OxBlog

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

# Posted 11:12 PM by Ariel David Adesnik  

THE L.A. TIMES STANDS UP TO BUSH: At some point, journalists must stop reporting the spin and just tell their readers what they know to be the truth. Recently, the LA Times decided that it was time to stop pretending that there is only "sectarian violence" in Iraq and to describe the stiuation there as a civil war.

How did the Times justify this bold decision? What exacting standards did they apply to determine when to confront the President and his spokesmen? Last night on PBS, foreign editor Marjorie Miller had a chance to explain the paper's logic. Moderator Jeffrey Brown asked Ms. Miller the following question, among others:
JEFFREY BROWN: But in defining [civil war], in using this term, is there a clear definition, or is this more of a "we know it when we see it" situation?

MARJORIE MILLER: I think it's more we know it when we see it. You look at the factors, and you say, what's happening here?
Brown hinted pretty clearly that the correct answer to his question was a "clear definition", but I guess that Miller was too inexperienced to pretend that she had one. That kind of candor is actually sort of charming. Although it still means that the LA Times needs to learn a little bit more about self-awareness, because "I know it when I see it" is a recipe for translating personal opinions into newsprint. And it's no secret what those opinions are.

To be fair, Miller did throw out a number of attributes that are relevant to the definition of civil war, even if they should not be mistaken for one. She observed that, in Iraq:
You have one country divided into armed factions that are engaged in combat. They're using heavy weaponry. They're using bombs, mortars, rocket-propelled grenades. They're using machine guns mounted on the back of vehicles.

Each side has combatants in and out of uniform. They're attacking government ministries. You have 100 Iraqis dying at least every day. What do you call that, if not civil war?
With the exception of the specific death toll, all of that was true three years ago just as much as it is today. So I guess the Times deserves credit for waiting three years to let its personal opinions spill over onto Page One.

Finally, there a question I will ask but will not answer. At least not at this moment. What is the definition of a civil war, as opposed to an insurgency or sectarian violence?

If I am going to criticize the answers of others, perhaps I ought provide an answer of my own. Of course, your answers are welcome in the comment section below.
(17) opinions -- Add your opinion

Comments:
Actually I think it has been civil war ever since it was sectarian war. If civil war is defined as a war among people within a nation, then what is going on in Iraq has been a civil war for the last two years. And I think it has been.
 
Civil war implies an armed struggle over control of the government and a lot of deaths (political scientists say more than 1,000). Sectarian violence doesn't always involve control over the government; India repeatedly witnesses sectarian violence not related to control over the government, for example. As for "insurgency," that's just a component of civil war. Insurgency means an armed group rising up against the government. One could say that an armed insurgency could exist short of civil war if the total death toll was lower than 1,000. There are many parts of Latin America that have seen small-scale armed insurgencies that lead to far fewer than 1,000 deaths.

To use the common political science definition, Iraq has been in civil war since the Sunni insurgency claimed its 1,000th victim. That was probably in mid-2003.
 
Well, you can start with Weber's definition of a nation being a “human community which within a defined territory successfully claims for itself the monopoly of legitimate physical force.”

And then there is Chomsky's definition of a failed state as a weak state in which the central government has little practical control over much of its territory.

And a civil war is a transition from one to another. Iraq.

Of course, you could ask why Bush is being so pedantic about this definition. You could.
 
The Correlates of War site has a definition for its data--not simply 1000 deaths, but 1000 deaths per year. And given the difficulty in counting those deaths, well precise definitions are given some leeway.
 
This is The Battle of The Labels.

The antiwar types are desperate to get this labled a civil war.

What's the big deal what you call it?

There is a given, an unexamined, planted axiom, that a civil war cannot be won--by us, I mean. Therefore, if it's a civil war we have to quit right now and come home instantly.

Thus the desperate attempt to apply The Label. Whether any of the perps think it is, or not, isn't the question. They want us out instanter and the attempt to apply The Label seems like a good technique.
 
I don't see how any sensible definition of civil war could include today's Iraq (by "sensible", I mean a definition that includes most conflicts we generally agree are civil wars and excludes most conflicts we generally agree are not civil wars).

That said, Aubrey is right--this is a propaganda issue. Iraq is what it is regardless of what we call it and those who want call it civil war do so because they want to lead American public opinion towards withdrawal.
 
I'd suggest looking at Johnson and Tierney's op-ed in Tuesday's NY Times. The subject was media coverage of the Tet offensive in Vietnam and its impact on the outcome of the war. One point was that there were two key ingredients in creating the press' coverage: one was that the Vietcong was able to conduct such a widespread attack at all, the other was, to use a modern term, the Johnson Administration's happy-talk during the prior year. The is that while the reality of the Tet offensive was a disaster for NV, it was less of a disaster for them than what Johnson's happy-talk, and it was clear that that happy-talk was inaccurate.

The lesson for Iraq is trying to portray everything as positive/deny something negative only leads any undeniable contradiction of that picture getting hyped all out of proportion. The best thing to do is byte the bullet, admit that it is a civil war and then present the case for what can be done to resolve the civil war, such as identifying factions with interests overlapping with ours.

A common perception among war supporters is that calls for labeling the conflict a civil war are done to induce public oppinion to favor withdrawal. What this perception fails to see is that the label can influence the question of how-to as well as whether-to. For instance, the standard response to an insurgency is to build up the indigenous army to suppress the insurgency. However, in a civil war, the indigenous army would have no more legitimacy than any other faction, thus outside force would be the only force capable of suppressing it. (For more information, check out Stephen Biddle's contribution in The National Interest on what to do in Iraq. I don't have the exact link, but it was sometime in the past month or two.)

From what I've seen, the tribes in Anbar province perceive the Iraqi Army as an extension of the Mehdi Army, which implies a need to apply a civil war paradigm to resolving the conflict. Yet Bush insists on applying an insurgency paradigm and too many people who claim to care about the outcome in Iraq seem to care more about not letting labels interfere with their happy-talk than with realistically assessing which paradigm is actually appropriate.
 
Scott Smith.

Looks to me as if the paradigm is applied differently as needed.

The Multinationals and the ISF and the Anbar tribes all have the same short-term goal. Once that's achieved, the paradigm will shift, according to the interests of those with the most power/will.

What Bush applies seems to be too general to be presumed to apply in a given area of Iraq.
 
I can't help but be reminded of the scene in Lawrence of Arabia, about 30 minutes into the film Lawrence is being guided to meet Feisal and he and his guide Tafas stop at the Masturah well only to be confronted by Ali. Ali kills Tafas because Tafas' tribe is not permitted to drink from a Harith well.

After a brief exchange Lawrence call out to Ali, "So long as the Arabs fight tribe against tribe; so long they will be a little people, a silly people; greedy, barbarous and cruel."

While this particular incident was pure fiction, here we are, almost 45 years after the movie was made and almost 100 years after the Arab revolt and Lawrence's script sentiments still ring true.
 
Richard Aubrey:

First, I found the URL, it's http://www.nationalinterest.org/Article.aspx?id=12988. The important part of it comes from Stephen Biddle's description of victory, or the closest thing to it that is achievable:

The challenge here is not to avert civil war, however. Iraq is already in a civil war—and has been for a long time. It is too late for prevention. The real challenge now is termination.

This means we need to shift from a strategy designed for classical counter-insurgency to one designed for terminating an ongoing civil war.


Biddle goes on to describe how to conduct civil war termination: negotiate a power-sharing deal between the parties and have an outside force enforce it.

As for your comment:

What multinationals do you refer to? Iran and Syria? Foreign fighters who had no affiliation until arriving? Some other group of outsiders? Also, what is the ISF? Finally, to what common interest between the multinationals, ISF and Anbar tribes do you allude?

Given that I have no idea who the first two are, I can only comment about the Anbar tribes. From what I gather, the major interests of the Anbar tribes are to provide personal security for their members and to ensure a proper amount of power over the national government and share of oil revenues. They might have other interests and I can't provide any definition of what would be proper, but that's something that one can negotiate around.
 
This means we need to shift from a strategy designed for classical counter-insurgency to one designed for terminating an ongoing civil war.

Biddle goes on to describe how to conduct civil war termination: negotiate a power-sharing deal between the parties and have an outside force enforce it.


The most effective way to terminate a civil war, in fact, is for one side to score a decisive victory.So another policy option is for the United States to simply choose sides.

With respect to what we call the conflict, I think there's something a bit wrong with this approach. We might think of it this way:

We say is "A" an example of "X" or "Y" in which the relationship between "X" and "Y" is one of degree rather than kind. After much debate about proper coding, we then decide that "A" is, in fact, "X" and not "Y." We next exclude examples of "Y" and include examples of "X" for making judgments about policy options.

But since "X" and "Y" were never sui generis categories in the first place, we don't gain very much.

In this case, "sectarian violence" and "civil wars" aren't even points along some spectrum. Some civil wars are sectarian, some involve sectarian violence, others do not. What we really mean here is "what is the scale of the violence, how coordinated is it, how many parties are involved, what kinds of parties are involved, and what are their objectives?" American policy options depend on the evolving answers to these questions.

Even if Iraq crosses some threshold of "battle deaths" for being coded as a civil war, that doesn't mean that we should suddenly be studying the American Civil War for lessons about what to do. Nor should we necessarily be looking at communal riots in India if we think what's going on should be called "sectarian violence." We might find out useful things from either of these cases, but I don't think that has a lot to do with whether we start referring to the conflict as a civil war.
 
"political scientists say more than 1,000." Oh for heaven's sake!
 
Multinationals= the US and allies.
ISF=Iraq Security Forces.

The common goal is the destruction of foreign (al Q in Iraq) fighters, since the latter killed some Sunni tribal chiefs who supported their young men joining the Iraqi police.

The ISF and the US have the same goal
 

I don't see how any sensible definition of civil war could include today's Iraq (by "sensible", I mean a definition that includes most conflicts we generally agree are civil wars and excludes most conflicts we generally agree are not civil wars).


I don't see how any rational definition of civil war could possibly include Lebanon and exclude Iraq. Just about everything that was seen in Lebanon during the civil war is seen in Iraq.

Then again, those opposing this label are not known for being sensible or rational. They are after all largely the same people who've been asserting for over 3 years that things are just hunk dory in the Iraq and the media are just traitors for reporting only bad news, not the good news. They are the same people who are asserting that California is worse than Iraq.
 
After a brief exchange Lawrence call out to Ali, "So long as the Arabs fight tribe against tribe; so long they will be a little people, a silly people; greedy, barbarous and cruel."

While this particular incident was pure fiction, here we are, almost 45 years after the movie was made and almost 100 years after the Arab revolt and Lawrence's script sentiments still ring true.



Very eloquent, I guess. Except the Iraqis are not Arabs. They're Persians.

Sigh! Typical ignorance.
 
Sigh again !!! I think you mean Iranians are Persians.

Iraq is currently 75% - 80% Arab, 15% - 20% Kurdish with the remaining 5% as Assyrian, Turkoman or other.

The sentiment is the same; there will be no progress until all learn to trust and maybe even respect each other.
 
i'm getting so seek when hearing such a news
اليوتيوب
 
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