Shouldn't the press call Iraq's sectarian violence a civil war?
ASK THIS | August 07, 2006
Saul Friedman says government leaders don't call it civil war for obvious reasons, but it sure is one. So why is the press holding back?
Q. Why doesn’t the press call the civil war in Iraq a civil war?
Q. Should editors and reporters hold off on that terminology until government uses it first?
By Saul Friedman
My serviceable Webster's, along with Wikipedia, gives us this straightforward definition of civil war: "noun, a war between opposing groups of citizens with the same country." So how come the press can't call the obvious civil war in Iraq a civil war? We don't hesitate to call the conflicts in the Congo, Sudan and elsewhere in Africa civil wars; why do we hesitate, and mince words in Iraq?
[See Monica Toft on the six criteria for defining civil war.]
Part of the reason seems to be that neither the president nor his generals want to call what's happening a civil war. And modern journalism is reluctant to call a spade a spade, as long as the administration is calling it a club.
Gen. John Abizaid, the top commander in the Middle East, carefully told the Senate Armed Services August 3rd, "I believe the sectarian violence is probably as bad as I've seen it, in Baghdad in particular and that if it's not stopped it is possible that Iraq could move toward civil war."
Gen. Peter Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who owes his job to the president, was ever more careful: "We do have the possibility of that devolving into civil war." Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, sitting beside his generals declines to call the situation a civil war, and Tony Snow, flying with the President to his Texas ranch, said "sectarian violence is a concern."
Hundreds of Iraqis are slaughtering each other every week, Sunni and Shia are not safe in Baghdad or anywhere else. Americans are dying from being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The generals and the government officials they're counting on to take control cannot leave the fortified Green Zone. So why won't they acknowledge they're in the middle of a civil war? Or more to my point, why won't the press insist on getting an answer to the question: What constitutes a civil war?
There is a good reason they won't, or can't, answer. The senators made it clear Thursday that if there is a civil war, the U.S. would have little choice but to leave. Still the question must be asked.
Saul Friedman, a 1963 Nieman fellow, is a former White House correspondent for Newsday and Knight Ridder newspapers and now writes a weekly column, “Gray Matters,” dealing with senior issues, for Newsday.
civil war trumps war on terror
OC Patriot -
08/07/2006, 12:45 PM
If they call this fighting a "civil war" it will only serve to point out that it isn't a w"war on terror" any more; not that it has been, but that's been the fiction that the Bush Administration has been pushing for some time now. That's why you'll only hear "civil war" used reluctantly if at all.