A few days back, the "Today" show, speaking for NBC News, declared Iraq a "civil war," and said the network and CNBC and MSNBC would henceforth use that term to describe it.
President Bush and White House Press Secretary Tony Snow angrily objected. A civil war, said Snow, is when two identifiable armed forces war with each other for control of a government and nation. And Iraq is not that.
Contradicting Snow and the president are most journalists and Colin Powell. Speaking in Dubai, Powell declared, "I would call it a civil war ... because I like to face reality," a smart slap across the face of the president who made him secretary of state by a soldier who feels badly used by Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and the neoconservatives.
Is this a matter of politics and semantics?
Yes, but it is also far more than that. Those who insist on calling Iraq a civil war are consciously undercutting Bush's case that Iraq is "the central front in the war on terror," that we fight them over there so that we will not have to fight them over here.
Believing him, half the country is convinced we cannot retreat, cut-and-run, for that would mean the terrorists win in Iraq and bring the terror war to the United States. But if Iraq is but a "civil war," most American would say that it's not America's war -- let's go home.
This battle over definitions recalls Vietnam. Those who wanted to stay the course in Vietnam argued that it was the central front in the Cold War against communism, which threatened Southeast Asia today but America tomorrow. Those who had supported the war, but concluded it was no longer worth it, suddenly changed their story to declare it was now a civil war and none of America's business.
What is happening today is that those who once cheered Tommy Frank's march to Baghdad to liberate Iraq from Saddam are trying to rationalize their throwing Iraq to the wolves that the invasion unleashed. America's elite does not wish to admit the truth: that it has no stomach for fighting this ugly and unpopular war into which it foolishly marched the United States.
The baby boomer elite arrogantly and ignorantly led us into a quagmire, as their fathers did in Vietnam -- and now, just like their fathers, they lack the stamina, courage and perseverance to see it through. As they don't want to be held accountable for losing the war, they have seized upon the rationale that it was never our war to fight.
Calling it "a civil war" is a cover for people who wish to cut and run.