Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Winning in Iraq

Howard Dean raised a ruckus by saying that "the idea that we're going to win the war in Iraq is an idea which is just plain wrong." Politically that was stupid. Of course we'll win. We'll define winning as whatever happens when we start drawing troop levels down.

In that sense, Dean was absolutely right. Before we invaded, success was defined in terms of finding WMD, ending human rights abuses in the prisons of Iraq, being greeted with rose petals, etc. Those things didn't happen. This is empirically true.

So success, as we understood it going in, is beyond us. Now we're just trying not to fail in a gross and inexcusable way. And if we define success in terms of an election occurring on thus and such a day, they we can succeed.

At this point, as Publius rightly notes, Dean is simultaneously committing political suicide and obviously right. We'll definitely pull out and call that withdrawal a victory. And the constant scandals – moral, financial and political – have certainly robbed us of any meaningful victory.

We can get caught up in semantics of how we care to define "win the war," or we can have a real discussion of what, given what we as a nation have lost, we are prepared to consider a victory. But this was sold as a part of the war on terror, and the 9/11 commission seems pretty confident that that hasn't worked out so well.

There are enough real problems in the world that wars of choice really aren't worth the money and lives that are being spent, day after day, in Iraq. Afghanistan is descending slowly back into chaos. And that's to be expected. When we sent troops in there, no TV segment was complete without a reminder that we really blew it by ignoring Afghanistan after the Russians pulled out, and how the obvious lesson was that we should take our commitment to Afghanistan seriously.

Then we pulled our best SF troops out to hunt for mythical WMD in Iraq. That can only be called a failure, a loss. In that endeavor, success (victory, "winning") evaded us.