Q Do you maintain it’s still not a civil war in Iraq?
MR. HADLEY: Well, it’s interesting, the Iraqis don’t talk of it as a civil war; the unity government doesn’t talk of it as a civil war. And I think the things they point to when they say that are, one, that at this point in time the army and the police have not fractured along sectarian lines, which is what you’ve seen elsewhere; and the government continues to be holding together and has not fractured on sectarian terms.
But, look, the point is, it is what it is. There is a high level of sectarian violence. It is a challenge for the Iraqis. It’s a challenge for us. We need to be talking about a way forward and a strategy for dealing with it. And that’s really what the President has been focusing on and where we need to focus — how to deal with this particular challenge going forward.
Q — the President fears that were he to —
MR. SNOW: — (inaudible) — civil war? No, but you have not yet had a situation also where you have two clearly defined and opposing groups vying not only for power, but for territory. What you do have is sectarian violence that seems to be less aimed at gaining full control over an area than expressing differences, and also trying to destabilize a democracy — which is different than a civil war, where two sides are clashing for territory and supremacy.
Q Can I just follow on — isn’t the President’s fear that were he to acknowledge that it is a civil war that there would be a further bottoming-out of public support? There certainly have been Republicans and others who have said the public would not stand by for U.S. forces to be in the middle of a civil war. So isn’t there a political dimension to this that nobody wants to admit, including the Iraqis, that it is a civil war?
It goes downhill from here. Way downhill. I’m quoting some more just so you can appreciate the degree of deterioration.
MR. HADLEY: I don’t think Americans have any — I think they — through the media and other things, there is a high degree of awareness, obviously that there is a lot of sectarian violence. You know, you show it on your TVs and it’s in the newspapers. This is something that they’re well aware of and they’re obviously very concerned about it and want to know what our strategy is going forward, in light of this phenomenon — which has really served us, since February and the bombing of the Shia mosque.
So it is a new element on the security scene; it is a real challenge to the government; it is something that the government needs to address. The unity government is clear and aware of that. And it’s a big challenge, and people understand that. So I think people are aware, they’re concerned, they want us to work out a strategy with the Iraqi government that offers the prospect of dealing with this problem. And that’s what we’re going to try to do.
Q Can you explain how something that started in February is a new phase?
MR. HADLEY: I said it is a new phase that started in February, and obviously we have seen more of it in recent days. I think one of the things one has to recognize is that while we call it sectarian violence, there is evidence, for example, that Saddamists, and particularly al Qaeda, are trying to foment and encourage the sectarian violence. You have heard it, you have read al Qaeda’s words — it was clearly part of Zarqawi’s strategy. We continue to see evidence that this is being something that is triggered in order to encourage the kind of effect it has the society.
So we call it sectarian violence — but I think one has to recognize that for certain Saddamists and al Qaeda, particularly, this is premeditated, this is a technique they are using. The effect of it, of course, is very destructive, it sets communities against one another. And it is something that we have addressed. It is, as you know, largely centered at this point in Baghdad. We have been trying to address that through a Baghdad security strategy. We have been through two phases. And I think the answer to that is, at this point, it has not proceeded well enough or fast enough. And, therefore, one of the subjects on the agenda is what is a better approach to the challenge in Baghdad.
So it is new, that appeared in February; it is something we have been dealing with and trying to adapt to with the Iraqi government. But, again, we have not done well enough or fast enough to be satisfactory to Prime Minister Maliki and his government, or to the President. That’s just the facts.
Oh, give up, Hadley. Or just read the press releases. From NBC’s First Read (via Froomkin):
The White House is objecting this morning to descriptions of the Iraq conflict as a civil war. National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe said, ‘The violence is primarily centered around Baghdad and Baghdad security and the increased training of Iraqi Security Forces is at the top of the agenda when [Bush and Maliki] meet later this week.
That doesn’t make sense either, but at least it’s succinct.
I was semi listening to Hardball today and I do believe I heard Tony Blankely argue that if Iraq is in a civil war, that would prove President Bush’s policies were wrong. Therefore, it isn’t a civil war.
Some Bush administration officials have argued that there is no obvious political vision on the part of the Sunni-led insurgent groups, so â€œcivil warâ€ does not apply.
In the United States, the debate over the term rages because many politicians, especially those who support the war, believe there would be domestic political implications to declaring it a civil war. They fear that an acknowledgment by the White House and its allies would be seen as an admission of a failure of President Bushâ€™s Iraq policy.
They also worry that the American people might not see a role for American troops in an Iraqi civil war and would more loudly demand a withdrawal.
But in fact, many scholars say the bloodshed here already puts Iraq in the top ranks of the civil wars of the last half-century. The carnage of recent days â€” beginning with bombings on Thursday in a Shiite district of Baghdad that killed more than 200 people â€” reinforces their assertion.
Mr. Fearon and a colleague at Stanford, David D. Laitin, say the deaths per year in Iraq, with at least 50,000 reportedly killed since March 2003, place this conflict on par with wars in Burundi and Bosnia.
As Michael Ware told Wolf Blitzer, “If this is not a civil war, Wolf, I don’t want to see one when it comes.”
Update: I should have paid for attention to Hardball; I missed this part (from Think Progress).