Monday, November 27, 2006

Iraq: A Civil War by Any Other Name

NBC now says Iraq is in a civil war. I guess that makes it official. But don't think for a second that the poppycock rhetoric regarding Iraq will end any time soon, just because the major news agencies are calling it what it really is. Finally.

Just about any dictionary you pick up defines "civil war" as a war between opposing groups within a country. So unless you deny that what's been going on in Iraq for the past few years is a "war," how can you deny that the war going on in Iraq is a civil war? Young Mister Bush says we're in a war. That's how he justifies treating the Constitution like a sanitary grooming item. And he says Iraq is the central front in the war on terror, so if there's a war in Iraq, it’s a civil war, right?

That's not how the White House sees it, but the White House defines everything by their Brave New World Dictionary, so words mean whatever they want them to mean. The Bush administration takes its rhetorical cues from the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail, in which the Black Knight, having had all four limbs hacked off at the trunk in mortal combat, roars, "'Tis but a flesh wound."

All but the most autistic segment of the right wing base know what this semantic lap dance is about. There's general agreement that U.S. troops shouldn't be stuck in the middle of a civil war, and if there's a civil war in Iraq, logic dictates that we should get out troops out of there. So all this Rovewellian jive about what to call the war is a last ditch effort to justify an unjustifiable policy and strategy.

Parsing Wars

Even so called "authorities" who now sign on to the civil war term continue to parse the situation.

Retired Army four-star Wayne Downing, one of MSNBC's military "experts," allowed as how, yes, it's a civil war, even though he's been avoiding use of that term for quite a while because it's so, well, politically charged and such. But when asked if the U.S. should take sides with either the Sunnis or the Shias, he said that no, we don't want to do that.

That was a remarkable piece of dissembling.

Nothing about war is cut and dried, but a pretty good rule of thumb is that when you step into the middle of somebody else's war, you have two basic mission options: peacekeeping and peace enforcement.

In a peacekeeping mission, you're a neutral honest broker. You're simply standing between the belligerents to keep catcalling contests from becoming major conflagrations. Peacekeeping requires a number of things, not the least of which are that the belligerents have to actually want peace and their leadership needs to have control of their forces. It's clear that in Iraq, the belligerents have no interest in achieving a lasting peace any time in the near future and none of the belligerent faction leaders seem to have a tight control of their fighters.

In peace enforcement, you pick a side and fight for it. In many ways, that amounts to acting as a mercenary force for whoever's side you take, which is more or less what we've been doing for Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

This peacekeeping/peace enforcement distinction is not advanced astrophysics. It's war college 101 stuff. The notion that Downing, a retired four-star who once led U.S. Special Operations Command could not know it defies believability.

Bunker Bunk

Here's something I learned during my military career that they didn't teach at the war colleges. When the big brass do or say things that don't make sense, it usually means that 1) they're idiots, 2) they're going off the deep end, 3) they're congenital jerks, 4) they have a hidden agenda or 5) some combination of the other four. If you've never had any military experience, you've probably noticed the same phenomenon in the civilian work force.

I don't care to speculate on where Downing's coming from when he says things like "yeah, it's a civil war but we shouldn't take sides" because it doesn't really matter where he's coming from. What matters is that a "leading authority" like him will go on national television and feed the American public a line of bunker mentality bunk, and that the news network he's feeding it through will pay him to do it.

And there's no need to single out Downing as the main culprit in the bunk blowing wars. 90 percent of the people you see or hear or read in the media want to set off a pack of matches in your shoe. Sometimes their bias is obvious. Just about everybody knows what the likes of Ann Coulter are up to. When the media trot out a pair of left/right, he said/she said pundits to have a political pillow fight, we pretty much know what we're seeing--a freak show put on by highly compensated freaks for the purpose of stealing ratings from the freak shows on the other media outlets.

But other times, the bias is disguised as "critical" analysis from an "honest" broker. Dan Goure is a perfect example of this. MSNBC regularly features him as an expert on everything from the war to the economy to global warming without notifying the audience that Goure is a card carrying neocon who goes on camera with a pocketful of talking points crafted by the right wing think tank network.

Then you have the types you don't know what to make of like retired Army Major General John Batiste. Batiste was one of the 12 angry generals who called for Rumsfeld's resignation, so you want to think he's a "good guy." But his consistent opinion, as expressed in a recent op-ed piece he authored, is that "victory will require sacrifice" and that we should "mobilize the United States" in order to achieve that victory. Like most "Go Big, Go Long, Go Broke" advocates, Batiste fails to define what exactly "victory" might consist of, except to say that it will require "leadership" and that it's "non-negotiable."

I'm willing to accept that Batiste is speaking from the heart and stating what he truly believes, but that makes no never mind. Believing the moon is made of green cheese doesn't make it so, no matter how many glittering emotional generalities you throw into your argument that says it is.

So stand by for more palaver about how we should stick with Stay the Course or whatever Son of Stay the Course turns out to be. But mark my words: if we keep our troops in the middle of whatever synonym for "disaster" you care to describe the situation in Iraq with, they'll either help one side commit genocide on the other or get ground into grit in the middle of it.

Here's something else I learned, long before I joined the military. We were playing volleyball in high school gym class, and two guys got into a fistfight. Being a varsity football player and the biggest kid in the class, I stepped into the middle of it, trying to break it up, and got socked in the face three times. I never threw a punch back at either of the other two guys.

I wound up going to the principal's office. The other two guys didn't.


Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes from Virginia Beach, Virginia. Read his commentaries at ePluribus Media and Pen and Sword.


  1. Anonymous5:06 PM

    There is just this endemic cowardice practiced by the media and the so-called "experts".

    It must be because their compensation depends on doing and saying the things they do and say.

    I can't stand to listen to these guys on tv, because I know everything they spout is just complete BS.

  2. Yep, it is. It's all bs.

  3. Anonymous9:48 AM

    Good post Jeff. My concern is that we are reaching the point where we will probably have a difficult time even gracefully withdrawing. It is looking more and more like we will have to fight our way out and the big question is do we have the troops available to even do that. It is a long way to the Kuwait border.

  4. Fallenmonk,

    A lot of "getting out" relies on how we do it, and frankly, I don't know how we'd do it.

    A lot also depends on where we redeploy to. I haven't heard a whole lot of discussion about that. Have we already been talking to Kuwait, Jordan, etc. about it? I don't know.

  5. Anonymous10:02 AM

    Query: given that there was purposely little planning done for post-Saddam Iraq, are there any plans for a withdrawal?

    From a tactical/strategic/logistics point, does it make sense to plan for withdrawal in advance, or is this something that needs to be thought of close to the time it's anticipated (to reflect a more accurate picture on the ground).

  6. Good question. Redeployment takes a much planning and preparation as any other phase of a war. That's why Murtha was so insistent on starting ASAP.

    And look how much time we've lost now.

  7. "I think people will watch anything on TV. As long as it's dumb. Heh heh..." - Butthead, speaking to a TV reporter

    Let's work on some better catchphrases:
    GO BIG

  8. Jeff, one thing that has steamed me about the whole Iraq invasion has been that now the whole world - including future adversaries - has been able to watch how our military operates and what our capabilities are in near real-time and for what? The hubris and ego-gratification of megalomaniacs who had "other priorities?" Or those who posited in cushy Gucci suites in NW DC on "how to use America's power for moral good" a la PNAC/AIPAC, etc? Mike

  9. I happen to think what is going on in Iraq is not a civil war, but for a different reason than what those on the political right say.

    How can what is going on in Iraq be called a civil war, when it is foreign governments (mainly USA and Britain) that
    #1) bombed the country and destroyed its infrastructure
    #2) rounds up thousands of Iraqis and jails them without justification
    #3) makes decisions when elections are to take place and whether the results are valid
    #4) benefit more from reconstruction projects than the Iraqis
    #5)can break into jails to release prisoners against the Iraqi's governments wishes. (Remember when two British men where caught disguised as Arabs carrying explosives and weapons in their car? Their fellow British soldiers broke into the jail they were in and helped them to escape) see

    The U.S., Britain, Israel and Iran are contributing to the chaos with their agent provocateurs.