Monday, November 27, 2006

Calling a spade a spade

NBC News has decided to take the plunge:
But after careful consideration, 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.

Well, some outlet in the mainstream media had to be the first. The U.S. military maintains that what is going on does not constitute a civil war.

And then this from the New York Times:
Is Iraq in a civil war?

Though the Bush administration continues to insist that it is not, a growing number of American and Iraqi scholars, leaders and policy analysts say the fighting in Iraq meets the standard definition of civil war.

The common scholarly definition has two main criteria. The first says that the warring groups must be from the same country and fighting for control of the political center, control over a separatist state or to force a major change in policy. The second says that at least 1,000 people must have been killed in total, with at least 100 from each side.

American professors who specialize in the study of civil wars say that most of their number are in agreement that Iraq’s conflict is a civil war.

“I think that at this time, and for some time now, the level of violence in Iraq meets the definition of civil war that any reasonable person would have,” said James Fearon, a political scientist at Stanford.

But then this, from the Washington Post's Dana Priest:
I will say for the Washington Post, we have not labeled it a civil war. I have asked around to see why not or see what’s the thinking on that and really our reporters have not filed that. We try to avoid the labels, particularly when the elected government itself does not call its situation a civil war. I certainly — and I would agree with General McCaffrey on this — absolutely the level of violence equals a civil war.

So NBC is ok with casting the uncontrollable violence in Iraq as a civil war, but the Pulitzer prize winning Priest is afraid to call it that, even if that's what she thinks it is?

Um, ok.

Calling what is going on in Iraq is not merely a semantic discussion; there are policy issues in play. More from Foreign Policy:
Titling Iraq a civil war may have significant impacts on American foreign policy - according to the NYT, acknowledgment by the White House would mean an admission of failure of the administration's policy in Iraq. Furthermore, it might also encourage a greater demand for withdrawal from the public, who may view the role of American troops redundant in the context of a civil war.

One hell of a mess, isn't it?

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