures order. We pulled the plug; a vacuum ensued. The US is an outsider looking in. ME regional powers have far more influence on the players inside Iraq. Realistically, this isn’t about us anymore.

  • kreiz Link

    Sorry about misspelling Lounsbury. I sense that you think we’re bloody fucked. Am I reading you correctly?

    Seriously, I don’t know if there’s much to salvage. But you’re right. We should be in “take your first and best loss” mode and salvage what we can. But that would require a realistic assessment, which won’t happen for a least two more years.

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