New York Post
March 24, 2006
Not Even Close
By Ralph Peters
If surgeons wielded scalpels as carelessly as to day's journalists misuse language, the mortality rate in our hospitals would soar. The latest example of this deadly abuse of terminology was the media's declaration of "civil war" in Iraq.
It was the equivalent of describing vandalism as genocide. The blaze faded, only to be reignited briefly by former Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi's statement last weekend that Iraq was in a civil war - a claim he swiftly retracted, to the disappointment of anchormen and -women everywhere.
Allawi wants to be prime minister again - although his country's voters rejected him - and he was playing the fear card. It backfired: Iraqi leaders from virtually every faction denounced his claim, and the former PM, once seen as a muscular leader, was outed as just another political hack.
Nonetheless, the next time Abu Musab al-Zarqawi's Islamist Klansmen bomb a religious site, we'll hear yet again that Iraq's really, really in a civil war this time (cross our little hearts and hope for headlines).
Perhaps it's time to consider what a civil war actually is.
I'd define it as a broad internal conflict between at least two contending governments, each of which has the overt support of a substantial portion of the population and each of which fields organized (if not always professional) military forces.
Such a definition doesn't draw crisp boundaries, since civil wars come in a range of varieties (sometimes the fielded military forces are just huge mobs), but the elasticity isn't infinite. Terrorism, even at its extreme, is not the same thing as civil war. And an insurgency only becomes a civil war when it offers an alternative system of government sustained by a people in arms.
But the difference is, above all, one of scope. Before we declare the next series of Islamist mob hits a civil war, let's consider the scale of a few real ones:
* In our own Civil War, over 600,000 Americans died in four years.
* In the brutal Spanish Civil War, hundreds of thousands died fighting, while an unknown number of others perished as a result of the struggle's general effects.
* During the Chinese civil war, tens of millions died - exact figures will never be known.
* Millions died as a result of the Korean and Vietnamese civil wars.
* How many millions died in the Russian civil war will never be known.
* The last decade's interrelated civil wars in the former Yugoslavia killed hundreds of thousands and displaced millions.
* The series of African civil wars sparked by the genocide in Rwanda and spilling into Congo/Zaire and the Great Lakes region killed 3 million to 4 million - while the Clinton administration whistled past the graveyard.
* Other African civil wars, from Biafra, Angola and Mozambique through Sierra Leone and Liberia to Sudan and Ivory Coast, killed at least 10 million - indeed, it would be hard to find a better vantage point from which to ponder the effects of real civil wars than the tragic African continent.
Does any of this really sound like Iraq? Only Saddam's attempted genocide against the Kurds and the Shi'a Marsh Arabs came anywhere close.
As this column long has maintained, civil war is one of the many possible futures Iraq could face. But you'll know it, if you ever see it. Meanwhile, hysterical claims only play into the hands of terrorists and thugs who crave an Iraqi civil war almost as badly as Donald Trump craves publicity.
Yesterday, 33 more Iraqis were killed by car bombs, but there was good news, too: U.S. and British special-operations forces freed three "peace worker" hostages - now the lucky activists can get back to criticizing the brave men who just saved their sorry backsides.
Baghdad isn't Gettysburg.
Ralph Peters is traveling in Africa.
One bump for the night crew.
the media is the biggest enemy we fight in the GWOT.
so much for politics stopping at the waters edge
That is a quote worth repeating.