President Bush says we must achieve victory in
Iraq. What is "victory?" The dictionary defines it as defeating an
enemy or an opponent. Under this definition, the problem becomes simply knowing
what it means to defeat the enemy.
Consider history. We were certainly victorious in World War II; both Germany
and Japan surrendered to our troops. World War I, on the other hand, ended in
an armistice, a truce to discuss peace. The Allied Powers largely dictated the
that followed. Most people would consider that a victory. In contrast, the Korean
War ended with an armistice as well, but no peace treaty followed. Technically
the United States, together with South Korea, is still at war with North Korea.
No victory there.
The war in Vietnam was
equally ambiguous. During 1971, while the U.S. was negotiating with the North,
it was withdrawing American troops. By 1972, virtually all combat soldiers were
out of the area, and in January 1973, a peace accord with North Vietnam was
signed. The U.S promised the South aid and air support; but, with the burgeoning
Watergate scandal, bombing of the North became impossible and aid was sharply
cut. As we know, Congress eliminated all military aid in 1974; at the end of
April of that year, Saigon fell to the North, ending the war. Certainly, that
was no victory.
Many wars do not result in unambiguous victory for one side or the other. Fatigue,
a recognition that the cost of total victory is too high, or the prospect of
endless conflict leads the players to agree on a cease-fire. Just last month,
Israel realized that the cost of
its invasion of Lebanon was more than it had bargained for and agreed to
a cessation of hostilities. Initially, the Jewish state had announced its aim
as freeing the two soldiers captured by Hezbollah, disarming that organization,
and removing it from a position in which it could threaten Israel. It achieved
none of those aims but still declared victory. Following that lead, President
George W. Bush could declare victory in Iraq. Whether one wishes to view Israel
or the United States as a victor depends on whether the glass is half full or
The president has often contended that we must continue the fight until we
have achieved victory in the war on terror. However, since we are fighting insurgents,
terrorists, and other ad hoc groups, how will be know when we have achieved
victory? Unlike World War II, there will be no one to surrender to us. Even
if Osama bin Laden
were to surrender, an impossibility, it would not mean victory in the war on
terrorism. Others could and would take up the role of attacking the West. Unlike
all the other wars and conflicts described above, there is no way to win the
war on terrorism except by converting those who hate the West to tolerance,
a task not easily achieved by shooting at or bombing them.
Last week in Salt Lake City, President
Bush said, "The security of the civilized world depends on victory in the
war on terror, and that depends on victory in Iraq, so America will not leave
until victory is achieved." If we cannot have victory in the war on terror,
can we at least achieve victory in Iraq? It is difficult to see what that would
mean. There is no one who could, by surrendering, stop the killing.
It is conceivable, although unlikely, that the government of Iraq could dampen
the burgeoning civil war and stop the insurgency. That would permit the president
to claim victory. The White House is predicting and counting on this outcome.
Civil strife in Iraq, however, is growing, not diminishing. Private militias
are playing a greater role in Iraqi life than ever before. Even if force could
stop the violence, the country would still be headed toward disintegration.
The Kurdish north has ordered Iraqi flags to be taken down and Kurdish flags
flown. It has asserted the right to issue drilling permits to oil companies.
It claims Kirkuk, a multi-ethnic city consisting of Arabs – some Sunni and some
Shia – Turkmens, and, of course, Kurds. Even if the fighting were suppressed,
conflict over Kirkuk and Kurdish autonomy would be likely to re-ignite the killing.
In the south, many Shias want the autonomy that the Kurds have in the north.
The Sunnis will oppose this strongly, if for no other reason than that it will
leave them without any oil or revenue from oil. Notwithstanding their opposition,
fragmentation of Iraq seems the most likely outcome.
Given this situation, do we "stay the course" as George W. Bush urges,
"cut and run" as Gen.
William E. Odom recommends, or put a timetable on our stay and start to
phase out our troops, as many Democrats recommend?
Currently, we are losing about two soldiers a day, plus another 20 wounded.
If we stay another year, we can estimate that over 700 additional Americans
will die, and 7,000 others will be wounded and/or suffer psychological trauma.
Iraqis are dying at a much higher rate, between 50 and 100 a day, or between
18,000 and 36,000 a year. If we follow the recommendations of phasing out our
stay and ending it by the start of 2008, we will still lose another 1,000 soldiers.
On the other hand, if we follow the president's policy, we can expect to see,
by the end of his term, about 1,800 more soldiers killed and perhaps as many
as 20,000 mutilated. In addition, there will be close to 100,000 more Iraqi
deaths. Current policies in Iraq are also decimating our military. The army
has had to lower its standards, and, for the first time in years, the Defense
Department has had to call up Marines from the Individual Ready Reserve.
To staff our Army and Marines adequately, the U.S. may have to resort to the
Is it worth it? We cannot expect that the Iraqi government in that short time
will get its act together sufficiently to put down the violence and prevent
a civil war. As indicated above, just settling Kirkuk may be impossible, and
it will certainly take a long time to work out any solution.
The last century has witnessed a large number of insurgencies. Almost without
exception, they have been bloody, taken a long time to resolve, and, more often
than not, resulted in a loss by the governing power. Algeria
and the French (eight years), the
Philippines and the United States (14 years), Northern
Ireland and the British (about 30 years), and the Basques
and the Spanish national government (about 40 years) are examples of attempts
by some groups to overthrow or throw out the existing rulers.
It seems likely, therefore, that victory in Iraq, that is, a stable Iraqi government
ruled by Shias, would take 10 or more years to accomplish. The cost over the
next 10 years would be about 7,000 more American deaths and around 75,000 additional
casualties. Who believes that victory is worth the grief of the parents, siblings,
husbands, wives, and children of those who will die and those who will be maimed
or devastated for life?