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Iraq's Uncivil War By: Ralph Peters
New York Post | Friday, December 01, 2006


You can call her a blond, but she's still a redhead. The endless spitting match over whether Iraq is in a state of civil war is a media-driven grudge fight that ignores the complex reality. It's name-calling, not analysis.

A lot of this is just "get Bush" stuff from journalists whose biased reporting helped shape the dismal reality in Iraq and who now crow that they were right all along - the media as a self-licking ice-cream cone.

The good news - and, unfortunately, the bad news - is that Iraq is not in a state of civil war in the textbook sense. If it were, our military and political mission would be easier.

In a civil war, you have clearly defined sides struggling for political power, with organized military formations and parallel governments. You know who to kill and who is empowered to negotiate with you. You can pick a side and stick to it.

Unleashed, our military could smash any enemy in an open civil war. Even our diplomats would have trouble preventing an American victory.

But the violence in Iraq comes from overlapping groups of terrorists, militias, insurgents, death squads, gangsters, foreign agents and factionalized government security forces engaging in layers of savage religious, ethnic, political and economic struggles - with an all-too-human lust for revenge spicing the mix.

There is a genuine problem here: The ever-accelerating pace of change since the end of the Cold War has left us with an inadequate vocabulary. Words literally fail us. We don't know what to call things. No military lexicon offers a useful term to describe the situation in Iraq.

This matters. We not only speak, but think, in language. To communicate effectively, we must describe things efficiently. Agreeing upon its name is essential to a deeper understanding of any phenomenon. Nouns are the handles with which we grip reality.

Our troops can kill our enemies no matter what we call them, but our inability to describe our experience in Iraq accurately makes it far harder for our civilian leaders to understand it. (Not that everyone in either party is committed to an honest analysis.)

As far as the now-pejorative term "civil war" goes, let's just let activists in or out of the media use it, if it helps them bear the dawning reality that, no, the Democrats in Congress aren't going to bring the troops home for Christmas and declare surrender.

Meanwhile, those of us who care about our country's security and who worry about the futility haunting the Middle East need to face a tougher issue than yo-mama name-calling: Iraq has deteriorated so badly it's hard to imagine a positive outcome unless we're willing to take radical, politically difficult measures.

The administration and Congress have to face a fundamental question: Which result is more important - preserving Iraq as a unified state with a facade of democratic government, or protecting our own national-security interests?

The two priorities now conflict. Really taking on our enemies - not least Moqtada al-Sadr and his legion of thugs - would require us to defy the elected Baghdad government we sponsored. To kill those who need killing to pacify Iraq and re-establish our ascendancy would mean that we would again become an outright occupying power.

Not that it really matters, but doing what it would take to win would also tear up our permission slip from the United Nations.

On the other hand, the prospect of endlessly shoring up a corrupt, divided Iraqi government unwilling to protect its own citizens, and to do so at a cost in American blood, would be a far more immoral course than ordering our troops to kill the butchers who've been assassinating them and tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis.

Let's hope that President Bush will make it hurt-so-bad-he-can't-sit-down clear to Prime Minster Nouri al-Maliki at their meeting in Jordan today that Allah helps those who help themselves. Our soldiers and Marines can't continue to serve as human shields for a corrupt, feckless government. Maliki must get serious about Iraq's problems immediately.

And if the prime minister runs back to Baghdad to beg Moqtada's forgiveness for meeting with our president, it will confirm the doubts about Maliki's will, abilities and allegiance highlighted in National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley's leaked memo - which appears to have wounded the prime minister's vanity.

In his remarks Tuesday at the NATO summit in Riga, Latvia, President Bush stated forcefully that we would not quit Iraq until we had completed our mission. Such tenacity can be admirable, but the mission has to be clear - otherwise, it's just obstinacy.

A fundamental problem is that the mission in Iraq remains vague. And vague mission statements are not conducive to military success.

Generalities won't do. Let's tell our troops precisely what we expect of them: Are they there to defeat our enemies, or just to buy time with their lives in the forlorn hope that something will go right?

And let's not lose sight of the incontestable fact that, while being liked in the Middle East would be nice, being feared by our enemies is essential.

There's nothing civil about the semi-chaos defining a new kind of war in Iraq. It's a 21st-century phenomenon and our terminology has to catch up. In the meantime, we need to remember that, whatever else our government does or fails to do, its ultimate reason for being is to protect Americans and American interests.

Saving the dubious Maliki government is a secondary concern, at most. The uncompromising defeat of our enemies is what matters.

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Ralph Peters is a New York Post Opinion columnist and the author of "Looking For Trouble: Adventures in a Broken World."


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