The Real Choice in Iraq
"Bring 'em on."
-- President Bush on Iraqi insurgents, summer 2003
The insurgency is "in its last throes."
-- Vice President Cheney,
" . . . there are only two options before our country: victory or defeat."
-- President Bush, Christmas 2005
The administration's rhetorical devolution speaks for itself. Yet, with some luck and with a more open decision-making process in the White House, greater political courage on the part of Democratic leaders and even some encouragement from authentic Iraqi leaders, the U.S. war in Iraq could (and should) come to an end within a year.
"Victory or defeat" is, in fact, a false strategic choice. In using this formulation, the president would have the American people believe that their only options are either "hang in and win" or "quit and lose." But the real, practical choice is this: "persist but not win" or "desist but not lose."
Victory, as defined by the administration and its supporters -- i.e., a stable and secular democracy in a unified Iraqi state, with the insurgency crushed by the American military assisted by a disciplined, U.S.-trained Iraqi national army -- is unlikely. The U.S. force required to achieve it would have to be significantly larger than the present one, and the Iraqi support for a U.S.-led counterinsurgency would have to be more motivated. The current U.S. forces (soon to be reduced) are not large enough to crush the anti-American insurgency or stop the sectarian Sunni-Shiite strife. Both problems continue to percolate under an inconclusive but increasingly hated foreign occupation.
Moreover, neither the Shiites nor the Kurds are likely to subordinate their specific interests to a unified Iraq with a genuine, single national army. As the haggling over the new government has already shown, the two dominant forces in Iraq -- the religious Shiite alliance and the separatist Kurds -- share a common interest in preventing a restoration of Sunni domination, with each determined to retain a separate military capacity for asserting its own specific interests, largely at the cost of the Sunnis. A truly national army in that context is a delusion. Continuing doggedly to seek "a victory" in that fashion dooms America to rising costs in blood and money, not to mention the intensifying Muslim hostility and massive erosion of America's international legitimacy, credibility and moral reputation.
The administration's definition of "defeat" is similarly misleading. Official and unofficial spokesmen often speak in terms that recall the apocalyptic predictions made earlier regarding the consequences of American failure to win in Vietnam: dominoes falling, the region exploding and U.S. power discredited. An added touch is the notion that the Iraqi insurgents will then navigate the Atlantic and wage terrorism on the American homeland.