The Definition of "Win"

"I suggested that we were losing the war," Adelman said. "What was astonishing to me was the number of Iraqi professional people who were leaving the country. People were voting with their feet, and I said that it looked like we needed a Plan B. I said, 'What’s the alternative? Because what we’re doing now is just losing.'"

Adelman said that Rumsfeld didn't take to the message well. "He was in deep denial—deep, deep denial. And then he did a strange thing. He did fifteen or twenty minutes of posing questions to himself, and then answering them. He made the statement that we can only lose the war in America, that we can’t lose it in Iraq. And I tried to interrupt this interrogatory soliloquy to say, 'Yes, we are actually losing the war in Iraq.' He got upset and cut me off. He said, 'Excuse me,' and went right on with it."
The line emphasized above has received a fair amount of attention, mainly as evidence of how out-of-touch old Rummy has been. I find that odd because, in my opinion, the line is quite true -- at least, from a certain perspective.

One thing I've heard often about Vietnam is that "we could have won, if they'd let us take the gloves off" . . . that is, if the government had just been willing to pour more resources into the conflict, to call in the bigger guns, to kill more and more and more -- if we'd only been ready to turn all of Indochina into a lifeless pile of ash -- we could have come out victorious. We could have won.

Of course, that implies quite a twisted definition of the word win. I do not think it means what they think it means.

If you're working, as many apparently are, from the assumption that we need to fight and win in Iraq because to do otherwise would be seen as weakness, then sure, we can win in Iraq. We can kill every man, woman, and child in the country, if need be -- then declare ourselves the winners, and leave in our own time. Really, we won't even need to kill everybody, only the people that want us to leave. In fact, we don't even need to go that far. We only need to kill the people who say we should leave. Then we can leave. (Or stay, because at that point, why shouldn't we stay?)

Indeed, if this is the goal, it's quite true that we can't lose the war in Iraq. Given the time and the money, we certainly have the means of killing that many people. The question is -- and the second part of Rumsfeld's comment asks -- will the American people stand for that?

No. They won't. Period. The prospect is too abhorrent for people to even contemplate seriously. And, more importantly, people recognize what such an act would do to our standing in the world, how it would feed into terrorist recruitment and work against the stated purpose of the War on Terror.

That's why the administration has worked so hard to convince us that it's not the Iraqi people who are opposed to us, but a relative handful of foreign fighters eager to attack America wherever they can. That's a war we can get behind. That's a war where we can argue for the enemy's total annihilation. That's a war worth winning.

Unfortunately, it's also bullshit.

Winning in Iraq, despite what the administration would have us believe, is not merely a matter of being bigger and stronger and destroying bad guys. Winning in Iraq requires letting the people of Iraq develop some sort of stable government(s) which will keep order and protect the people who live there and -- most importantly -- doesn't depend on despotism or the support of our military might for its authority and survival.

This is a much trickier proposition than "simply killing the bad guys" -- because under this definition of win, it's most certainly possible that we could lose in Iraq. Indeed, it's possible that we already have, but chances are the situation can still be salvaged -- if the administration is willing. It will require shifting emphasis away from shows of strength and handouts to US contractors, and toward diplomacy and negotiation -- which will undoubtedly anger the "kill 'em all" demographic and those who've internalized the administration's propaganda up to this point.

On the other hand, this definition doesn't require nearly as many Iraqi or American deaths as the administration's definition does, so that's a plus.

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