For the past three weeks, pundits and politicians of one stripe or another have weighed in on the question of whether the Iraq conflict has descended to the level of a “civil war.”
Noted language-watcher (and former pundit) William Safire finally adds his voice in the upcoming edition of The New York Times Magazine on Sunday.
In is long-running “On Language” column, he traces the current uproar over the term, while admitting that the “linguistic dogmas of civil wars past are inadequate to the stormy present.” Rather than rely on historical usage, which is usually useful, he puts in a call to a Kurdish friend and source in Baghdad who, predictably, denies that a civil war exists.
The friend, while still on the phone with Safire, even shouts out to Iraq’s president Jalal Talabani, also a Kurd, to get his view — which also comes back a big “no.”
Understandably, then, Safire closes the column: “Call the fighting what you like, but the name you choose to give the hostilities, strife, violence or war not only reflects your view about the current state of affairs but is also an indication of where you stand on what our policy should be. Labels are the language’s shorthand for judgments.”