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Victory, But ...

To listen to the rhetoric, the United States is either on the cusp of midwifing a modern Jeffersonian democracy in Iraq and the naysayers are potentially disloyal Americans who don't care about the troops and are giving comfort to the enemy. Or, the entire enterprise is about to go down in flames and the only way to solve the mess is to get out as quickly as possible because victory's not possible. Oh, and President Bush hates the troops.

Actually, Rep. John Murtha does have one very good point:

Staying the course in Iraq is not an option or a policy.

That statement is particularly meaningful to me. For the past three years, I've more or less advocated staying the course, not withdrawing from Iraq. While I've never believed that victory is around the corner, I nevertheless knew -- in a way that that hardcore peaceniks refuse to admit -- that withdrawing from Iraq wasn't really an option. If victory wasn't around the corner, then it was certainly unattainable if the United States withdrew from the fight and left the nascent Iraqi government to its own devices.

My position was rather inflexible. But last week, I read something that changed how I think about the occupation and rebuilding of Iraq. Now, i wonder whether victory is possible at all.

Not that I favor instant withdrawal or anything that drastic. Rather, this Washington Post op-ed written by Anne Applebaum and published Dec. 7, offers some food for thought. A sample:

[W]hat if all of this vocabulary -- winning, losing, victory, defeat -- is simply misplaced? There are, after all, wars that are not actually won or lost. There are wars that achieve some of their goals, that result only in partial solutions and that leave much business unfinished. There are wars that do not end with helicopters evacuating Americans from the embassy roof but that do not produce a victorious march into Berlin, either. There are wars that end ambivalently -- wars, for example, such as the one we fought in Korea.

Applebaum builds a persuasive Korea analogy, pointing out that Iraq may turn out as a mixed victory and loss. The new Iraqi government may be democratically elected, but corrupt. Saddam could be displaced, but the succesor government may be weak and hostile to U.S. interests.

And so forth, all leading to a war effort where the result is not 100 percent of what we expected when the United States went into Iraq, but will probably be a "victory but" situation -- something that is not pleasant for any partisan in this war debate to accept. "Withdraw now," "Withdraw later," "Plan for victory and "Stay the course" are great applause lines. But as reality-grounded policy, they are utterly useless. How disappointing.

The United States can accomplish quite a bit of good in Iraq and the Middle East, and it already has done so. But any realistic assessment of Iraq requires that the U.S. government also assess, candidly, what can reasonably be accomplished in the region, accept those limitations, and worth within them to accomplish as much good as it can.

Without this admission of reality -- played out in public -- the U.S. military could find itself in Iraq fighting a mission without clear-cut, attainable objectives. And there would be no victory in that.

Pennywit once tried to hit the broad side of a barn with a rifle, but the barn kept moving.

Comments (28)

I think the Iraqis will dec... (Below threshold)

I think the Iraqis will decide their fate. It is not like Vietnam, nor is it like Korea, both were proxy wars. Iraq is unique in that it really is a war of liberation. Listening to the news from Iraq, sounds to me like Iraqis really want freedom. Even the Sunnis are joining the parade.

All the other things that are happening in the Arab world also points to democracy taking hold.

It's not simple, nor is made any easier by the drag of Defeatocrats. But freedom once sampled is hard to put back in the bottle. I predict the world is going to find this out before the end of 2006.

Bill:Your "freedom... (Below threshold)


Your "freedom" rhetoric aside, would you classify it as victory, defeat, or otherwise, if Iraqi democracy results in an Islamist majority coming to power?

It's not too far outside the realm of possibility, especially if a democratically elected secular government turns out to be so corrupt it would make Boss Tweed jealous.


This conflict must remain a... (Below threshold)

This conflict must remain an "away game". The more insurgents we kill in that region, the fewer will come to our shores and destroy our soft bellied economy.

this is a straw man argumen... (Below threshold)

this is a straw man argument. no war ever has or ever will turn out exactly the way we want it to. ww2 was a disaster, if you only consider western europe. it took almost 40 years to make that result tolerable.

the idea is to make it as close to good as we can, with careful cost/benefit analysis.

right now, the cost is high (relatively low historically), but the benefit much, much higher.

We can't keep a lid on the ... (Below threshold)

We can't keep a lid on the progress made in Iraq forever. Gawd, I can't stand the thought of Chimpy getting credit for success. Let's face the 'imminent threat' of Victory in Iraq by calling it a Pyrrhic Victory.

Uh oh "pennywitless" is at ... (Below threshold)

Uh oh "pennywitless" is at it again.

Interesting that you would ... (Below threshold)

Interesting that you would point out Korea as an example, especially considering that we still have troops there. And that's been, what, 50 years? And there's still talk of a potential hot conflict there? Wow.

As pointed out above, no war is perfect, so you'll always have your "victory, but ..." comments to console yourself.

Also, we have no problem debating valid points about the future plans of the war in public. Go ahead, suggest a strategy that is something other than "cut and run" and we'd love to discuss it as adults.

Finally, if the Iraqis elect an Islamic dictator and undo all we've done to help, so be it. I'm betting they are smarter than that, but I could be wrong.

"I think the Iraqis will de... (Below threshold)

"I think the Iraqis will decide their fate."

Well, which ones? Will the Sunni minority have a say in the government? Will the American backed candidates be able to take over with or without our help? There is a huge amount of leeway in the word "Iraqi" and the contrast is staggering.

11 candidates in the election have already been murdered. Units aren't ready for combat. The police force is a common target and isn't ready to police. Based on the security progress - if their fate is in their own hands, I don't have much faith.


I read this analysis, all t... (Below threshold)
Josh Davenport:

I read this analysis, all the while wondering what happened to the usual logic.

Then I noticed the bi-line

Sorry, Pennywise.
We're going to win.
And so are the Iraqis

Pennywit, it's an interesti... (Below threshold)
Jay Tea:

Pennywit, it's an interesting comparison, but I think a flawed one. In Korea, we were fighting a conventional war against an enemy backed by two superpowers -- neither of which is the case here. One could make an argument that we are once again fighting other nations' proxies (with Iraq and Syria subbing for the Soviet Union and China), but today it is those nations, not us, that fear open confrontation, and the fighting is of far lower intensity.

One comparison that might be apt, though: in Korea, we have tens of thousands of troops, but they are not occupiers and are present with the consent of that nation. I've long foreseen a significant military presence in Iraq long after the formal end of the occupation and the restoration of Iraqi sovereignty. Lord knows we've kept substantial troops in other countries long after the immediate threat has passed, and with the sovereign governments' permission -- witness our many leased bases in Europe, for example.

Having American forces in your nation is a good thing -- look at the economic benefits alone, if you don't believe that it's a stabilizing influence on expansionist neighbors. And those tens of thousands of Americans in Korea have, with barely a shot fired, kept the Korean war from flaring back up for a good fifty years.


Sometimes what needs to be ... (Below threshold)

Sometimes what needs to be done simply can't be reduced to clear-cut, attainable objectives. We can't limit ourselves that way. Sometimes the objectives are abstract rather than concrete and no less *vital* because of that.

I don't think that Applebaum was trying to claim that we can't *win* but that a win might not be an event. To tell the truth, when I hear about troops fighting in WW1 or 2, knowing that the next morning a ceasefire will be called, I find it incomprehensible. If a ceasefire will be called and everyone knows it... why fight that last battle? You *know* people will die. Maybe you, maybe your buddy, maybe just the people you kill. But that's the kind of "end of the war" event that simply is *not* going to happen this time. No one is going to have a meeting and sign papers and it will be over. No agreement for a ceasefire will be made for tomorrow or the next day at 0900 so everyone can plan for it.

This war is a very new thing... we're not fighting a nation to begin with. We're fighting ideas.

Should this be part of the national discourse? Absolutely. But can it be when one side insists that there must be clear-cut, attainable objectives and that military action only be taken on the sort of concrete (as opposed to abstract) criminal act that "justifies" our presence in Afghanistan? The war of ideologies we're fighting is a war about what the world is going to be in comming decades. To *win* Iraq must be genuinely independant, even if she ultimately doesn't do what we'd prefer. The only thing that we *can't* allow is for a replacement tyranny to develop that takes up where Saddam left off. That would be failure... even if those in power are US yes-men. We don't need yes-men.

Clear-cut attainable objectives are what individual soldiers and units of soldiers must have as they enter into the next military action. Our national leaders, however, need to be looking at the larger picture... the *much* larger picture, that includes things like the effect of reputation 20 years from now, the need to ensure true liberty rather than just take down Saddam and call it good. That long view, that sees what a prosperous and free Iraq will mean to the region and the world long *long* after the present adminitration and the next and the next are gone is called Statesmanship.

Anne Applebaum is a moderat... (Below threshold)
Bat One:

Anne Applebaum is a moderate’s moderate, the sort of centrist who would be perfectly comfortable with a Joe Lieberman presidency. She has lived, and reported from, both Poland (her husband’s native home) and London. She was quite decidedly anti-communist, even when those sentiments were not so fashionable inside the Beltway, as she has studied the true horrors (and tortures) of those who were forced to live under communism, and has seen its ravages up close and personal... something the more fashionable liberal elite is inclined to dismiss with a nuanced snort.

In recent years, Applebaum has been rather thoroughly excoriated by those on the far left, for example,


And including this particularly vile bit of drivel from a Canadian twit named “Rob” whose own Liberal government recently crashed and burned in a brilliant fireball of corruption,

Still, Applebaum is no real conservative on foreign policy either. At least not by contemporary standards (Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, and Frank Gaffney, for example). Her own opinion piece, quoted here by PW, proves the point. By dismissing the terms “winning, losing, victory, defeat” Applebaum betrays her own ambivalence to the brutal necessities involved in actually winning at war. Korea was just such an example, and continues to be to this day. The “insubordination” of MacArthur and his firing by Truman were both political decisions, as was the decision to cease hostilities in favor of negotiation, rather than actually trying to win the war. To be sure, those may have been the “right “ decisions, although, as with post WWII Eastern Europe, those left behind in the rush to accommodation and negotiation might vehemently argue the point… at least those who survived being summarily abandoned in the name of international expediency.

But those decisions, however reached, do not mean in and of themselves, that the war could not have been won, or that a negotiated settlement was the best result that could have been attained.

War is a ghastly and horrific affair… a fact attested to by the fact that very few veterans will discuss their experiences with anyone, even loved ones, other than another veteran... although we will gladly open up to a perfect stranger who has shared the horror.

The fact that some wars “result only in partial solutions” or “end ambivalently” should not be taken to mean that such results are either pre-ordained or unavoidable. Such decisions are a matter of will more than anything else. Or lack of it. Those who are satisfied with “partial solutions” or who have not the fortitude for what would be necessary to win, have in essence already surrendered any claim to victory.

Anne Applebaum’s analysis may prove to be correct. But only if it is allowed to be. Every indication thus far, from the Iraqis, from the administration, and from the warriors on the ground, is that she will be proven wrong. Still, nothing worthwhile was ever accomplished by those whose goals were minimal and whose efforts were half-hearted.

Moflicky:I don't arg... (Below threshold)

I don't argue that the cost isn't high, or that this war should have turned out exactly according to plan. But I'm absolutely surprised that Washington doesn't seem to realize that little truism.

I more or less agree with where consensus is coalescing right now -- phased withdrawal, milestones, etc.

That said, I honestly think the Iraq effort would benefit if we had more, not fewer, troops in the country, for a couple reasons. First, the news coverage reminds me of a rather large Whack-a-Mole game. The insurgents get mashed in one place, then turn up in another place.

Second, if nothing else, this invasion should illustrate that the military seriously needs to beef up its civil affairs units. From what I understand, a shortage of civil affairs specialists hurt the rebuilding effort, especially early on.

In terms of an overall plan, it occurs to me that after this election, the U.S. government needs to quietly approach the new Iraq government and give it a rough deadline for getting its act together. Right now, there's a real danger that whatever regime comes to power will be overly dependent on U.S. forces to maintain security.

Jay Tea:
The tactical situations were quite different, as were some of the strategic considerations, but I think that the political situations may be roughtly analoguous, if not perfect, especially in terms of how the victory, such as it was, went.

The war concluded not with an unfettered victory, but with a partitioned state, one a dictatorship, the other not. Not quite what the United States wanted at the get-go, but essentially what the country had to settle for in order to get a ceasefire.

The American forces on your doorstep can be a good thing or cn be a bad thing, both for America and for the host country, depending on the political and military situation.

In Iraq, it could be a net good thing. I expect that with the exception of a few fringe candidates, most individuals running for the Iraqi government right now aren't nearly as hostile to the American military presence as one might think, but they have to fake it, so to speak, to win election.


I think you've all gone cra... (Below threshold)

I think you've all gone crazy.

We won the war and we won it incredibly fast. It is a testament to the strength and power of the United States of America that we are so incredibly awesome that we can win a war so totally and so easily and people still consider it a loss.

It's like if the Colts and Manning only win by a few points people are going to start calling that a loss, or not a victory.

We won in Iraq. We won in Afghanistan. We can do whatever we've a mind to do there. If we wanted to kill every man, woman and child in those countries and plunder the riches and leave it all a barren waste, we could do that. It is sickening how powerful we are that we have turned to such navel gazing.

We are like a 25 year old pro football player playing in the pee-wee league.

What's happening in Iraq right now is not a war. It is not even remotely like a war. We won. Its over.

What we are really arguing about is the post-war clean up.

We could have went in as we did, spent two weeks in Iraq destroying the things we destroyed and killing the people we killed and then we could have left. Right then and there we could have left. We could have bugged out with only around 100 or so deaths and brought the troops home to a ticker tape parade and lot's of cheering etc and patted ourselves on the back.

Instead we chose to stay and do the harder thing because we are a nation of good, humanitarian souls. We chose to stick around and help the Iraqi people in the hopes that, through wisdom, helping them would help us in the long run. That in the years to come instead of Iraq being a smoking ruin, it would instead be a thriving democracy. My dad taught me that if I clobber a guy in a fight that I should put out my hand to him and help him up on his feet, brush him off and make sure he is alright. He told me this is the honorable thing to do when you defeat your opponent. If he chooses to sucker punch you after you've already beaten him bloody, that's his bad, not mine. And that is what we are doing in Iraq. We are giving them a helping hand back to their feet because we beat them bloody.

Maybe next time we fight a war with a country we can move a lot slower and drag it out for years and years and then, finally, at the end when we win people will know it is a victory. And when we start the long process of cleaning up and some of the sore losers come out to kill us from the shadows no one will start navel gazing.

We won in Iraq and we won in Afghanistan and we can be proud of our victories in both countries.

Some of the other posters t... (Below threshold)

Some of the other posters touched on this but...

When do we 'decide' how to 'classify' Iraq ? I think the problem that the myopic have is that they want to go ahead and make the call now or if not now maybe next year. I've said since this started that the time to success in the Mid-East is measured in decades. The culture must change. Part of the requirement is that the 'jihad' minded residents must die off - a generation must pass. At the moment, the troops are helping to expedite the process.

Why is 2 years in Iraq a long time while 60 years in Germany and Japan (and counting) is not ?

- MikeB

I suspect "Baggi" is right.... (Below threshold)
Bat One:

I suspect "Baggi" is right. We have already "won" the war in Iraq, and have been too distracted by the likes of Jack Murtha and John Kerry to have noticed the fact. What has gone on in Iraq in the area of re-building (schools, water supplies, sewage systems, etc. housing, etc.) is an enormous untold story. In any event, this week's elections will be a major milestone.

The real threat/problem anymore is Iran, and to pull our troops out of Iraq at this juncture is sheer strategic lunacy. Murtha's history alone (http://multifaria.com/node/100 "Murtha - A Brief History) proves the point.

Thank you Baggi! Somebody ... (Below threshold)

Thank you Baggi! Somebody finally gets it! I'm so glad to see that someone out there understands that we won the war, and now we are doing the humanitarian thing, and are cleaning up the mess Saddam and the Sunnis left. People don't seem to remember that certain SS units (the werewolves) resisted for years after WWII. That war wasn't over until 1951 if you count them. Does anyone here want to change V-E day to reflect that? If we can stop the Syrians and Iranians from funding the insurgents, and providing volunteers, It will go a long way to stopping the violence and terrorism. The latest figures I've seen show that most suicide bombers are not Iraqis, and that the 3 largest indigenous insurgent groups have been talking to the Iraqi government about laying down their arms. Looks like "victory" is breaking out, even amidst the "loss" that Clinton, Kerry, Murtha, Dean and the rest are seeing.

Reader's Digest of this pos... (Below threshold)

Reader's Digest of this post: "It's nuanced."

I've never really disputed ... (Below threshold)

I've never really disputed the military victory in Iraq. However, that military victory will be wasted without a lasting political victory ... or at the very least, a political "victory, but ... "


The problem, PW, is one of ... (Below threshold)
Lurking Observer:

The problem, PW, is one of time-scale.

Military victories can occur fairly quickly. In the grand scheme, four years (WWII, or the Civil War) is relatively quick.

Political victories, by contrast, take much longer.

How long did it take to attain a political victory over the South in the Civil War? One might argue it took 100 years, if you consider full black enfranchisement to be the metric.

How long did it take all of Europe (remembering that WWII began in Poland) to make it out of World War II and its aftermath? One could make the argument (and many historians have) that WWII itself was a continuation of WWI, and the Cold War certainly sprang from the ashes of Hitler's bunker.

For that matter, Japan and the USSR are still technically at war (they've never signed a peace treaty formally ending the war).

This was the point of the Applebaum piece. Political victories take time, and those who argue that there needs to be "victory" or "winning" of the political struggle in the same or comparable time-scale as the military struggle confuse both means and ends.

<a href="http://solomon2.bl... (Below threshold)

Lieberman vs. Murtha

- and -

Why fight a war that may have no victory:"Millions for defense, not one cent for tribute!"

Bravo Baggi!! The only thi... (Below threshold)

Bravo Baggi!! The only thing I would add - and this is something the left, and even Penny here, refuse to understand is that Iraq is not a war but a battle or front in an actual war.

It was won early and easy but as with all battles when the greater war is ongoing there will be infiltrators and subversives attempting to tie you down in your victory. As SJBill points out it is our enemy that has a target on them and it is best that we shoot them over there. Our troops have had a target on them since at least Beruit but that is what they do and do better then any other force in history.

When we understand this and stop trying to fight with our entire "left" arm tied behind our backs then perhaps our victory will be evident enough for Penny.

Baggo is right!Wha... (Below threshold)

Baggo is right!

What is it with all this navel gazing. The Iraqi's are voting for a new Government, under a constitution thay wrote, even as we speak. This is happening, on schedule, according to a timetable set over 2 years ago.

Sure there are reactionary forces trying to derail the process, the Jihadists looking for an opportunity to advance their 'cause', the Baathist deadenders resentful at their loss of power and the opponants of the current administration who do not want this President to succeed. Nevertheless significant progress has been made.

The outcome will not be perfect. However I continue to believe that toppling Saddam Hussein was the correct thing to do and the result will be been a vast improvement in the lives of millions of people.

"But any realistic assessme... (Below threshold)

"But any realistic assessment of Iraq requires that the U.S. government also assess, candidly, what can reasonably be accomplished in the region, accept those limitations, and worth within them to accomplish as much good as it can."

What limitations are those? And what makes you think we haven't assessed them? And having assessed them, should we publically share our conclusions with the enemy? What advantage would that give us, or give anyone except the terrorists?

Seriously, I just don't get it. We've already won millitarily. The Iraqis are voting in droves, and they show absolutely no sign of voting in a hard-line theocracy. That seems like a political victory to me.

We've won. They've lost. In fifteen years Iraq will be stable and flourishing. Murtha and Kerry will be bragging to their great-grandkids about how they made it happen. And Bush will sit back in his armchair in Texas and smile.

Cripes, Baggi, did you come... (Below threshold)

Cripes, Baggi, did you come up with that on your own? Well said.

Many feel that America is f... (Below threshold)

Many feel that America is fighting the war in a very ethnocentric manner; they feel that the Bush administration is judging success as it is defined in Western culture and not how it is defined in the Middle East. We must remember that how we are perceived is part of the winning strategy.
Raymond B

Absolutely, Raymond.<... (Below threshold)

Absolutely, Raymond.

I was talking to an Irish gentleman who'd once worked in Saudi and he was going on and on about middle eastern attitudes, about how important it was to never ever back down among other things. I tried to relate this to the risk of appearing weak in relationship to the US involvement there (a perfect correlation, it seemed to me) and his eyes got this kind of glazed look for a moment before he objected that it wasn't the same thing at all.

I'm convinced that the ethnocentric issue isn't nearly as much of a problem with whatever Bush is doing as with the criticisms themselves. I don't know how many times I've heard tell that Iraqis *can't* crawl out of the dark ages and into the modern world... I suppose this is supposed to be cultural sensitivity or something to say that.

Every single last thing we did from before Desert Storm and up to the moment we stormed Bagdad in Operation Iraqi Freedom was as good as *calculated* to send the *culturally* determined message that we deserved the scorn of Saddam who trumpeted as though he'd *won* because, culturally determined, he certainly *had* won and marvelously at that. It's entirely a western thing that we fail to heed the little insults as unimportant. Suggest to my dear Irish friend that while on a job he could do such a thing and expect to function within that culture and he'd laugh at you.

Our reputation is going to matter a whole lot in years to come and quite frankly, the left has to stop projecting. They might have very good ideas about what it takes to make the nice-nice with post-Christian Europe (or pre-Islamic Europe, if we want to go there) but I don't see any indication that they have the first clue about what it means to be part of a heavily patriarchal and devoutly religious culture. I'm not sure it's something they can even imagine. And *that* is the culture with which we will be dealing for the foreseeable future.

Seriously... who understands the fundamentalist mindset better?

"Cripes, Baggi, did you com... (Below threshold)

"Cripes, Baggi, did you come up with that on your own? Well said."

Probably not. I read so many blogs and listen to so much talk radio that i'm sure it is stolen from many different people and many different places.






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