The parade of denial goes on. US Central Command chief Gen. Abizaid makes headlines by speaking the obvious—his dramatic understatement treated like a splash of cold water, so deep is the degree of self-delusion:
“I believe that the sectarian violence is probably as bad as I’ve seen it, in Baghdad in particular, and that if not stopped, it is possible that Iraq could move towards civil war,” Abizaid told the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday.
“We do have the possibility of that devolving into civil war,” added Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who expressed confidence that war could be averted if Iraqi security forces improve.
The generals’ statements mark a departure from the more upbeat Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who has been reluctant to acknowledge the possibility of Sunni-Shiite civil war despite a year of unabated sectarian violence.
White House Press Secretary Tony Snow, speaking on Air Force One as Bush flew to Texas, told reporters, “I don’t think the president is going to quibble with his generals on their characterizations.” [Newsday, Aug. 4]
Gen. Casey, the US commander in Iraq, echoes his boss in an interview with ABC’s Martha Raddatz:
Raddatz: The threat of civil war, how serious is that?
Casey: As John [Abizaid] said, it certainly is possible. When you have levels of sectarian violence the way they are, it certainly is possible. That said, I think I know the Iraqis are determined not to go there. And they’re determined to prevent that and they’re taking, what I would say, were the appropriate actions along with us and their security forces, to ensure that doesn’t happen. [ABC, Aug. 7]
US Ambassador Khalilzad opts for damage control in an interview with Margaret Warner of “The News Hour”:
Margaret Warner: Last week, the CENTCOM commander, General Abizaid, said that Iraq could slide into civil war. How big a risk do you think there is of that at this point?
Zalmay Khalilzad: Well, there is some risk of that. There are, in the circumstances that are present here, a way forward that could bring that about. But I think the prospects for avoiding a full civil war is stronger at the present time. [PBS, Aug. 7]
So does President Talabani, quoted in Qatar’s The Peninsula:
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani yesterday rejected the idea that his country is caught in the grip of a civil war between the majority Shi’ites and the formerly privileged Sunni community.
“I don’t believe that a civil war is taking place in Iraq,” Talabani told a joint news conference with the commander of US and coalition forces in Iraq, General George Casey.
“There is more than one Iraqi political force… which opposes civil war,” he said, naming the ruling Shi’ite coalition and the Sunni National Concord Front. “Therefore, I don’t expect a civil war,” said Talabani, himself a member of the Kurdish minority. [The Peninusla, Aug. 8]
And, of course, the requisite denial by the Bush administration:
“It would be, really, erroneous to say that the Iraqis are somehow making a choice for civil war, or, I think, even sliding into civil war,” US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week”. [AP, Aug. 8]
What is really scary is that everybody—or at least the mass media—seems to be buying this transparently disingenuous bosh. Civil war in Iraq remains permanently just over the horizon, forever receding into the future, never arriving—because there is no fixed definition of it. This propaganda device was noted by George Orwell, who wrote of words like “democracy” that “not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides.” Orwell also noted the trick of using words “in a consciously dishonest way,” with special, unspoken definitions. “That is, the person who uses them has his own private definition, but allows his hearer to think he means something quite different.” Thus, Colombia, Sri Lanka and Burma all face levels of violence considerably lesser than that in Iraq yet nobody denies there is civil war there. The same could be said of the recent conflicts in Nepal and Aceh, arguably that in Kosova ten years ago, and certainly those in Central America ten years before that. Yet in Iraq, an unspoken special definition is being used that is never applied in any of those other cases: the actual official fracturing of the governing coalition. No matter how routine mass murder becomes, no matter what atrocities are committed, no matter how many people are displaced by sectarian warfare, no matter what vast swaths of the country remain outside even token government control, no matter how blurred the lines grow between official security forces and lawless militias—in Iraq it will never be “civil war” unless that special litmus test is passed.
Why is nobody calling out this propaganda charade? Alas, as we have noted, the supposed anti-war left has just as much invested in denying the reality in Iraq as the Bush administration it loves to hate. Like generals still fighting the last war, it is so accustomed to viewing all US interventions through the prism of Vietnam that it cannot see that the more appropriate model in contemporary Iraq might be, say, Bosnia…