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US Civil War,
Russian Revolution,
Bosnia and Lebanon Conflicts
Wouldn't Fit Rumsfeld's New Definition of
"Civil War"

ERIC ROSENBERG / Hearst Newspapers / San Francisco Chronicle 22oct2006

[More on Rumsfeld | Bush]

 

US Civil War, Russian Revolution, Bosnia and Lebanon Conflicts Wouldn't Fit Rumsfeld's New Definition of Civil War ERIC ROSENBERG / Hearst Newspapers / San Francisco Chronicle 22oct2006

Washington Iraq again convulses in sectarian violence, and U.S. officials again maintain that the country has not descended into civil war.

But with Shiite and Sunni bodies piling up, roving death squads unimpeded, and a surging number of Americans killed and wounded in the conflict, the contradiction begs the question: What exactly is the U.S. military's definition of civil war?

By the standards put forward by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Gen. George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, numerous conflicts including the U.S. Civil War, the civil war in Russia that followed the 1917 Bolshevik revolution, and Lebanon's civil war don't qualify.

Casey told reporters at the Pentagon earlier this month that violence in Iraq is not tantamount to civil war because the conflict is contained mainly around the capital and the majority of the country is calm.

"If you took a 30-mile radius from the center of Baghdad and drew a circle," Casey said, "90 percent of the sectarian violence that goes on in Iraq, 80 to 90 percent, would take place in that circle."

Casey acknowledged there was sporadic violence elsewhere in Iraq, but concluded, "The idea that the country's aflame in sectarian violence is just not right. So I don't subscribe to the civil war theory."

Casey's comments are in line with those delivered a few months ago by Rumsfeld, who argued that no civil war is under way because large swaths of Iraq are peaceful compared with the capital, and some of the country's fundamental institutions are still functioning.

"Amidst all of this difficulty, the currency is fairly stable, the schools are open, the hospitals are open, the people are functioning," Rumsfeld said in August.

But history is replete with examples contradicting Rumsfeld and Casey, instances showing that "classic civil war" routinely occurs near peaceful regions within the same country and that institutions can still function amid the conflict.

"There are almost no (civil wars) where there is fighting over the whole territory of a country," said James Fearon, a political scientist at Stanford University and expert on civil wars and ethnic conflicts.

By Casey and Rumsfeld's definition, the U.S. Civil War would have failed the test because while battles raged in Vicksburg, Miss., and Shiloh, Tenn., much of the fighting was concentrated in a particular geographic region a swath from Gettysburg, Pa., on the north to Petersburg, Va., on the south. Some states saw only sporadic battles while others such as New York, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, New Jersey and Maine saw no fighting at all.

"Vermont had more casualties per capita than any other state in the union. But obviously there was no civil war because there were no battles in Vermont," Peter Galbraith, a former U.S. ambassador to Croatia, wryly noted in an interview.

Also by Rumsfeld's and Casey's logic, the U.S. Civil War is disqualified because the institutions of government functioned throughout the four-year conflict. Indeed, they worked well enough that the Union was able to conduct a presidential election during the war's height. And in large portions of the country, especially in those areas where few battles were fought, schools remained open and many people went about their daily lives without witnessing violence. New England factories produced weapons and war supplies unimpeded.

"If you are talking about conflicts confined to limited geographic areas, that would be the case in the U.S. Civil War and the case of the Russian civil war of 1917-1921," said David Laitin, a political scientist at Stanford University and an expert on civil conflicts. "It would be hard to find a civil war that doesn't have relatively specific arenas of high conflict."

Other conflicts that wouldn't be called civil wars under the Rumsfeld/Casey definition include Lebanon's civil war of 1975-1990 that was concentrated in and around the capital of Beirut, and the Bosnian civil war of 1992-1995, much of which occurred in and around the capital of Sarajevo.

Indeed, the very fact that the Iraq conflict is focused in and around Baghdad seems to support the view that Iraq is in the throes of a typical civil war.

"There have been plenty of conflicts referred to as 'civil wars' where almost all the fighting took place in or around the capital, because that's what they were really fighting over," said Fearon, who with Laitin has written extensively about the roots of 127 civil wars from 1945 to 1999.

At the same news conference in which he said Iraq was not in civil war, Gen. Casey described the violence in the following terms: "We have seen the nature of the conflict evolving from an insurgency focused against us to a struggle for the division of political and economic power among the Iraqis."

The generally accepted definition of civil war among political scientists is that it is a conflict between organized groups within a country who are fighting to control the central government or take power in a region.

By that standard, Casey succinctly described a civil war in progress.

source:  22oct2006

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