Sunday, July 27, 2008

No End But Victory--But What Constitutes Victory?

What constitutes victory in Iraq?

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.


manuelbuencamino said...

"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, "

why is this criteria - brutal dictatorship and threat to neighbors- not applied to North Korea?

manuelbuencamino said...

shouldn't the US also invade North Korea and stay until "a government that can stand by itself and win on its own against threats to its own democratic constitution and future" can be established?

manuelbuencamino said...

"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."

Why not? America survived its defeat in Vietnam. Americans are investing in Vietnam the country is stable, no insurgencies. Imagine if America had won that war and occupied the country. It would be like South Vietnam!

Defeat in war is somerimes good for a nation's soul

DJB Rizalist said...

surely you don't want to rehash an issue the whole world faced and dealt with back in the 1950s with North Korea, do you?

moreover, can you deny the successful handling by the US and countries like Japan and China of the North Korean nuclear program?

We are only talking about a counter insurgency strategy matter here, not some kind of overarching, universal panacea. Many other principles and circumstances would apply to other situations.

As for your admiration of defeat as soul enhancement, I respect your opinion but unfortunately do not share it.

blackshama said...

America occupied parts of Germany. Is Germany like Iraq?

First there was a policy of ruthless de-Nazification there followed by massive amounts of reconstructive aid. By the 1950s the Allies and AMerica could claim victory over Hitler.

If the same model is applied in Iraq, the US will have to do de Islamize politics there.But no US president can stomach that,Obama or McCain.

DJB Rizalist said...

the only real hope for Iraq IS the rise of enough secular democracy to keep peace among the religious "parties of God" who are responsible for the mass murders and mayhem. America herself is a highly religionized country, but the Constitution is upheld by enough of the citizens and the State that all can enjoy First Amendment rights without destroying each other.

Religion poisons everything. Secular democracyis the only permanent antidote by which some my imbibe of the poison with killing the body politic.

But I think the rise of a zeitgeist of atheism is a sign that people have had quite enough of the most malevolent forms of organized religion. Much as young adults shed the infantilism and juvenility of youth as they mature into adults.

Dave Llorito said...

hi dean: i guess you should take a few lessons from gen. rupert smith in his book "the utility of force: the art of war in modern times." and based on his views, the lessons of japan and germany does not apply at all in iraq. the war with japan and german where industrial wars, nay clauzwitzian wars, between states. in such a situation, a country that wins the test of strenght usually subdues the loser's will. since the yom kippur war, we no longer have that kind of industrial war. what we have since then was a new paradigm, what is called "war amongst the people" wherein contrary to the industrial/clauzwitzian wars the objective is winning the people's will in order to win the test of strength. and this kind of war tends to be endless, the engagements are purely tactical and not strategic, and therefore so difficult to define what constitute victory.

in other words, in this kind of war, military strenght is used not in the strategic sense, but in tactical sense to create a condition leading up to a political objective: the creation of a well-functioning state in iraq or wherever. are the americans achieving that? its so hard to see so far.

blackshama said...


Atheism is a religion! Worse, it has very little parsimonious logical basis for it!

It is illogical to equate secularism with atheism. If that happens then secularism has become the faith structure for atheism.

No human can escape what Darwinian evolution's diktat that God will arise from natural selection.

This is God Delusion that Richard Dawkins miserably failed to deal with in his silly book.

God exists and plays tricks!

Amadeo said...

Whatever happens in Iraq, and it definitely has a long way to go toward "peace" as viewed and defined by Westerners, one thing I can declare is that there is no comparing of Iraq with any of our past wars and conflicts.

Especially with regard to applicable lessons learned, this Iraq situation has no comparison. One may be tempted to compare facts and cite similarities, but there are far too many differences (Islam for one, the Middle Eastern mindsets, the oil commodity, etc) to make it so unlike past wars and/or conflicts.

I say we will have these ideological conflicts in one form or another, however subtle or contentious, whether open or clandestine, until the last days. And even uneasy peace will not be forthcoming.

Have we ever resolved the many contentious issues brought upon by the more barbaric times of the Ottoman Empire? Or is Iraq just one of the tender sores of that era being exacerbated in the present time? What about Pakistan, Iran, or even Afghanistan? Or what about the growing unrest in India between Hindus and Muslims?

Or what about our own backyard, Mindanao? Has the government declared victory and peace in the island? From where I stand now, was peace ever absent?