Like a network hungry to declare the winner first on election night, NBC News â with great fanfare â on Monday "branded" the fighting in Iraq as officially a civil war. I woke up that morning to Today Show host Matt Lauer announcing the importance of NBC's decision and promising to explain it in the upcoming hour. Awfully self-important, especially since the Los Angeles Times has been calling it a civil war since last month.
NBC's attitude issues aside, is Iraq in a civil war, and does it really matter what we call the mess that President Bush has put us into?
Kofi Annan says no, it's not yet a civil war, according to the Washington Post. The Grey Lady (NYT) will downgrade the situation from the current "sectarian violence" designation to civil war "sparingly and carefully," according to editor Bill Keller.
It matters a great deal what we call this war. It's called framing, and there is no doubt that as little stomach the U.S. public has for the current conflict and sectarian violence, it will have much less tolerance for an "Iraqi Civil War" that finds our troops caught in the middle.
The problem is, as any first-year graduate student in Middle Eastern studies could tell you, that the Bush Administration should have seen this coming. The reason it is so difficult to declare that this is a "civil war" is that the geopolitical landscape in Iraq so defies any model or example with which we are familiar. It is not a conventional civil war in the sense that there are two sides with clearly defined objectives and ideologies.