Sunday, February 24, 2008

Victory in Iraq?
Mike Rappaport

Charles Krauthammer makes the case that victory is achieveable in Iraq.  He says, "After agonizing years of searching for the right strategy and the right general, we are winning."  He also notes that the Democrats refuse to admit the significant progress.

I have not heard much from intelligent war critics recently.  I am genuinely curious what they would say.  I know all about their arguments that there should not have been a war, that it has been fought incompetently (no argument there), or that it has not been worth it.  The question is whether they deny that victory is realistically achieveable.  Really.

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Mike Rappaport




Please think this conclusion over again; fought imperfectly, yes; but from a military perspective our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have been, as so many but not all in the military agree, "flawed masterpieces." Exactly what past US war are you comparing these two wars to that you find incompetence? Compared to the Rev War, the War of 1812, the Civil War, WW I, WW II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, this is military virtuosity. Given we are fighting paramilitary terrorists/suicideal nihilists who blend in with the civilian population, the war thus far has been overwhelmingly effective. With annual military deaths only marginally greater than during the Carter Administration (no war), we've conquered and pacified two countries with relatively hostile populations totalling ~60 million people. We are killing the enemy at a rate of 25-1 and were we not trying, and succeeding, to win over the hearts and minds of the civilian population by nobly exposing our soldiers to more risk than we might so as to lessen civilian casualties, that would be 100-1 or more.

Mistakes ... in hindsight? hundreds of them, some big, most small. But that is true in every military engagement. For every mistake in Iraq and Afghanistan, there were 10 times as many in WW II (beginning with letting Hitler re-arm in violation of our bilateral treaty with him, the Treaty of Berlin of 1922 and letting the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor despite intelligence warnings).

Rumsfeld is perhaps the greatest Secretary of Defense in U.S. history if one compares him to other Secretaries-of-Defense, war-time or peace-time.


Posted by: The Objective Historian | Feb 24, 2008 1:47:27 AM


Just a follow up anticipating your objections if you read my post. There is what I consider the absurd view that more troops initially would have made a large difference. Finding would-be terrorists and secreted weapons and explosive caches with double or the triple the soldiers would have only been marginally effective. Meanwhile, double, triple the soldiers on the ground means double, triple the targets for suicide bombers and IEDs. That is double, triple the casualties. Unfortunately, the only somewhat effective tactic the Sunni insurgents and Al-Qaeda could employ are the ones the did employ. And they were effective at killing U.S. soldiers and Iraqi collaborators and Iraq civilians. But strategically, they were meaningless. We remain in control of Iraq. Their only hope was to convince the U.S. public that this was a quagmire for long enough that we'd withdraw from the casualty total.

But blaming Bush and Rumsfeld for our enemies tactic is inappropriate. It would be like blaming FDR and Admiral Nimitz for kamikaze pilots and their effectiveness. There is not much one can do but fight back as well as one can. That is what we did in the Pacific theater in WW II - sustaining far more casualties to say the least. That is what we are doing now, finally, hopefully, exhausting our enemy. I hope that video from Bin Laden was a cry of frustration; I think he thought that if he sustained the horror he created to the 2006 elections he would win.

The points are simply this: 1) the facts on the ground mandated an invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq on many levels - that is why 2/3s of Congress approved it ... we were patient for so long, but enough was enough; Saddam was threat because we had overwhelming reason to be convinced he was a threat and he would not cooperate in dispelling that conviction - in fact he claimed to have WMD. 2) The war has been a military masterpiece; mistakes don't make for incompetence and hindsight evaluations are not appropriate to judge incompetence. Overall contextual success proves effectiveness and decisions based on the best information in the fog of war - including an awareness in an on-going way of the uncertainties of the fog of war - should be the basis for evaluating Bush and Rumsfeld.


Posted by: The Objective Historian | Feb 24, 2008 10:52:52 AM

The parochialism inherent in finding merit in "the most federal state in the entire Arab world" just makes me wince, as does his acclaim for bits of legislation. The fact that all the deadbeats in American politics seem to wish ill of the military's efforts there must be very galling for you. But I find it hard to see what there could be that would merit the name "victory" and be remotely likely to happen for any useful length of time. Pity, but there it is.

Posted by: dearieme | Feb 24, 2008 1:23:08 PM

In response to:

The Objective Historian: I am quite sympathetic to the fallacy of Monday Morning Quarterbacking. But, as I have said before, it is not Monday Morning Quarterbacking when you criticize the calls during the game on Sunday. When the Bush Administration did not respond to Fallujah, when they voluntarily let Sadr get away, when they refused to add troops early on, I immediately said, "what the hell are they doing?" It was obvious to me that these were mistakes at the time and I stand by these judgments. I could list many others. I don't think one has to get every decision right, but these and others were obvious errors.

Dearime: Let's start with defining victory as a state that employs (1) representative government, (2) federalism, and (3) significant respect for pluralism, the rule of law, and human rights. It would seem that Iraq is well on its way towards the first two. As to the third, I would like to hear more, but my sense is that at the least Iraq does better on this than most Middle Eastern states and perhaps does quite a bit better than they do. Even if they don't do so well now, one can certainly envision significant progress if the positive developments continue. If this is not a satisfactory definition of victory, then what would be?

Posted by: Mike Rappaport | Feb 24, 2008 8:30:38 PM

Mike, number (2) seems to be a confusion of ends with means. For none of (1), (2) nor (3) do you say how long you want the state of affairs to persist. If it collapses within a few months of US withdrawal (I take it that US withdrawal is an implicit number (4)?)then victory won't have been achieved, will it? If it lasted 50 years, then that is a victory - perhaps not a victory worth the cost, but a victory none the less. Should there also be a number (5) viz that the Iraq left behind should be capable of defending its borders? Anyway, my guess is that the chances of your getting (1), (2) and (3) for any useful length of time in any Arab Muslim state is about zero. One reason, though only one, is that the very expression "human rights" seems to me to be an evasion of a truth.

Posted by: dearieme | Feb 25, 2008 4:59:24 AM


Thanks for reading and responding; I really apprciate it. And I'll check regarding this post. But I think you missed the point. Mistakes, real-time and in hindsight, occur in every military campaign. Mistakes do not make for incompetence as a matter of reasoned analysis. To determine incompetence one must compare this military campaign to others in the past. By that comparison Iraq and Afghanistan are masterpieces. By analogy, the Boston Red Sox made 80 errors this past year (actually I have no idea). Did they play baseball incompetently? No; one must compare them to the other seasons and other teams. They played baseball masterfully.

My main point is that for every 1 mistake these past 5 years, there were 10-20 in WW I and WW II. It says some thing when the annual military death toll since March 2003 is only about 10% higher than during the 1977-1981 presidency of Jimmy Carter in which we fought no wars (only the frustrated rescue attempt of US hostages in Iran).

You see mistakes and accuse Bush and Rumsfeld of being incompetent. What about the masterful managment of the campaign other than the mistakes you indicate, this despite having to endure suicide bombers and IEDs from paramilitants dressed as local venders, etc. (and now sending Down syndrome children) AND despite having to win over the hearts and mind of a religiously based hostile population that has had state controlled media for 30 years. And remember, the Soviets had something like 70,000 casualties in Afghanistan (I think that without checking to confirm) and had to retreat.

Even an "A" test score has 5% mistakes.

War is hard; Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld have done magnificently by historical comparisons.

The Objective Historian

Posted by: The Objective Historian | Feb 26, 2008 8:10:22 PM