Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Iraq: Still "Staying the Course"?

“Men will ever distinguish war from mere bloodshed.”
Frederick William Robertson, 19th Century English Preacher

Listening to the radio and watching television, one can only marvel at the accuracy of Preacher Robertson’s observation. Events this week associated with Iraq make the point.

November 29 in Baghdad: The Council of Representatives (a.k.a. the Iraqi Parliament) voted to extend the country’s 25 month-old state of emergency for another 30 days. The action allows the security forces to arrest and detain Iraqis without warrants and to impose curfews.

A day earlier, the UN Security Council, at the request of Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and acting under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, unanimously passed Resolution 1723 (2006) extending the mandate of the 160,000 multinational troops now in Iraq to December 31, 2007. As in past resolutions, the Security Council retained the provisions giving the Iraqi government the option to ask that the mandate be revoked before the end of 2007 and requiring that the mandate be reviewed not later than June 15, 2007 if it is not revoked earlier.

In Tallinn, Estonia en route to a two day meeting of NATO heads of state, President Bush conceded that Iraq is “tough,” yet he steadfastly ignored a question as to whether the situation in Iraq is a civil war.” White House Press Secretary Tony Snow rejected the term, saying there are not yet “two clearly defined and opposing groups vying not only for power but for territory.” Others such as King Abdullah II of Jordan and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said Iraq was nearly in or on the brink of civil war, while former Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Colin Powell, the NBC network, and the Los Angeles Times unambiguously labeled the fighting “civil war.”

Now it is somewhat curious that the Pentagon’s Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms (as amended through April 2006) – also known as JP-01 – defines insurgency, guerrilla warfare, and unconventional warfare, but does not have a definition for civil war. For the military, a concept or an event not defined does not exist, and thus it does not require resources, planning, or further consideration. And since the U.S. “doesn’t do civil wars,” the Pentagon can deny any and all accusations that it even thinks of inciting or otherwise getting involved in such conflicts. (The CIA doesn’t reveal how it operates in such situations, let alone that it does, so it doesn’t have to bother with denials.)

The Pentagon has an interesting disclaimer in the preface to the Dictionary of Military Terms that states that only terms “inadequately covered in standard commonly accepted dictionaries” are included. While “civil war” is not in the military dictionary, “insurgency,” “unconventional warfare,” and “guerrilla warfare” are. Conversely, the 2005 Webster’s New World College Edition Dictionary defines “insurgence,” “guerrilla,” and “civil war” but not “unconventional warfare.”

Where, one might wonder, is the three-letter word that encompasses all of the above? Well, the Dictionary of Military Terms does not define “war,” probably relying on the disclaimer noted at the start of this essay. But should this be the explanation, then the Pentagon is saying that the public, individually and collectively, is able – to paraphrase Justice Potter Stewart – to recognize war when it sees it.

That same logic applies to civil war. More than 60 percent of the U.S. public thinks Iraq is a civil war. So the White House ought to listen to its own advice, stop wasting energy playing semantic games, and start pulling together regional security and economic reconstruction conferences. And as these become operational, foreign forces can disengage and withdraw.

Anything less is “staying the course” of more casualties, more destruction, more hatred.

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