My recent posts have been getting some attention from proponents of our current military action in Iraq. And now I've heard their new line: I have to go on the record with what counts as "victory" and "defeat." By this they mean, how many weeks or months and how many US casualties? Does victory in two months count as success? Is more than three months a failure? Does under 500 battlefield deaths count as success? Over 500? People who are critical of the conduct of this war apparently have to choose their numbers to be credible.
You start to see how these folks operate. It's sort of like our national debate over the war is a big Iraq-war office pool, like with the NCAA championships or the NFL playoffs. ("I put down for six months and 843 war dead! It was a longshot. But I won big! My foreign policy cred is now assured!")
But this game-playing is either foolishness or a deliberate attempt to shift people's eyes from what's really being discussed. Duration of combat and numbers of casualties aren't yardsticks for measuring victory or failure. They're costs you incur in achieving your goals. So the numbers game -- in days and bodies -- is bogus. The question is, what are we trying achieve and how close are we to achieving it.
Taking our war goals at face value, it seems to me we're trying to achieve four things.
1. To eliminate Saddam's WMD capabilities.
2. To create a democratic or at least quasi-democratic Iraq, which -- because
it is democratic -- has a positive ripple effect throughout the region.
3. A more stable Middle East, which breeds less terrorism.
4. A more stable and peaceful world order made so by the example of the destruction of Saddam's bad-acting regime.
The heart of the issue is #2 since #3 and #4 flow from the success of #2. And if we fail at #2, solving #1 may not turn out to mean all that much. Follow that? Ok, good.
At the moment, I don't think the prospects of #2, #3 or #4 look that good. I'm pessimistic because the administration heavily leveraged this operation on two basic assumptions: 1) that we'd be greeted as liberators by the Iraqi people and 2) that our show of force in the region would cow our enemies and embolden our allies. The facts are by no means all in yet. But neither proposition is looking particularly strong at the moment. And the administration played its hand in such a way that it was heavily dependent on both propositions bearing out in a big way.
If war took three months or six months and we achieved goals #1 through #4 I'd say it was a big success. But the supporters of the conduct of this war are equating "victory" with the physical occupation of Baghdad. And that's just a dodge.
More on this later.