< One Man’s Insurgency …


Friday, September 29, 2006

BOB GARFIELD: If civil war is still a judgment call for editors, one term they can agree on is insurgency. In the pages of The Times and other news outlets, it has become the common currency to describe the source of the violence in Iraq. But Larry Diamond, a senior fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution and a former advisor to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad, says that the term insurgency only captures a fraction of what's occurring there now.

LARRY DIAMOND: There is an insurgency in the Sunni-based areas to what they see as an American occupation and an American intent to dominate the country and the new political order. So in that sense, I think insurgency is an entirely appropriate word. The problem is that it only captures one dimension of the violence in Iraq today, and the other dimension is the deepening sectarian conflict purely among Iraqis that I think cannot be given any other term except civil war, really.

BOB GARFIELD: In a way, I guess there's three wars going on simultaneously. There's the insurgency against the government, there's the insurgency against the American occupation, and then, on top of all of that, the spasms of grotesque violence that seem to have nothing to do with the American occupation per se.

LARRY DIAMOND: And unfortunately, that doesn't begin to exhaust the list. You also have a very considerable level of opportunistic criminal violence that interacts with but it's not purely identical with these other three forms, and you have a growing amount of internal conflict within the Shi'a between different political parties, militias and local factions for control of territory and for control over oil and its trade. You know, this leads to the decentralized nature of the conflict, which makes it even more difficult to control.

BOB GARFIELD: Why is the administration so dead set against the invocation of this term?

LARRY DIAMOND: Well, I think that they may fear, and perhaps not without some reason, that if we use the term civil war, it will frame the situation in Iraq as being comparable to, say, Lebanon at its worst moments, and that the American people may decide at that point that this is hopeless, that we can't be in the middle of a civil war, and therefore it will generate intensified American domestic pressure for withdrawal. That's my guess.

BOB GARFIELD: But should that dictate for the media whether or not they call a thing by its name?

LARRY DIAMOND: I personally have no problem, as a scholar and an American citizen, with the media recognizing the obvious reality, that when, on average, Iraqis are dying at an annual rate of 30 to 40,000 a year in an internal conflict, that's civil war. And I think what the media might do editorially is say, look, Iraq is in a civil war. It's pretty obvious. The challenge now is how to diminish the violence and stabilize the country so that the United States can get out; that if we simply withdraw unconditionally, with no change in the parameters of the situation or in our policy, the Civil War will intensify catastrophically for Iraqis, for the region and for our own national interest, and everybody will lose. I think there's something actually perhaps to be gained from starting to use the language in terms of analytic clarity and sharpening our thinking about how we need a different, more focused strategy for diminishing and eventually resolving this civil war.

BOB GARFIELD: All right. Well, Larry, thank you very much for joining us.

LARRY DIAMOND: It's been a pleasure. Thank you.

BOB GARFIELD: Larry Diamond is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. Former U.S. Ambassador to Croatia, Peter Galbraith, a harsh critic of the administration's actions in Iraq, is now a paid advisor to the regional government of Kurdistan, which he believes should be one of three autonomous regions of a fully partitioned Iraq – South, Central, North, Shiite, Sunni, Kurd. He believes that failing to call the conflict a civil war props up false hopes that an indigenous Iraqi security structure can ever insure the country's stability.

PETER GALBRAITH: The Iraqi army and the Iraqi police are dominated by the radical Shiite militias. They are responsible for the death squads. They are partisans in a civil war.

BOB GARFIELD: Clearly, the administration is heavily invested in the idea that there is no civil war afoot in Iraq. And it's entirely possible that some media trepidation about using that word is the accusation that it is somehow taking sides against the administration.

PETER GALBRAITH: I think it's the job of the media to provide objective information and objective analysis. Now, I've spent a lot of time talking to the reporters in Iraq, and, frankly, every one of them believes that it's a civil war. And if that's the case, then that's what they ought to call it. If the media continues to portray this as a conflict between a government and an insurgency, it is mischaracterizing the conflict and preventing the kind of debate I think we need about a different strategy in Iraq, given that it's in a civil war.

BOB GARFIELD: All right, I'm going to take great care not to put words in your mouth here, but it seems to me that if I follow the logic of what you're saying, that if the media continue to refrain from invoking this term, that the violence inevitably will continue and that there actually will be blood on our hands. Have I overstated the case?

PETER GALBRAITH: The media is going to be doing a great disservice to the American people and to the American government and to the American soldiers in Iraq who are on a mission that cannot succeed if they do not provide an objective analysis and if they do not call the situation as it is. Pulling its punches, we'll get through this yet.

BOB GARFIELD: All right, Ambassador Galbraith. Thank you very much.

PETER GALBRAITH: Well, very good talking to you.

BOB GARFIELD: Former Ambassador Peter Galbraith is the author of The End of Iraq: How American Incompetence Created a War Without End. He spoke to us from Kurdistan.