What Fresh Hell Is This?

November 28, 2006

Civil War

I've never quite understood why the adjective "Civil" is used to describe such a war. I mean, what's "civil" about it? I'm also by no means the first person (or probably even within the first million) to ask that question. So sue me.

In any event, a major media outlet, NBC has begun to use the term to describe Bush's debacle in Iraq.
President Bush is now in the midst of an overseas trip that will take him later this week a meeting in Jordan with Iraq's prime minister. But behind in Washington, D.C., the nation's Capitol is now gripped by a ferocious debate over the term "civil war."

Today, as Air Force One was halfway over the Atlantic Ocean, a White House spokesman protested a decision by several American news organizations, including NBC News, to call the violence in Iraq a civil war.
If it walks like a duck.
This morning, on the Today Show, Matt Lauer said, "NBC News has decided a change in terminology is warranted -- that the situation in Iraq with armed militarized factions fighting for their own political agendas -- can now be characterized as a civil war."

Bush administration officials fear that when most Americans hear the term civil war, they associate it with out own war between the states 140 years ago. That was a conflict between the Union North and the Confederate South that produced 650,000 casualties, or one out of every 50 Americans at the time. To this day, the U.S. Civil War remains a force in America's historical identity and psyche.
And quacks like a duck.
However, the U.N. reported last week that an average of 120 Iraqi civilians are getting killed every day. This weekend, the violence in Baghdad claimed the lives of 215 people in one day. Several experts say Iraq reached civil war status months ago.
It's probably a duck.

But leave it to the administration that "makes it's own reality" to describe it otherwise.
This fall, press secretary Tony Snow declared Iraq does not qualify as a civil war because the violence is different. "You do have a lot of different forces that are trying to put pressure on the government and trying to undermine it,” Snow said. “But it's not clear that they are operating as a unified force."
Here's the transcript from Whitehouse.gov. The press briefing was from October.
Q Tony, a couple of minutes ago, you said one of the goals in Iraq is to prevent civil war. Can you take a minute and give us the definition that the President is working with? Because he continues to say it's not at that state yet; lots of analysts do say it's at that state. What's the threshold that the administration is working with --

MR. SNOW: I think the general notion is a civil war is when you have people who use the American Civil War or other civil wars as an example, where people break up into clearly identifiable feuding sides clashing for supremacy within Iran.

Q And there's nothing on the ground that the President is looking at that he thinks is a prospect --

MR. SNOW: At this point, you do have a lot of different forces that are trying to put pressure on the government and trying to undermine it. But it's not clear that they are operating as a unified force. You don't have a clearly identifiable leader. And so in this particular case, no.

What you do have is a number of different groups -- you know, they've been described in some cases as rejectionists, in others as terrorists. In many cases, they are not groups that would naturally get along, either, but they severally and together pose a threat to the government.
So to the worse administration ever, unless the situation on the ground more or less matches the American Civil War (known to our southern friends as "The War Between the States), it ain't the walking quacking duck that everyone else sees.

And why would this be?
Bush administration officials fear that when most Americans hear the term civil war, they associate it with out own war between the states 140 years ago. That was a conflict between the Union North and the Confederate South that produced 650,000 casualties, or one out of every 50 Americans at the time. To this day, the U.S. Civil War remains a force in America's historical identity and psyche.
And that would further undermine support for Bush's war. Further undermine?

And let's remember that Iraq's population (according to the CIA Factbook) was estimated at 26,783,383 . So we're talking that the population of that country is a little less than one-tenth of the US.

So to imagine the same numbers here, on average at least 1200 people would have to be dying per day. Imagine if 2150 died in violence in NYC or Washington DC on one day this weekend.

No of course it's not civil war - because according to Tony Snow, there isn't a "clearly identifiable leader" on the otherside.

And the funny thing? Since we are the occupiers of that country, we're responsibile for the security of that country.

Another Bush failure.


sluggo said...

Excellent site! Just stumbled across it. Who are these 38% of folks that still approve of Bush? Don't think too many are my neighbors in McKeesport!

Schmuck Shitrock said...

The administration under the tutelege of Karl Rove -- in fact the GOP as a whole -- has had a great deal of success in applying labels. Words and phrases like death tax, privatization, victory, and liberal can be used very effectively when you're selling something that people want to buy anyway. This "framing" strategy can also be very persuasive when your audience is looking for someone to blame and is stradling the fence.

But neither of those scenarios apply here. They can't "frame" their way out of this one. The people have wised up about this war in a hurry and they don't like it. So it doesn't matter whether Bush calls it a civil war, sectarian violence, an insurgency, or the eighth-grade picnic. When the public hears "Iraq," the words they hear in their heads are failure, American casualties, torture, and chaos.

So I don't care what they call it. Let them play word games while they lose their "War on Terror." It ain't working and it ain't gunna.

Anonymous said...

Civil War: the first definition of the word "civil" in my edition of Miram Webster's Dictionary (10th edition) describes it as being "of or relating to citizens." While that's not the most popular use of the word, that must be the definition of the word civil as in the term "Civil War," which is a war between fellow citizens (vs. nations)? Just a guess.

By that definition the term makes sense.

Anonymous said...

My dictionary's first definition of the word "civil" says "of or relating to citizens." Though that's not the usual use of the word, it must be that definition that is meant with the term Civil War (as in a war between fellow citizens, as opposed to a war between nations). This is just a guess, though. It would be interesting to see the history of the phrase "Civil War" to see if this guess is correct.

Mike said...

If you take Bush's definition literally, then the American Civil War wasn't really a civil war--it was merely sectional violence.

By Bush's definition, if there's a government, and if there's an army protecting that government, then it's not a civil war.

I mean we knew he wasn't too bright. But I have to call them on this fuzzy definition.

EdHeath said...

If you have one large internal group fighting the government, it's civil war. If you have lots of little groups fighting each other and also the government, its closer to anarchy. Which is worse?

There is a piece on perceptions in the NYTimes today:
It is interesting but may be too late. It's not clear to me that the conflicts cited were ever winnable, though the point about the effect on the American non-response to Rwanda is interesting. It also seems to me that if Bush described the Iraq conflict in more realistic terms no one would have supported it from the beginning.

Democrats-Lie said...

How does a bunch of terrorists blowing up shooting/bombing Iraqi men, women, children, and not to mention members of our military constitute a civil war?

Keyword: "terrorists" people. This is why we are there.

The liberal left has insisted that this is a civil war when it is not. They want this to be called a civil war in order to further undermine our operations there.

The Pre 9/11 mentality you people live in is absolutely dangerous....to us all.

Oh wait, 9/11 was Bush's fault, I forgot that it was a Dick Cheney operation.

Do you people have any grip on reality whatsoever? Are you people that blind? Are you so blind that you have forgotten that we are dealing with a massive group of people where their religion dictates that those who are not Islam are infidels and need to die? Do you people not realize that those very same people want to kill us? Yes, they want you, me, everyone you know in this country dead. Have you forgotten what hell 9/11 was? Have you forgotten the thousands of innocent lives who were going about their daily business died? Have you forgotten about all of the people who jumped to their death(s) from burning buildings?

But, it's an "illegitimate" war, right?

While you people are constantly undermining our war on terror every step of the way, the enemy is sitting back and watching.

I can only pray that this country will not have to go through another 9/11 again, but you and those like you are making it increasingly difficult to keep that very nightmare from reoccurring.

Of course, if it would (God forbid) happen again, you'd blame Bush.

You sheeple make me sick.

You all just sit there and go back to your sniveling finger pointing ways, acting like your socialist agendas are the answers to the problems in this country.

Just sit there on your comfy couches as you bash our President, not to mention our Military as they protect your freedoms and liberties at home.

In fact, just sit there and let's put Saddam Hussein back in power. Heck, he only tortured countless thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands of his own people, not to mention murdered millions more.

Nah, who gives a shit, right?

EdHeath said...

Well, DL, to be sure there are terrorists in Iraq. And I will even grant you that I could not say how much of the violence is terrorist, and how much a religious-based conflict. It might be fair to say that a majority of the violence directed at Americans is terrorist related or inspired. But the majority of what is happening in Iraq right now appears to be Iraqi on Iraqi religious-based violence. Ironically, it may not be the terrorists that truly defeat us in Iraq. It may be because we can't give the Iraqis a reason not to kill each other. Make no mistake, we have squandered a chance to achieve democracy in Iraq because a few friends of Republicans had to do such a shitty job at rebuilding the country. By God, the Democrats may lie, cheat, steal and occasionally cruise missile chemical factories in Sudan, but there is no hell hot enough for the incompetents who dragged us into the second largest oil reserves in the world, and then fucked it up. The Republicans were always supposed to be the fucking grownups to the Democrats greedy children, but you are all Nixon, apparently. Democrats-Lie indeed. WHY DID BUSH RUN THE WAR ON THE CHEAP? WHERE DOES THE BUCK STOP?

Anonymous said...

If you think the president's war in Iraq is so important why have you not enlisted?

Cowards stay at home and bloviate, real men fight for what they believe in.

BTW, you can enlist up to age 42 now.

Anon #2

Democrats-Lie said...

Anon#2 is the typical liberal. She uses the "why don't you enlist" argument which is so tired. I support our President and our troops and that's the best you can come up with?

Anon#2, Obviously you forgot or didn't read a word I said. Those folks who died on 9/11 mean jack shit to you. You just proved it with your response.

Anonymous said...

My husband is active duty. So shut your lying pie hole Braden.

You can try to denigrate Democrats by repeating the hate speech you hear on 104.7 and Faux News....but you will not change the fact that the military and the American people are DEMOCRATIC now.

You make me sick.

Anon #2

Schmuck Shitrock said...

I suppose that people much more intelligent than I am, or people who have been blogging for a long time, figured this out long ago, but I just came to a realization from reading the last few posts in this thread.

Some posts just don't give a rational person anything to respond to on a dialectic basis. The posts are simply angry -- I won't say incoherent -- rants that mix unsubstantiated and long-discredited claims with accusations against everybody that the poster sees as her/his enemy. The posts are certainly not designed to shed light on any issues; they are, I strongly suspect, not designed at all. But their effect is like a slap in the face that stimulates a response in kind.

So this is what just occurred to me: The kind of a post I describe above is nothing more than an invitation to be insulted back. It doesn't seem to have any other purpose aside from terminating the exchange of opinions and ideas.

Is that what we want here? Do we want to limit our expression of opinion to calling each other coward, traitor, idiot, and whacko?

I'm just asking, because if that's what we're about here, OK. But if we want to do debate rather than shit-slinging, I have some ideas about how we can take steps in that direction. Let me know.

xranger said...

Atta boy, Rocky. To backtrack:

I forget the textbook definition of a civil war (college was a long time ago), but a couple of things are apparent:

Iran is training and arming the Shiite element, apparantly for their own gain. My assumption is that Iran started this new round of escalated sectarian fighting. The majority of Iraq's oil wells are in the Shiite area.

The minority Sunnis are linked to Al-Quaeda, possibly out of desperation. They have minimal oil reserves, and are fresh out of friends.

Finally, my assumption is also that this is still a vast minority of fighters at work here, compared to the population as a whole. That fact makes me belive it is not a full-scale civil war...yet.

I have trepidation with the new tone of working with Iran and Syria to solve Iraq's problems. They will not do anything to foster a peaceful democracy there, only for their ill-gotten ways.

I have misgivings as to whether or not Iraqi's have any notion of nationalism, or one of tribal identity. One test of the new Iraq would be to take the trained and deployed Iraqi army battalions and send them to Baghdad to separate the sectarian combatants and restore order.

If the Iraqis can accomplish this, without the army mutineeing and choosing sides, that could be a telling answer as to whether or not this new government will endure.

Schmuck Shitrock said...

Well, if you get to backtrack, x, so do I. So there. [sticking out my tongue]

My original point was that I just don't understand why anybody cares very much what we call this mess. When the hearts and minds of your audience are up for grabs (visualize the Simpsons' extraterrestial holding up a brain and vascular pump), owning the naming rights to a concept can be a crucial advantage. But as I said above, I don't think you change a handful of votes or minds whether you call it Armageddon or Jean Luc Goddard. Whatever you call it, people are disgusted with it.

In fact, it seems to me -- no PR guru -- that by keeping the "civil war" argument in play, the Bushies just keep drawing attention to how ugly it really is over there.

Maybe they are just operating out of force of habit. Occupying the designational high ground always worked before, so...

EdHeath said...

Well, Xranger, your political summation is interesting. I wonder how many of the Sunni's are linked to Al-Qaeda, and even though it seems like maybe a minority of fighters, a lot of Iraqis are dying, so a majority of the country could be affected by this minority. But, yes the Sunni's don't have the oil and are probably nervous.
Just picking a point or two of your post, the interesting thing to me is the neighbors, particularly Iran. Iraq and Iran had an eight year war, complete with mustard gas and mass attacks by Iranians. To me its like in the Cold War, when everybody seemed to wonder why the Soviets were so touchy about the Federal republic of Germany, forgetting the twenty million dead Russians of WWII. Iran has a reasonable interest in seeing a weak, fragmented Iraq, and if it tweaks us, so much the better in their eyes. But it might be a good idea for us to approach them. Since they are going to meddle in Iraq anyway, let's make them some kind of official partner. At least we might get some input on their meddling.
And John, I resemble that ranting remark (I love to use Norm Crosby whenever I can).