Friday, March 31, 2006

The Face Of A Civil War

From RCP comes this piece by Ian Bremmer, president of Eurasia Group, a political-risk consultancy. It is entitled, "What Would Civil War in Iraq Look Like?"

In talking to critics of the Bush Administration, I always seem to hear the old "Iraq is in the midst of civil war" argument, over and over again. To which I usually reply, civil wars historically have been fought for the specific purpose of gaining/retaining control of a country's government and usually are much bloodier than what we are witnessing right now, in Iraq. But that is not to say that it isn't bloody. It is. And it certainly does not mean, it isn't close.

But the question remains, what constitutes a civil war?

The answer isn't a simple one; it differs from nation to nation, case by case. Each country that has suffered a civil war has its own unique set of circumstances that figure into the equation. One only needs to read any credible history book about the U.S Civil War, to understand this. The thing that stands about that war was one side wanted out and the other didn't want them out. It wasn't just over slavery (though that was a secondary maybe even tertiary component), it wasn't necessarily over the attack on Ft. Sumter either. No, the main reason was to "preserve the union". At least, that's what Lincoln said.

Americans fighting Americans, brothers fighting brothers, the toll was horrendous. In this respect, it was not unlike many other civil wars. But, one of the major differences there was very little outside coercion (if any at all), as was the case in Vietnam; where arms, advisors, and troops were supplied from outside sources on both sides.

So what about Iraq? Just what would a true definition of civil war look like, there? Mr. Bremmer lists three distinct points that he thinks could/would happen, if this were truly the case. Here they are, with my comments (you can read his in the article):

First, an Iraqi civil war would imply the complete collapse of the country's central government.

I would never discount this from being a distinct reality, if the central government does not begin to rise to the occasion, much more so than it has to date. I know we have made strides. But, this is one of several issues I have been critical of the Administration. Number one, they should never have totally disbanded the Iraqi army and police force. And number two, because of this miscalculation, they have spent more time trying to get people recruited (and trained efficiently enough to take charge) than they had anticipated. But as of this moment and inspite of all of this, the Iraqi government has not collapsed and from the periphery does not appear to be in any imminent danger of doing so, soon.
Second, a civil war would raise the specter of Turkish military intervention in Iraq's Kurdish northern provinces, but would not, as some claim, provoke an all-out war.

This would certainly be a consideration well worth thinking about, but in my opinion (like Mr. Bremmer), this is a more of a remote possibility, than some currently believe. The main reason I think so is, I do not believe that Turkey would risk blowing any chance of getting into the EU, unless they are rejected before this potential civil war erupts. In which case, I believe they will not care anymore and go for broke.

Third, an Iraqi civil war would increase the risk of terrorist attacks in the region, but is unlikely to produce any sudden, dramatic surge in their number or intensity.

This may be true, on this point alone. But I do think that there will be more widespread urban street fighting between factions, if the government cannot provide security, once we do finally leave. Additionally, I think that vigilante death squads will increase exponentially.

But how would this play out if the government does collapse? Mr. Bremmer theorizes:

Most troubling, other states in the region would scramble to fill the vacuum of power left by the central government's disintegration. Iran and Saudi Arabia would finance and support warring Shiite and Sunni militias in the country as proxies for their regional rivalry. If Iraq indeed becomes a regional battleground, the fighting there would deepen the political conflict between Sunnis and Shiites elsewhere in the region and provoke a surge in conventional military spending throughout the Middle East.

Just like Vietnam, outside sources will (by proxy) compete with each other for control. And although the Machiavellian play book would say, let them fight each other so that they are preoccupied with each other more so, than they are with Israel and America. But, to do so would risk the price of oil skyrocketing through the ceiling, to highs never before contemplated. The Eurasian land mass nations would suffer greater, but all would suffer high prices and massive shortages.

So, it would certainly be in the best interests of the nations that consume Middle Eastern oil, that this government succeed. And in my estimation, the more we hear that Iraq is already in civil war, the more that success is impeded, because it gives life and hope to what would otherwise be a beaten enemy. But at the same time, the Bush Administration needs to be more forthcoming in and keep us posted on both the successes and failures.

There are a million and one things that they need to keep secret (for some very good reasons) and that should be understood by most intelligent people, but some things need to be communicated and done better than they have, up to this point in time. They must remember that the left has been spinning massive amounts of negatives, which is all the more reason to step up and counter those things with straight and forward information. If they do not pick up the pace, they will run out of time with the American people, causing the pendulum that sits just right of the center, back toward the left.


Always On Watch said...

I'm not sure that America's War Between the States qualifies as a civil war; as you pointed out, civil war generally means a fight for who will control the government. The American conflict wasn't about that issue, as you pointed out.

I do think that what's happening in Iraq is civil war or a least a close facsimile, however. The religious element of Islam has never been successfully separated from the political element.

I will pose a question here...Is it valid to apply the Western definition of civil war to a culture so different from ours?

In addition, if what's happening in Iraq prevents the decent function of civil government, doesn't that amount to civil war?

There is a fine line between warring factions and civil war, especially since the government is really not up and running.

I admit that what happened with the Rahman case has caused me to ask some hard questions. I simply don't see that shari'ah law is compatible with self-government as we Westerners define that term.

I fear that we've barged into the Middle East without our fully understanding just how different the culture and the mindset are. Furthermore, I don't think that economics is a serious factor in decisions made by Islamic rulers. Paradise comes first for them, and doing business with the U.S. (the Great Satan) occurs for two reasons: (1) greedy tyrants and (2) obtaining more dollars to further the caliphate. That second one exonerates their doing business with the West.

Always On Watch said...

One more thought...Those Iraqis who so proudly held up their purple fingers need to take hold and establish a viable nation. Can they?

Always On Watch said...

A bit about Turkey. Beak is doing a book review you might be interested in, LA.

beakerkin said...

The bbok I am reading was written eighty years ago. However it looks like a Jason Pappas post. The notion of peceful harmonious Iraq or Turkey is a cruel joke.

I do not recomend kids read Morgenthau's account. It is a riveting account meant for jaded readers like Mr Beamish or myself.

The Kurds and Arabs did much of the actually dirty work in the Armenian genocide.

LASunsett said...


You asked:

Is it valid to apply the Western definition of civil war to a culture so different from ours?

I am not sure. It is what it is. It in some ways resembles a civil war, due to the terrorists having the goal of disrupting the process of establishing a stable government. As you well know as much as anybody else I know, they desperately want the whole thing to fail, so they can have a new Islamic state to replace the one they lost in Afghanistan.

But in other ways, it does not resemble what we consider a civil war. for the very reasons you mention. But I think you hit the nail on the head awhile back, when you said this appears to be tribal warfare. I would add to that, the war between the Shiites and the Sunnis.


In addition, if what's happening in Iraq prevents the decent function of civil government, doesn't that amount to civil war?

I am not sure if the insurgency is totally responsible for the ineptness of the government, or not. I do think that their inexperience in running a democratically elected government, is the root cause, at least right now.

LASunsett said...


Thanks for stopping by. I am going to go over to your site here in a bit to check your post out and will leave a comment there.

Always On Watch said...

I am not sure if the insurgency is totally responsible for the ineptness of the government, or not. I do think that their inexperience in running a democratically elected government, is the root cause, at least right now.

Good point. Probably a combination. Running a government takes practice and experience. Mix in with that the problems with Islamic factions and the scenario gets ugly.