Civil War – In The American Streets

My second-least favorite academic, Juan Cole (I know, I still read him, even though his site is little more than a list of those who have been killed in Iraq) approvingly cites a U Mich study that defines “civil war”:

‘ That there should be a political controversy over whether there is a civil war in Iraq is a tribute to the Bush administration’s Orwellian attention to political rhetoric. By the most widely accepted social science measure, Iraq is incontestably in a civil war.

“Sustained military combat, primarily internal, resulting in at least 1,000 battle-deaths per year, pitting central government forces against an insurgent force capable of effective resistance, determined by the latter’s ability to inflict upon the government forces at least 5 percent of the fatalities that the insurgents sustain.” (Errol A. Henderson and J. David Singer, “Civil War in the Post-Colonial World, 1946-92,” Journal of Peace Research, Vol. 37, No. 3, May 2000.) ‘

(Note that it’s from a Salon article by the Clueless Professor – I won’t link to Salon, because I’m kinda torqued that they’d sell subscriptions by promising more Abu Ghreib pictures)

Hmmm. Gang warfare in the United States cost over 900 lives in 2004. 153 police officers were killed in the line of duty, and I’d bet a third of them were killed by gang members – so to meet Cole’s standard, we’re on the borderline of a civil war – even as crime rates hit all-time lows.

I’d better buy some more ammo…

14 thoughts on “Civil War – In The American Streets”

  1. I think we’re arguing too much over semantics. Way too much. Is it almost a Civil War or barely a Civil War? Who cares, does it really affect the situation on the ground how we define it? I understand the political implications of the definition, but thats really just partisan dart tossing and im numb to it.

    All we need to decide is whether we are helping or hurting by being there. Clearing we are helping and if we left it would be a true disaster that nobody would have to split semantic hairs about.

    The question Iraqis need to decide is if enough of them, Sunni, Shiia, and Kurd, are invested in a true democratic Iraqi government to beat down those who arent. It seems pretty clear that there are in the long run. Shiia have the numbers not to need the violence and the Sunni will be on the losing end if it truly hits the fan. The Kurds, ironically, are probably the only faction that would come out happier, and they still are playing honest broker. Their steadfastness cant be praised enough. Can any of the factions involved in instigating a Civil War legitimately expect to win control of the nation? Of course not. Their object is therefore violent anarchy, which is our enemy and the Iraqi peoples enemy above all else. That is why we will win, because it is ultimately in all factions of the Iraqis interest to win. In the end, there is only interest.

  2. Journal of Peace Research says . . . It must be true!

    Not to mock peace researchers (ok, just a little), but they’ve generally adopted wide definitions of war because they want the broadest data field to analyze what fact patterns contribute to the start of war, contribute to the duration and intensity of war and contribute to the end of war. Not a bad project.

    None of which helps explain the “what to do now” that Mark Buehner is talking about.

    It used to be that civil wars were largely intractable events because of broad territorial and popular support for the rebels. Number dead was a good indicator of that support and their ability to project violence. I think suicide bombers and IEDs have cheapened that metric.

  3. Mark, I’m in the “Iraq is not having a civil war” camp simply because I think that a civil war, as we’ve understood it, involves an armed conflict between two parties, either of whom could realistically take power.

    Iraq is instead (probably) involved in two things – a proxy war against Coalition troops, and an internal struggle against the central government by tribal/religious militias, none of whom are unified or powerful enough to conquer or rule the country.

    That’s not a good thing, by any stretch of the imagination…

    But my point was to comment on the notion of Cole’s cheapening of a powerful and meaning-laden term.


  4. But this ‘civil war’ issue is going to be gone by April.

    First of all, not only are US casualties dropping, but Iraqi casualties are flat to slightly dropping. Certainly not rising.

    America has about 20,000 murders a year. They are disproportionately concentrated in certain areas and among certain ethnic groups/races. By this measure, we are in the same bad shape as Iraq.

    Actually, America IS having a civil war, but it is being waged in the blogosphere….

  5. “First of all, not only are US casualties dropping, but Iraqi casualties are flat to slightly dropping. Certainly not rising.”

    Casualties always fluctuate…seem to remember having this conversation a year ago. US KIAs are down but WIA are up. Also I don’t know what press reports you read but Iraqi casualties (Both civilian and military) increased in the last two months.

    “America has about 20,000 murders a year. They are disproportionately concentrated in certain areas and among certain ethnic groups/races. By this measure, we are in the same bad shape as Iraq. ”

    Since Iraq has less than 10 percent of the population of the US–there would have to be over 250,000 murders in the US to compare to the situation in Iraq.

    What is happening in Iraq is an insurgency. It is a major insurgency compared to others in history. But insurgencies can topple governments—was the Chimungera War in Zimbabwe a civil war or an insurgency? Less than 1,000 Rhodesian military were killed yet Mugabe sits in power to this day. So it doesn’t really matter what you call it, if you can’t stop it.

  6. I remember the 1980s, and the civil wars in Central America (just because one side is fighting as a proxy of an external power does not make them suddenly not indigenous). I remember the 1990s, and the civil wars caused by the breakup of Yugoslavia. I have read extensively about the English civil war, the American civil war, and several others. If this were a civil war, we would not be debating whether or not to use the term: there would be sustained combat and unambiguous killing, rather than mines and kidnappings/assassinations.

    Now, the fact that Iraq is not having a civil war does not mean that everything is peachy keen, but I get really tired of people rooting for us to lose, and using any rhetorical or legal trick they can to make it happen. And that’s pretty much all that the talk of civil war in Iraq is: an attempt to make the US look bad, and to withdraw out of embarrassment (or more to the point, to never do something like the invasion/occupation/liberation of Iraq again).

  7. “Sustained military combat, primarily internal, resulting in at least 1,000 battle-deaths per year, pitting central government forces against an insurgent force capable of effective resistance, determined by the latter’s ability to inflict upon the government forces at least 5 percent of the fatalities that the insurgents sustain.”

    This definition is flat-ass ridiculous. 1000 battle deaths per year, in a country of what size? That would be a lot of deaths in Seychelles, but not in South Africa.

    Also, I’d like to see the army that can engage in a year of sustained combat in which they take 20 casualties for every one they inflict.

    Of course, Iraq doesn’t fit even this lame definition. The insurgents are not engaging in sustained combat. And wherever they have tried to establish a stronghold, they have not shown themselves to be capable of effective resistance.

  8. one way of looking at it is that Iraq has been involved in a civil war since 1991. But, that is just semantics. It’s a nasty piece of business, but we will get the upper hand and it will be resolved in due course. About 7 to 12 more yaers.

  9. Just to be fair, in comparing American crime to civil war, you ignore:

    1) Gang crime is not “sustained military combat”
    2) Local police are not “central government forces”
    3) Gangs are not insurgent forces “capable of effective resistance” of government authority (taxes are still paid, utilities undamaged, basic services still provided, loyalty not diverted)
    4) Gangs don’t wish to overthrow the government or establish their own

    You haven’t discredited Juan Cole’s point.

    Regardless of the semantic debates people love to engage in because it obscures the issues, it is obvious that we have not imposed order on Iraq and that such attacks appear to continue indefinitely.

    The insurgents/terrorists cannot drive the US out militarily, but it may be able to break our morale to stay there faster than we can break their morale to stop killing. In short – their plan is exactly the same as the Vietnamese communists.

    I do not see this administration doing anything to effectively combat this other than using similar attempts at the lame way LBJ confronted this issue (making exhortations that victory is around the corner, only speaking before “friendly” audiences, refusing to listen to reports that do not align with their preconceived notions.) As one who does not believe the US was pre-determined to lose in Vietnam, I am very angry that the current administration is making the same mistakes. I do not see a real plan for victory that will bolster morale.

  10. Juan Cole cites an article by J. David Singer, the founder of “Correlates of War.”: If you go to their website, you find that COW codes wars in six categories:

    *Inter-State Wars (1)*
    *Extra-State Wars*
    —–State Conflict with a Colony (2)
    —–State conflict with a Non-State Actor (3)
    *Intra-State Wars*
    —–Civil war for control of central government (4)
    —–Conflict over local issues (5)
    —–Inter-communal conflict (6)

    I wonder if Juan Cole is giving us the whole story?

  11. “Of Course It’s a Civil War by Charles Krauthammer, Friday, March 24, 2006; Washington Post; Page A19″:

    bq. This whole debate about civil war is surreal. What is the insurgency if not a war supported by one (minority) part of Iraqi society fighting to prevent the birth of the new Iraqi state supported by another (majority) part of Iraqi society? By definition that is civil war, and there’s nothing new about it. As I noted here in November 2004: “People keep warning about the danger of civil war. This is absurd. There already is a civil war. It is raging before our eyes. Problem is, only one side” — the Sunni insurgency — “is fighting it.”

    * * *

    bq. But is it not our entire counterinsurgency strategy to get Iraqis who believe in the new Iraq to fight Iraqis who want to restore Baathism or impose Taliban-like rule? Does not everyone who wishes us well support the strategy of standing up the Iraqis so we can stand down? And does that not mean getting the Iraqis to fight the civil war themselves? Hence the gradual transfer of war-making responsibility. Hence the decline of American casualties. Hence the rise of Iraqi casualties.

    bq. What we don’t want to see is the private militias taking the law into their own hands. The army, by all accounts, has remained cohesive, with relatively good discipline. The problem is the police forces, which have been infiltrated by some of the Mahdi Army and other freelance Shiite vigilantes.


    bq. First, this kind of private revenge attack has been going on at a low level since the beginning of the insurgency. Second, it does have the effect of concentrating Sunni minds on the price of their continuing support for the random, large-scale and heretofore unanswered slaughter of Shiites that they either actively or passively support. And, third, if the private militias are the problem, it is a focused and relatively narrow problem. Creating discipline and central control over the security services is a more manageable issue than all-out Hobbesian conflict.


    bq. It will end when a critical mass of Sunnis stops supporting the insurgency and throws its lot in with the new Iraq. How does this happen? The stick is military — the increased cost in Sunni blood of continuing the fight. But the carrot is political — a place at the table for those Sunnis, some of whom are represented in parliament, who are prepared to abandon the insurgency for a share of power, a share of oil income, and a sense of security and dignity in the new Iraq.

    bq. This is doable. That is not to say it will be done. It is to say that those who have decided that because of “civil war” it cannot be done have been unreasonably panicked by something that has been with us all along.

  12. Krauthammer is absolutely on the money. Dead on correct.

    We have done some really boneheaded things since the invasion, and some really good things as well. There are 3 individuals we are extrememly lucky exist: Sistani for keeping the Shiia stunningly patient, Talabani for keeping the Kurds invested in Iraq, and Zarqawi for being a butchering fool that has alienated most Iraqis from foriegn support. Those forces remain in our favor.

    So we’ve handled those 3 factors reasonably well, its only the 4th factor we have botched repeatedly- the Sunni. Our retreat from Fallujah the first time through was a blunder. Beyond that i think in general we have sheltered the Sunni far too much from the consequences of their actions. Had an army of Pershmerga Kurds been camped outside a couple of major Sunni hotbeds of violence, they would quickly get the picture. We wouldnt have to fight to put the resistance down, we’d simply let the Kurds do it their way. The choice would be pretty obvious.

    Instead we were (and perhaps are) too soft on the Sunni. All these bombers and killers are staging from somewhere against their fellow Iraqis. Demonstrably they are not paying a high enough price to stop them from sheltering the enemy. Instead of seeing know insurgents turnstyle through American/Iraqi detention, bodies should be swinging from lightpoles. And im not being satirical. Traitors who support or engage in terrorist attacks should be tried and hung in public. That is the kind of force that is understood in that part of the world.

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