I think this is an important conceptual question for many Americans because I believe that most of them, myself included, do not want to leave in defeat, as it would not only be dishonorable, but dangerous to ourselves, our country and the world, in the long run.
Indeed, a major bone of contention in the 2008 US Presidential election is what to do about Iraq. Should we go or should we stay? Surely, the answer to that question would not be a matter of controversy at all if America believed that it has already won, that it has already achieved "victory" in Iraq. Which leads back to the first question: what constitutes victory in Iraq?
While the original goal of overthrowing the brutal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein was achieved long ago, and Iraq is no longer a threat to its neighbors, several violent insurgencies against the Iraqi government are ongoing and most certainly pose a threat both to Iraq itself and the coalition forces still present there. It would seem therefore that merely overthrowing Saddam Hussein and neutralizing any malevolent intentions he had against other countries, including America, would be an insufficient quantum of victory, if upon our exit, there were not a viable, independent democratic state to replace the Baathist fascist dictatorship we overthrew with so much American blood and treasure.
And so, what constitutes victory in Iraq at this stage becomes crucial to any decision involving troop withdrawals and disengagement.
The US Army Counterinsurgency Manual [via the Federation of American Scientists], one of whose two principal authors is General David H. Petraeus, presently the commander of US forces on the ground in Iraq, contains a rather sensible definition of the long-term goal of a counterinsurgency operation which is what US and UK presence in that country presently represents.
"The long-term goal is to leave a government able to stand by itself. In the end, the host nation has to win on its own. ... Eventually all foreign armies are seen as interlopers or occupiers; the sooner the main effort can transition to Host Nation institutions, without unacceptable degradation, the better."Both Democratic and Republican presidential candidates have had a lot to say about Iraq lately, but I must say, Democrat Barack Obama scored a lot of points in this regard in a major foreign policy address just before going on his recently concluded visits to Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, Germany, France and the United Kingdom when he said:
"...true success in Iraq - victory in Iraq - will not take place in a surrender ceremony where an enemy lays down their arms. True success will take place when we leave Iraq to a government that is taking responsibility for its future - a government that prevents sectarian conflict, and ensures that the al Qaeda threat which has been beaten back by our troops does not reemerge. That is an achievable goal if we pursue a comprehensive plan to press the Iraqis stand up."Now, I still agree with John McCain that we ought to stay in Iraq for a hundred years if that is what it takes to achieve what General Petraeus and Barack Obama call a government that can stand by itself and win on its own against threats to its own democratic constitution and future. (After all, it took them almost a half a century in the Philippines, the First Iraq!). But I hope John McCain soon gets over the notion that Iraq is "the central front in the War on Terror," because it just ain't true and even George W. Bush and US Military seem to know it!
In that struggle, victory is still a long way off, and the enemy won't be decisively defeated in the suqs and slums of Baghdad.