A Question Of Semantics

Colin Powell is now stating that Iraq is in the midst of a “civil war”. Technically, it isn’t since there aren’t two sides which hold territory involved in the fighting. However, that’s a mere technicality. The government of Prime Minister al-Maliki has been unable to control the sectarian violence in Iraq, and the results have been bloody. There’s little doubt that Iraq is in a state of complex humanitarian emergency and extreme secular violence. Whether that amounts to a civil war or not isn’t particularly relevant — in any event it requires a strong response.

It’s helpful that the US is moving approximately 2,700 more troops into Baghdad to keep law and order, but that will probably not be enough to do much more than make a dent in the death toll in that city. Instead, the US should “go native” in Iraq and do whatever it takes to stem the violence in the short term and get Iraq self-sustaining on the long term.

Whatever we do will involve compromises, some of them painful. However, we have to win this thing, and we cannot do that if we’re unwilling to adapt. Our first step has to be to stem the violence in Baghdad — by whatever means at our disposal. Only then can the long-term process of rebuilding and democratizing continue.

Whether or not Iraq is in a true state of “civil war” doesn’t matter all that much now — what matters is whether we abandon our commitments to the people of Iraq and our democratic values, or whether we have the fortitude to see things through. Our enemies are watching, and we dare not send the wrong message to them.

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