NYT declares civil war in Iraq, sort of

posted at 1:59 pm on November 28, 2006 by Allahpundit

Bill Keller descends from the mountaintop, tablets in hand, and lo, it is civil war:

“After consulting with our reporters in the field and the editors who
directly oversee this coverage, we have agreed that Times correspondents may describe the conflict in Iraq as a civil war when they and their editors believe it is appropriate,” Bill Keller, executive editor of The New York Times, revealed in a statement…

“We expect to use the phrase sparingly and carefully, not to the exclusion of other formulations, not for dramatic effect. The main shortcoming of “civil war” is that, like other labels, it fails to capture the complexity of what is happening on the ground…”

Why has our secular priesthood suddenly taken to revising the catechism? Spruiell thinks he knows:

It has nothing to do with the ongoing violence in Iraq, and everything to do with the fact that these media organizations, which are struggling to maintain their relevance in a rapidly changing industry, feel the need to assert themselves and remind the public of their importance.

That explains why but it doesn’t explain why now. Back to E&P:

On his MSNBC “Hardball” show on Monday night, host Chris Matthews asked the Post’s Pultizer Prize winning reporter Dana Priest about this issue. Priest replied: “Well, I think one of the reasons the President resists that label is because it equates almost with a failure of U.S. policy…

“Words have power, and naming it a civil war does begin to shape people’s perception of what’s happening there,” Thomas Hollihan, a professor at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication who studies political rhetoric, told the Los Angeles Times. The midterm election results may have emboldened news outlets to adopt a characterization the White House has rejected, he added. “The media has, by and large, been very fearful of being perceived of being liberally biased,” Hollihan said. “Now that the election has occurred, there may be more license on the part of the media to say what the public has been feeling.”

He means “to say what they’ve been feeling” but he doesn’t want to put it that way lest he admit their bias. So he’s left to argue that yes, of course media rhetoric shapes public opinion — except for right now, when it’s public opinion that’s shaping the rhetoric. Blame the public! Dana Priest, however, is more forthright. Between the Democrats’ victory and the imminent delivery of the Baker Commission report, the amount of pressure on Bush to either pull out or make a deal with Iran is at its absolute zenith. There’s not much the media can do to ratchet it up further except, as Hollihan suggests, to introduce into the rhetoric a term which Priest aptly describes as tantamount to U.S. failure. They’ve done their part for the anti-war effort.

Incidentally, how’s Bush bearing up under all that pressure? Not so well.

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As with anything in the MSM – Saying it doesn’t mean it is so.

jeannedb on November 28, 2006 at 2:06 PM

Maybe the MSM will get behind the war effort now. After all, they were the drum beaters who got us involved in the civil war in the Balkans.

But of course there was a clear cut side to ally with in that war…the Muslims against the Christians.

Perchant on November 28, 2006 at 2:11 PM

“The media has, by and large, been very fearful of being perceived of being liberally biased,” Hollihan said.


The media is fearful the public audience will switch their perception of media bias and start veiwing liberal media bias as the bad thing that it really is.

Lawrence on November 28, 2006 at 2:13 PM

When is NBC going to begin referring to the lawlessness in France as a civil war?

JammieWearingFool on November 28, 2006 at 2:18 PM

Bridge For Sale Alert!

We expect to use the phrase sparingly and carefully……..not for dramatic effect.


infidel4life on November 28, 2006 at 2:40 PM

The truth of the matter is, there most definitely is a civil war going on in Iraq. Because the media is so busy trying to find ways to demonize Bush and his demon spawned demonic neocon… uh, demons, and because “us” conservatives have been so preoccupied trying to defend our side, we’ve missed the true war.

It’s not Suni vs. Shia, its the democratic/semi-secularist/federalist vs. the Islamic fundamentalists. Declaring this a civil war and clearly stating who the adversaries are would be a very powerful strategic move.

For one, it would more clearly represent the reality on the ground. Sure there is massive sectarian violence. But who is stirring that up? And why? (hint: divide and conquer)

Also, calling this out as a civil war forces individuals and organizations within Iraq to firmly chose a side. This would, hopefully, have the bonus advantage of uniting the Shia and Sunni in a common cause.

Civil war in Iraq no more signals the failure of U.S. policy than the American Civil War signaled the failure of colonia era French policy.

12thman on November 28, 2006 at 2:47 PM

Is there some sort of MSM roundtable, where the heads of the each MSM outlet sit and make these sorts of decisions? How is it that they all decided to investigate and call it a “civil war” at the same time?

Rick on November 28, 2006 at 2:53 PM

Poor Bush. He’s one man standing alone against the idiocy of the world. I think he’s beat. It’s a disgrace and a tragedy.

I’m amazed he lasted this long. For all the thanks he gets for trying to save our lives, he’s should just quit and leave us to our own devices. We don’t deserve his loyalty.

He’s a great man, Gulliver in a world of Lilliputians.

ahem on November 28, 2006 at 3:00 PM

Recalling a scene from the movie “A Bridge Too Far” in which the main characters are standing on a balcony offering opinions on why the operation failed. Replace the generals with the publishers of our modern rags patting each other on the back.
“It was Abu Gharib”
“No, it was refusing to label them as terrorists”
“No, it was introducing the phrase civil war”
“No, it was the WMD’s”

Followed by a clink of glasses and quick phone calls to their sources in the CIA to get the next classified document for the front page.

LakeRuins on November 28, 2006 at 3:26 PM

12thman: Good comment. You’ve nailed it dead on. That’s the proper frame for what we’re doing in Iraq and why it’s important for us to stay and support the democratic government.

Allah: There’s nothing in the NYSun story that suggests Bush isn’t dealing with the pressure well. The internal review at State and at the Pentagon have been going on for months. They started immediately after the ISG was commissioned by Congress. Realists in Congress thought they could beat the President with Baker et. al. The Pres had the NSC run a review of it’s own to counter the surrender monkeys in the Baker/Scowcroft Axis. State wants to talk to Iran and Syria, but State always wants to talk.

There is one thing Bush understands that few at State do. You can’t negotiate with tyrants because tyrants don’t know how to negotiate. Politics in Syria and Iran consists of murder, blackmail, and/or opression. They don’t negotiate in good faith with internal power rivals why would anyone expect them to negotiate in good faith with external rivals. Bush is still looking at tranformation of the region as the key to long term success in the GWOT. I haven’t seen him back down one inch on that in six years. I haven’t seen him ever suggest anything but mistrust and contempt for the Syrian and Iranian dictators. I think you’ve overreached with your suspicions. You need to start reading these stories more closely. You’re getting sloppy.

The Apologist on November 28, 2006 at 3:32 PM

Allah’s last linked story (end of page 2):

Bush Edges Closer to Iran Talks

[Meanwhile, the Washington Post is reporting that the American military is no longer able to defeat a bloody insurgency in western Iraq or counter Al Qaeda’s rising popularity there, according to newly disclosed details from a classified Marine Corps intelligence report that set off debate in recent months about the military’s mission in Anbar province.]

Is that an attempt at a Walter Cronkite moment?

Dan866 on November 28, 2006 at 3:48 PM

details from a classified Marine Corps intelligence report

I am sick and tired of seeing that phrase in press stories.

LakeRuins on November 28, 2006 at 3:53 PM

The “Civil war in Iraq” mantra has been claimed by our traitorous media for at least a year now.

Bill Roggio, milblogger and iraq correspondent listed last February the following indicators that would confirm that a civil war is in progress:

• The Shiite United Iraqi Alliance no longer seeks to form a unity government and marginalize the Shiite political blocks.

• Sunni political parties withdraw from the political process.

• Kurds make hard push for independence/full autonomy.

• Grand Ayatollah Sistani ceases calls for calm, no longer takes a lead role in brokering peace.

• Muqtada al-Sadr becomes a leading voice in Shiite politics.

• Major political figures – Shiite and Sunni – openly call for retaliation.

• The Sunni Iraqi Islamic Party and Muslim Scholars Association openly call for the formation of Sunni militias.

• Interior Ministry ceases any investigations into torture and death squads, including the case against recently uncovered problems with the Highway Patrol.

• Defense Minister Dulaimi (a Sunni) is asked to step down from his post.

• Iraqi Security Forces begins severing ties with the Coalition, including:

o Disembeddeding the Military Transition Teams.

o Requests U.S. forces to vacate Forward Operating Bases / Battle Positions in Western and Northern Iraq.

o Alienates Coalition at training academies.

• Iraqi Security Forces make no effort to quell violence or provide security in Sunni neighborhoods.

• Iraqi Security Forces actively participate in attacks on Sunnis, with the direction of senior leaders in the ministries of Defense or Interior.

• Shiite militias are fully mobilized, with the assistance of the government, and deployed to strike at Sunni targets. Or, the Shiite militias are fully incorporated into the Iraqi Security Forces without certification from Coalition trainers.

• Sunni military officers are dismissed en masse from the Iraqi Army.

• Kurdish officers and soldiers leave their posts and return to Kurdistan, and reform into Peshmerga units.

• Attacks against other religious shrines escalate, and none of the parties make any pretense about caring.

• Coalition military forces pull back from forward positions to main regional bases.

I don’t think that the conditions that Roggio cites have come to pass. Both Sunnis and Shiites continue to remain engaged in a natinional government.

What are seeing is not civil war, but an attempt to incite one.

georgej on November 28, 2006 at 4:03 PM

This entry contains information applicable to United States law only.
Civil War

Civil war exists when two or more opposing parties within a country resort to arms to settle a conflict or when a substantial portion of the population takes up arms against the legitimate government of a country. Within international law distinctions are drawn between minor conflicts like riots, where order is restored promptly, and full-scale insurrections finding opposing parties in political as well as military control over different areas. When an internal conflict reaches sufficient proportions that the interests of other countries are affected, outside states may recognize a state of insurgency. A recognition of insurgency, whether formal or de facto, indicates that the recognizing state regards the insurgents as proper contestants for legitimate power. Although the precise status of insurgents under international law is not well-defined, recognized insurgents traditionally gain the protection afforded soldiers under international rules of law pertaining to war. A state may also decide to recognize the contending group as a belligerent, a status that invokes more well-defined rights and responsibilities. Once recognized as a belligerent party, that party obtains the rights of a belligerent party in a public war, or war between opposing states. The belligerents stand on a par with the parent state in the conduct and settlement of the conflict. In addition, states recognizing the insurgents as belligerents must assume the duties of neutrality toward the conflict. See also U.S. Civil War; war.

Thomas Gale legal encyclopedia. Bold mine.

honora on November 29, 2006 at 11:16 AM


According to that, most gang wars in the U.S. qualify as Civil Wars. They just need some more MSM coverage.

Rick on November 29, 2006 at 2:08 PM