Gen. Pace on the Iraqi Civil War

pace.jpgNoticed this tidbit in the transcript of a press conference from back on November 29th:

Q: General Pace, Colin Powell said today that he believed the conflict in Iraq was a civil war, that it met that standard. Do you agree or disagree with him, and why?

GEN. PACE: Well, I haven’t had the benefit of reading or hearing exactly what General Powell might have said. I will tell you this. Number one, the Iraq government does not call it a civil war. Two, the Iraq government is functioning. Three, the Iraq security forces are responsive to the Iraqi government. Four, the level of violence that’s being inflicted by al Qaeda and the like is specifically designed to create a civil war. It is specifically designed to create an ungovernable condition so the terrorists can then set up shop and rule those people the way they want to.

So it’s much more important that we focus on how to defeat the enemy that is trying to create the civil war than it is we spend a lot of time dancing on the head of a pin as far as what particular words we should use to describe the environment which is currently unacceptable.

And moment later:

Q: General, do you take issue with politicians and even news organizations using the term “civil war” in relation to —

GEN. PACE: I don’t take issue with anybody calling anything they want whatever they want to call it. I simply say that, from my standpoint, when I’m asked if it’s a civil war, that I looked at the factors that I talked about, and primarily I look to the Iraqi people and their government. And the Iraqi people are still looking to their government. Their government is still functioning. Their security forces are still responsive to their government. So from the macro viewpoint, the parts of a civil war as I understand it are not definable in today’s environment. But that’s really energy not well spent…Spend our energy on getting to where we should be, not on arguing about what we should call the environment we’re in. Understand the environment, but let’s deal with it. Let’s not try to give it a name.

I’m on record saying that I believe that the environment is one of “civil war”. No battles of Antietam or Gettysburg to be seen, for sure, but a civil war nonetheless.

I believe that “giving it a name” will help matters, not hurt them. It’s just important to make sure that calling the Iraqi civil war a “civil war” doesn’t mean what many would hope it means. A lot of folks seem to be saying “If Iraq slips into civil war, we must get our troops out immediately because it will be an Iraqi internal matter. America doesn’t get involved in other peoples’ civil wars.” And it’s usually followed-up with something along the lines of “Oh, I sure hope the Iraqi civil war comes soon so we can get out of there.

This is pretty ignorant.

The survival of the Iraqi government is in America’s best interest. Our best-case scenario of a stable, peaceful, and free Iraq will take at least a generation to accomplish. In the meantime, we fight the enemy.

Pretending that the violence in Iraq isn’t a guerrilla civil war because the war critics have latched onto the term “civil war” isn’t helping. Our troops are not “peacekeeping” in Iraq. They are fighting a war. A war that we must win. How can we understand and deal with the environment if we won’t call a spade a spade?


  1. Main Entry: civil war Function: noun : a war between opposing groups of citizens of the same country From good ole Mr Webster. Just because you don’t want to call something a certain word, doesn’t mean that the word doesn’t fit.

  2. By that definition, gang war == civil war. As does organized crime groups fighting each other. etc. That makes it a pretty worthless definition IMO. And very different from the ones I’ve found in other dictionaries. I can’t get to load right now but I’ll point out the difference in the definition later.

  3. A civil war is a war in which parties within the same culture, society or nationality fight against each other for the control of political power. Political scientists use two criteria: the warring groups must be from the same country and fighting for control of the political center, control over a separatist state or to force a major change in policy. The second criterion is that at least 1,000 people must have been killed in total, with at least 100 from each side. Some civil wars are categorized as revolutions when major societal restructuring is a possible outcome of the conflict. An insurgency, whether successful or not, is likely to be classified as a civil war by some historians if, and only if, organized armies fight conventional battles. Other historians state the criterion for a civil war is that there must be prolonged violence between organized factions or defined regions of a country (conventionally fought or not).’ Potato, potahto, tomato, tomahto, lets call the whole thing off.

  4. Call it off? I don’t remember calling it on. It seems to me like it was called on by a group of people who killed 3000 Americans in one day. You think you can just ‘call it off?’ How do you propose we do that? Should we just run home to mommy? This isn’t a war we should ‘call off’. This is a war we need to win. The alternative to winning is unthinkable. It is an open invitation for more 9/11’s. Call it off, hell. How about we quit acting like a bunch of pussies and start fighting like there were more than an few here who have a pair? Even in Vietnam we eventually had the good sense to carpet bomb Hanoi. It took a decade or so before they got that smart then. I suppose we’ll have to be bogged down there for two or three decades now before we figure things out.

  5. Nicholas: You beat me to it. As ashamed as I am (as an American citizen) of our conduct and policies during the war in Vietnam (an, um, ‘civil war’ by many definitions) I’m more ashamed of the way we ended things there. Note that I said ‘the way we ended things’, not ‘the way things ended’. There is a huge distinction between the two. We chose to do what we did in Vietnam. And a real price was paid by real people. All the blood and gold we spent there was flushed away, and the blood of many others was spent to cover that debt with compound interest. There were a lot of shortcomings to how we fought that war and how we handled it politically and internationally. But all those shortcomings were magnified 1000% when we up and left. I’ve said before and I’m sure I’ll say it again: The only way that Iraq can become ‘just like Vietnam’ is if we choose to make it so. And a lot of folks seem to have chosen to do so and are doing their damnedest to succeed. I don’t think they will succeed. But it’s going to be close. Despite the problems with our ‘overstretched’ military today, the US military is probably the finest fighting force ever seen on the face of the earth right now. We have top-notch men and women with top-notch gear who have gained experience and are implementing lessons learned. Peacetime cash cow projects are getting cut because the funds are needed to support the fighting force, and that’s not all bad. Probably not even mostly bad. It would be a crime to throw all that away and subject our military personnel and organizations to a decade or more of shame like happened after Vietnam. Oh, yeah…And letting the bad guys win and kill the people who want to live free is generally considered to be the wrong way to go about things. But I’ll be damned if that isn’t EXACTLY what the ‘cut-n-runners’ are demanding that we do. Immediately. Important tip: When you’re in a war, make sure to win.

  6. Twas a joke based on the really old, relativly well known joke? Levity poked at the worry over semantics? Mayhap I should have included a 😉

  7. Sorry, mrnitropb. A fair number of trolls stop by with cutesy crap. (Though, actually, their number seems way down of late…) Still, I think the points made in response are valid ones and shouldn’t be overlooked.

  8. My quip wasn’t necessarily aimed at berating mrnitropb, I was just making a point, as Murdoc noted. I agree that there are reasonable, rational reasons that you can use to justify calling the situation in Iraq a ‘civil war’, and I don’t object to people doing that. But I, personally, do not think that it fits the *normal* definition of a civil war. The reason is that I believe we use different terms for a reason. Calling something a civil war, or a guerilla war, or sectarian strife, conveys subtleties about the situation. For one thing, I think the war in Iraq is very much an international war. Not only are Syria and Iran involved in one way or another, but Al Qaeda and friends are not really based in any single state. They are very much part of the fighting (although there are clearly other elements involved too). I’d call it a regional or even global war, which happens to be currently localized, and thus I don’t feel that ‘civil war’ is very descriptive. Now you also have the Sunni vs. Shi’ite vs. non-Islamic elements of the fighting. Clearly Sadr wants political power (one of the key elements to what makes a civil war). However, (a) he is/was nominally involved in the political process and thus was not making an all-out campaign to overthrow the gov’t by force. Additionally, I’m not convinced the Sunnis or Shi’ites fighting each other form monolithic blocks. How much of it is just gangster-type activity or revenge attacks by small, unrelated groups? Anyway I guess my point is there are many subtleties here, and while I think you could justify why you call it a civil war (and respect Murdoc and others when they do), I personally would not choose to attack that label. If I had to call it something, I’d say it’s ‘sectarian strife fueled by terrorist activity aimed at both destabilizing the government and weakening the US/west politically’. In other words it’s really hard to condense a complex situation down into a two word description. Gee maybe I should post something at my own blog about this, given that I seem to have a lot to say about it. How novel would that be? 🙂

  9. I’m more or less with the General. I don’t care what you call it. The point is to win. We screw around and play politics like nothing ever has any consequences.