Is the Iraq War Lost?

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) triggered a political firestorm recently when he said that "this war is lost," and a Washington-ABC News poll released two weeks ago reported that 53 percent of those asked said the United States is losing . Outlook asked some key figures in the Iraq debate whether Reid is right.

Yes As long as we see Iraq as ours to win or lose, confuse military victory with Iraqi legitimacy, build walls in the middle of the night, play whack-a-mole with province-hopping insurgents and jihadis, and deny space to the political center, then we lose.

-- Barbara K. Bodine, a former ambassador and a coordinator

for post-conflict reconstruction for Baghdad and central Iraq in 2003

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No There has been a dramatic decrease in sectarian violence; the situation in Anbar province and within the Sunni community in general has been transformed; the Maliki government has been incredibly supportive of efforts to go after Shiite militiamen. But it's going to be a long, hard slog.

-- Frederick W. Kagan, American Enterprise Institute;

proponent of the recent surge

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Yes The troubles of Iraq are rooted in its ethnic and sectarian geography, its intolerant and authoritarian political culture and the futility of trying to accelerate democratization at gunpoint. The bravery and sacrifices of U.S. troops can, at best, delay some of the unfortunate consequences of a mistaken expedition.

-- Paul R. Pillar, former deputy chief, CIA Counterterrorist Center

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Not yet Some people will say the Yankees have lost if they're down in the eighth inning. They'll get in their cars and leave. But some people will stay until the last pitch. It's not lost until we collectively decide it's lost. The question is, how much are you willing to pay?

-- Paul Rieckhoff, Army platoon leader in Baghdad, 2003-04

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Yes We persist in applying a conventional military mindset to an unconventional war. The "surge" is more of the same. Until we change our approach and reduce our big footprint, Iraq's future is as bleak as Iraq's present.

-- Bruce Hoffman, Georgetown University; adviser, Iraq Study Group

No Many said Anbar province was "lost" six months ago. Today, local tribes are cooperating with us to fight al-Qaeda. Iraqis, with our help, are confronting the sectarian violence in Baghdad, seeking to take back their capital so they can pursue political reconciliation.

-- Stephen J. Hadley, national security adviser

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Yes This dilemma is agonizingly like Vietnam. Once a majority of Americans understood that we could not win (short of the outright conquest of North Vietnam), we struggled to find ways to leave. Our departure did not undermine but enhanced our national security.

-- Robert Dallek, presidential historian

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No The war is not lost -- no more than it was in winter 1776, July 1864, December 1945 or November 1950. The challenge is winning back hearts and minds at home, rather than in Iraq, where brave thousands join us each day to fight an evil sort the likes of which we haven't seen in recent memory.

-- Victor Davis Hanson, military historian, Hoover Institution

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Yes, but We can't achieve our original objectives. But we still have compelling interests in denying a haven to al-Qaeda, averting genocide in Iraq and not breaking the Army and Marine ground forces. We have to draw down, but we cannot withdraw.

-- Nathaniel Fick, former Marine infantry officer in Afghanistan and Iraq

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It's up to you The Iraq war is lost or won if the American people choose to lose or win it. With the way things are going at the moment, I perfectly understand why they might choose to give up on the war. But that is not because the war is inherently unwinnable by a country as great and rich and powerful as the United States.

-- Kanan Makiya, Iraqi scholar who supported the U.S. invasion

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