Iraqi civil war can be stopped, but not by Bush |

Iraqi civil war can be stopped, but not by Bush

Kirk Caraway

The Bush administration is big on labels. You might say they are geniuses at sloganeering.

Remember the Clean Skies Initiative, that actually increased air pollution? How about No Child Left Behind, and War on Terror?

But some labels didn’t go over well. Think “Mission Accomplished.”

But the label he and his people fear the most? Civil war.

You can twist public opinion in this country quite a bit. You can put lipstick on a pig, and you might get 51 percent of the voters to think it’s pretty, at least for a while.

But civil war is one of those terms that resists being glossed over.

Even though the war in Iraq is already highly unpopular, the 30 percent who still support Bush would have second thoughts if he ever admitted that the conflict had devolved into a civil war.

Americans know instinctively that you don’t mess around in other people’s civil wars.

Yet, we have a recent example where America openly interceded in a civil war half a world away, and was successful in stopping it and bringing peace.

That would be Bosnia.

An anonymous Web site comment I saw this week reminded me that America did indeed jump into the middle of a bloody civil war in the Balkans in the 1990s. When you take into account the differences in population, Bosnia was every bit as violent as Iraq has been. Estimates are that between 100,000 and 270,000 people were killed in the Bosnian civil war, a country with one-sixth the population of Iraq.

The U.S. and its NATO allies, sent approximately 60,000 peacekeeping troops into this troubled country. They worked with Bosnia’s neighbors, most importantly the Russians, and they ended the conflict.

If only we could have that kind of success in Iraq.

Does the Bosnia example give us clues on how to stop the civil war in Iraq? It certainly does. Perhaps the most important factor is that all neighboring nations and interested parties must be brought into the process.

The other important factor is that it takes a relatively large number of troops to stop the fighting. To put Iraq on the scale of Bosnia, we would need approximately 1.2 million troops on the ground to stop the current fighting, and there would need to be a smaller force (100,000-200,000) present in the country for 10 years or more.

After seeing the lack of progress in Iraq, it’s easy to write the war off as lost. Perhaps it is, at least if we continue to think of it as an American undertaking.

The Bosnian success could be duplicated in Iraq. It wouldn’t be easy. The Bush administration would have to start talking seriously with all of Iraq’s neighbors, including the Iranians and the Syrians, about bringing peace to Iraq. And since we don’t have an extra million soldiers on hand, a monumental effort would be needed to recruit support from countries in the region and around the world to build the kind of peacekeeping force that could end the violence. That could be done only if President Bush were to hand over control of the effort to some sort of multinational task force that would have the influence and credibility to get the warring factions to cease hostilities.

The only thing standing in the way of trying to implement this proven method for stopping a civil war is Bush himself. His insistence that it’s not a civil war, and that the war can be won unilaterally by military force alone, using a small fraction of the necessary troops, makes it impossible to move forward. Bush family friend James Baker tried to get through to him with the Iraq Study Group, to no avail. Congress is trying to impress upon him the need for a new direction, with similar results.

In light of the options presented, it’s hard to come to any other conclusion than Bush’s ego is more important to him than peace, than the lives of those he sends into battle, than the future generations he is stealing from to pay for this war, than the reputation and standing of the country.

Congress doesn’t need to send him more legislation. They need to send Dr. Phil to conduct an intervention.

• Kirk Caraway is editor of, and also writes a blog on national issues at