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9.18.2004

Nomenclature 

Hawks tend to label everyone who's causing trouble in Iraq terrorists. The vast majority of big media outlets and people who oppose the US presence in Iraq call them insurgents. Seems to me that there are both "terrorists" and "insurgents" in Iraq, and that both sides are committing an error by conflating the two groups.

The "terrorists" set off bombs in crowds, kidnap and behead civilians and air their exploits on al-Jazeera. They want to establish martial Islamic law in the Middle East. They are evil. They must be destroyed.

The "insurgents" are ordinary Iraqis who just want the US out of Iraq. They may be affiliated with a major movement, or not. They get their guns from the basement and start shooting at US soldiers. Their motives are many: simple xenophobia; political power; tribal warfare; frustration with daily life and the economic and social progress of Iraq; and so on. While they will certainly have to amend their ways if they wish to be full citizens of a modern democratic Iraq (assuming that this is to happen), their demands can't be completely dismissed out of hand.

In fact, even this dichotomy is probably too simple: people who are fighting the US probably come with a wide mix of motivations and methods. (The Baath Party probably merits its own category altogether.) The point is that painting the entire opposition as a homogeneous force of one color or another doesn't help us understand the situation in Iraq.

UPDATE: One of the most recent hostages has been decapitated.

Before we rush to label this incident another failure in US foreign policy, consider this: if the terrorists weren't operating in Iraq, they'd be operating in Israel, Pakistan, the United States, or other places around the globe. (By all accounts, terrorist activity around the rest of the world is down.) It's hard to establish reliable metrics for our progress in the war on terror; all that I know is that the terrorists must be eliminated.

Where we have failed (diplomatically and logistically) is in getting the new Iraqi police and other forces in a position to help us destroy these terrorists who are flocking to Iraq.

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