I woke up early today, went downstairs, turned on the news, and very quickly discovered that I'd made it all of 5 minutes into my morning before making a bad decision. The lead-off story on MSNBC's top of the hour coverage: NBC News' decision to start calling what's happening in Iraq a "civil war." This was followed by several minutes of self-absorbed commentary by Tucker Carlson. As I write, I'm being treated to another dose of coverage on this same "top story," this time complete with a "debate" between talking heads from the two sides of the political spectrum, each armed with a brand-new set of buzzwords ("stating the obvious," and "agenda-driven and inappropriate decision,").
Oy. Where to start?
I suppose I should begin by congratulating NBC's news division. With this decision, they have demonstrated a depth of perception matched only by the courage and leadership that they've demonstrated in the way they've covered the conduct of this war over the last three and a half years. I'm gratified to learn that the media have figured out that continuing to use the phrase "brink of civil war" sounds stupid when
warringsectarian violencing neighborhoods have been shooting mortars at each other for several months now.
Next, we have the White House. The White House, of course, doesn't want to call things a "civil war," and has taken exception to NBC's decision. Let's look at this objectively for a moment, shall we? I know that comes perilously close to the reality-based community's way of doing things, but let's give it a shot anyway. People are killing each other in Iraq at alarming rates. There are different factions fighting each other, and one of the things that they are fighting about is who will have a bigger role in controlling the country. The "security situation" on the ground is so bad that despite the presence of well over 100,000 US troops, next week's summit between Bush and Iraqi prime minister al-Maliki will be held in the nation of Jordan, not in Iraq. And bombs and mortars are commonly-used weapons in what the White House still prefers to call the ongoing "sectarian violence."
This is a complex issue, I know. There is a great deal of subtlety and nuance involved in the situation, and finding the right term can be difficult. But we can all get together on "civil war" when the artillery gets in the game, can't we?
Finally, back to NBC. Look, I can see that this was a tough decision to make for you folks. Hundreds of people are known to have died in the last week alone. Bombs are going off over there on something like an hourly basis, and indirect fire attacks are an everyday event. Under the circumstances, given your history and collective intelligence, I can understand how this might have been a difficult call to make. Still, you might have wanted to take a minute or two and consider, however briefly, the extraordinary level of arrogance involved in declaring your decision to state the bloody obvious as the top story in the news cycle.