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May 03, 2007

Is The War Lost?

Rick Moran at Right Wing Nuthouse thinks it is, pretty much. His main point: even if, in theory, we could win this war militarily, the country no longer has the resolve to do so. In practical reality, basically, either the war cannot be won militarily, in which case America loses, or it can be won militarily, but America no longer has the stomach to see the mission through, in which case America still loses. Heads we lose militarily, tails we lose politcally.

I hate writing posts like this. Since I don’t advocate an immediate “turn tail and run” the left climbs all over me. And since I don’t say everything is going swimmingly in Iraq and that we’re on the verge of victory, the right thinks I’m a traitor.


Even those of you who started out opposed to the war and who have commented intelligently here by critiquing our strategy and tactics, have caused me to think about where I stand. And of course, those of us who supported the war, still support the mission to varying degrees, but have looked on in frustration and horror as the Bush Administration, the Pentagon, and our generals on the ground in Iraq have made mistake after mistake, blunder after blunder and brought us to where we are now – the edge of the precipice – we all have had our eyes opened and beliefs challenged by practicing a little independent thinking.

I'm always annoyed by that -- the claim that divergence from an opinion comes from "independent thinking," a capacity, by implication, those who have not had similar epiphanies are incapable of; it's weak when Andrew Sullivan trots it out five times a month, and it doesn't sound any better coming from Rick Moran. But let's ignore that as a trivial rhetorical device.

I have come to the conclusion over the last few days that, due to domestic conditions here in the US and the inability of the Iraqi government and society to deal in a timely manner with the political problems that must be solved if Iraq is to have a viable, multi-sectarian society the United States is on the verge of suffering a humiliating defeat in Iraq. A perfect storm of almost non-existent public support for our war aims coupled with US pressure on the Iraqis to shoehorn radical changes in their society, their constitution, and their politics into an unrealistic and inevitably, an impossible time frame will ultimately doom our efforts to take any military success achieved via the surge and turn it into progress on the political front.

If we had 3 or 4 years and the political will to maintain troop levels where they are now, then we would have a real chance to make the difference. But our commitment to the military aspects of the surge will be measured in months, not years. By early fall, the race for President will be in full swing and the obvious lack of political progress in Iraq will increase calls for some kind of redeployment – probably from even some Republicans. And it doesn’t appear that the insurgents nor al-Qaeda in Iraq are interested in dialing down their vicious attacks on civilians. They will continue to maximize their attacks, killing as many Iraqis per attack as possible to keep the body count high and the American press fixated on the blood. The continuing large body counts from these attacks will also give the Democrats a ready made benchmark to claim that the surge isn’t working, even if other, less publicized aspects of our strategy are showing signs of success.

Well, I'm not going to call Rick Moran a "traitor" as he predicts. It should be noted that there's a big difference between someone who clearly favors an American victory, but has come to the grim conclusion it's impossible, and someone who has always rooted for American defeat to vindicate some other agenda -- taking back Congress, chastening America with a "teachable moment" about the limits of power, etc.

I'm especially reluctant to call him a "traitor" because I, like many of you, have had such "traitorous" thoughts. I don't believe the left cares terribly much about the troops they claim to be so protective of, and yet revile at every opportunity. I, however, do, and I imagine most fair-minded Americans do not view American corpses as poker chips to play in a political game.

But many view American combat deaths in precisely that manner, of course.

A few months ago I wrote a post basically giving up on the war. I posted it, but quickly deleted it, as I had written it in pure emotion -- a NPR interview with a company commander in Baghdad basically convinced me that our boys were far too precious a commodity to waste in a futile effort to redeem the Iraqis. It wasn't a downer of an interview, but the opposite: The commander was so can-do, upbeat, brave and noble that his very goodness repelled me from a war fought on behalf of ungrateful, savage-minded, often lunatic Iraqis.

But, like an ill-advised post of mine suggesting the Muslim world should be put on notice that the next megaterrorism attack will result in an indiscriminate nuclear holocaust for the religion of terrorism, the whole thing was written in the heat of emotion and without much thought.

I do not believe, as Jack Murtha and Harry Reid claim, that the Iraqis can sort things out on their own if we withdraw. I believe the Iraqi government will pull even closer to Iran, and become a sponsor of terrorism. I further believe that the Iraqi government will then conduct a massive ethnic cleansing/genocide against Sunnis in largely Shi'a areas, but allow largely Sunni areas a degree of autonomy motivated by malign neglect. Sunni areas will be permitted to be havens for Al Qaeda, and will only be subject to reprisals from the government should they attack Shia areas. So long as the Al Qaeda terrorists there only plot and conduct attacks against the West, they'll be given free reign. Same as Saudi Arabian terrorists -- don't attack us, attack the West, and we can live in peace.

So the stakes here are massive. It is vital that America win this war. But the fact that a goal is vital is hardly a guarantee that it can be achieved. Winning the war -- in a clear-cut way -- may in fact now be impossible.

And if it is truly impossible -- if our troops are now simply fighting and dying for the sake of strengthening an Iraqi government which will later simply align with Iraq and cut a dirty deal with Al Qaeda -- it's hardly clear to me we should consider offering up these good men for nothing much at all.

The trouble with advocating withdrawal, however, is that it isn't clear that true victory is impossible (though it seems less likely every day). Furthermore, a defeat would be so calamitous that even a small chance of victory might justify the continued loss of US lives in Iraq. As grim as that is -- trading noble American fighters' lives for a slim chance at success in a country that probably can never be made decent, and certainly doesn't deserve such a sacrifice -- Iraq is that important to American national security.

And an Iraq as an Iranian client-state/Al Qaeda haven may simply set the stage for a re-invasion of Iraq a dozen years down the line. The same as Bush the Elder's incomplete defeat of Saddam Hussein required a fresh war a dozen years after the Gulf War.

Moran seems to grasp this all, which is why a later post is pure dogfood. Convinced, it seems, that Iraq is lost, Moran goes on to posit a "compromise" of sorts with the anti-war faction in this country:

Frustrated Democrats want some way to change the President’s course also toward something more sensible; perhaps a realization that our troops might be better used elsewhere in Iraq killing al-Qaeda terrorists and protecting the Sunnis from rapacious and murderous Shia radicals in league with the government there.

Rick, that's not a "change" in the President's course. That's the President's current course. Who does he imagine our troops are fighting? Peaceful, law-abiding, decent Iraqis?

The Democrats do this too -- it's a confused, contradictory bit of faith-based reasoning, an attempt to have one's cake and eat it too. Democrats assert that we must withdraw from Iraq (having the cake by escaping a difficult situation) in order to concentrate on fighting Al Qaeda (and now eating the cake too -- continuing to fight Al Qaeda even as we retreat thousands of miles from them!)

Wth all due respect, what the hell do they think our boys are doing over there now? Half of Democrats are cynical opportunists willing to sell American security down the river in order to gain a few points in the polls. But the other half is simply self-deluding -- because they want to withdraw so much, because they want an easy way out of the woods, they've managed to convince themselves that the best way to fight Al Qaeda is to not fight them at all. Or that American troops will be better able to respond to Al Qaeda terrorism from bases in neighboring Okinawa.

And independents and many Republicans are similarly succeptible to self-delusion. When one wants to do something that one knows if probably not the right thing to do, one begins rationalizing. Sure, eating this big slice of cake is bad for me, but you know what? I'll just start jogging. Maybe I'll even jog tonight. And isn't it true that carbohydrates and sugars are necessary for the body anyway? Maybe eating this big slice of cake is actually good for me in a way.

The American people don't want to lose a war, but they're increasingly frustrated by the lack of progress, and that means they're increasingly willing to believe, and reward politically, anyone who tells them want they want to hear. Even if what they're being told is nonsensical verging on fantastical -- The shortest, smartest path of victory is an acceptance of complete, catastrophic defeat.

It makes no sense, of course, but neither does it make sense that eating a huge honking slice of chocolate cake might actually make you lose weight by increasing your metabolism so that you burn off calories. But when you really want a piece of cake, hell, pretty much any bit of nonsense is a suitable justification for doing what you want to do.

The grim reality of the situation may be that there is no good answer, none at all. That we can neither truly win in Iraq, nor can we afford to actually lose. The best possible answer may itself be a horrible answer -- the best answer, and yet still by no means good at all. It may be that we must simply continue fighting in Iraq for a people who hardly desereves it against an enemy which can never be truly vanquished.

On one point I agree with Moran -- the public is unwilling to contemplate such a hard reality. And thus time is in fact very much against us. It may be the case that there's an even grimmer reality that war-supporters aren't yet able to contemplate -- that whatever we do, we're essentailly doomed to lose and hand Iran and Al Qaeda a critical, verging on decisive victory, and there's simply no mix of strategies or adjustments that can change that fact.

I don't know that's the case, which is why I still support the war despite my declining hopes for success. But I'm beginning to fear that more every day.

digg this
posted by Ace at 01:58 PM

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