In his address to the American people last Sunday
George W. Bush said, "Yet now there are only two options before our country:
victory or defeat." As usual, Mr. Bush is wrong.
Victory is not an option, and it never was. The strategic objectives the Bush
administration set for this war – a peaceful, democratic Iraq that would be
an American ally, a friend of Israel, a source of unlimited oil and of basing
rights for large American forces – were never attainable, no matter what we
did. Strategies invented in Fairyland cannot be implemented in the real world.
Pity the military that is ordered to try.
Defeat is an option. In my last column I described one way that could occur,
an Israeli and/or American attack on Iran that leads Iraqi Shi'ites to join
the Sunni jihad and cut our lines of supply and retreat through southern Iraq.
There are additional scenarios that could lead to a dramatic American defeat,
a defeat we could not disguise to anyone, not even ourselves. Presumably, this
is not an option we wish to select.
The most promising options, of which the president of the United States seems
to be unaware, are those that end the war and bring American troops home without
an outright American defeat. This is how most limited wars end, with some sort
of compromise peace, official or unofficial.
I have discussed two such options in previous columns. One is a request from
the Iraqi government that we leave, which would give us a golden bridge out.
Another is to cut a deal with nationalist and Ba'athist elements of the Sunni
insurgency, a deal where we would stop fighting them and provide them some political
support while they clean up al-Qaeda.
Two recent stories in the Washington Times suggest the second option
may now be within reach. On Sunday, Dec. 18, the paper reported
that precisely these Sunni resistance groups had enforced an election truce,
allowing Sunnis to vote. More,
"The truce resulted from weeks of negotiations between U.S. officials
and insurgents that have been recently labeled by President Bush as 'rejectionists.'…
"The willingness of U.S. officials to talk directly with many, if not
most, insurgents marked a huge change from American thinking at the outset of
Hurray for those "U.S. officials!" Here at last is some genuine
good news from Iraq.
The Washington Times story
on Monday, Dec. 19, was even more promising:
"Influential political and religious figures within the leadership
of Iraq's minority Sunnis are displaying sharp divisions on how to end what
they all agree is an unacceptable U.S. occupation of Iraq. …
"The increasingly prevalent view is that the United States is not only
part of the problem, but that it can become part of the solution. That perspective
was explained by an influential religious sheik (Abed al-Latif Hemaiym), who
has in the past been close to dictator Saddam Hussein. …
"'The time has come to solve the problem between us and the Americans, and
through the minimum cost,' said the soft-spoken sheik. …
"'There is a historical opportunity to get out of this bloodshed and reach
peace. We can reach peace [only] through dialogue,' he said.
"He pointed out that Sunnis had suffered severely in the two years
of conflict since armed insurgency began, noting, 'We are the main losers, then
the Americans, while the main winners are the Iranians.'"
That summary of the war's results is right on the money.
The question is whether Washington will grasp this opportunity before it fades
away. It means halting our war against the Ba'athists and nationalists, in what
would be an acceptance of local defeat. But it opens the door to a potential
strategic victory against our real enemies, Islamic non-state forces such as
al-Qaeda. If, subsequent to an American deal with the Ba'athists, they root
al-Qaeda out of Iraq, it will be a greater win for us than if we defeated al-Qaeda
ourselves, because it will have been beaten by fellow Arabs and Muslims. That
strikes directly at al-Qaeda's legitimacy.
If the Bush administration means what Mr. Bush said, that the only choices
are victory or defeat, then it will let this heaven-sent opportunity pass. We
will continue to pursue unattainable victory until we are totally defeated.
Let us hope the president's speech was just the usual eyewash for domestic consumption,
and somewhere adults are working for the negotiated settlement we so desperately
need and which now may be within reach.