Sarah Palin’s acceptance speech at the Republican convention made a couple of mentions of a concept of victory in Iraq and how her political opponents didn’t want it or didn’t recognize that we are “close” to achieving it.
Which makes me wonder what, exactly, the victory conditions are for us when it comes to Iraq.
The new regime in Iraq is plagued by a number of problems, but the top one has to be that it cannot reasonably expect to secure itself from internal or external threats to its own continued existence. It requires the continued — and continual — presence of security forces to assure its own existence. Victory cannot mean that we will soon come to a point where we can hand over both control and responsibility to the new Iraqi government. If we want that government to continue, we have to either provide troops to continue to help secure it, or convince allies to do that in our stead. How long will it be before the new Iraqi government has even the poor prospects for stability of other middle-eastern governments? We are certainly talking years, and possibly decades, before that state of affairs is likely to come about, if it comes about at all.
Maybe Palin is talking about Iraq ceasing to be a magnet for insurgent forces and terrorist personnel. Again, this doesn’t appear to be anything that we can say will happen in terms of days, weeks, or months. The bungling of the Iraq war was inherent in its conception as a showcase for a high-technology, hands-off, stand-off sort of affair with minimal involvement of ground troops with irregular forces. That’s the war Rumsfield planned for, but you don’t get the war you plan for, you get the war your enemy makes for you. A problem in Iraq had to do with the fact that there wasn’t a singular enemy to be defeated; Saddam Hussein was simply the top of a regime that itself kept the lid on a number of factional disputes that had long been simmering. The removal of Hussein’s regime simply allowed all of those to come to the fore and start interacting with our forces, and since our forces had no intention of allowing them free reign to pursue each of those disputes, our forces became targets of them, too. There’s plenty of what-ifs to go around, but it seems certain that Rumsfield and the Bush administration failed to heed the old saw about quality, and bought a shoddy war thinking that they were getting a bargain. The USA gets to shell out for that spectacular failure in judgment, and will be shelling out for a long time to come.
It seems to me that what Palin is referring to as victory is simply a possibility that defeat is not immediately in the offing, as it seemed might be the case just a couple of years ago. Adding more US troops helped shore up the security situation such that the new Iraqi regime need not be described as teetering on the brink of collapse, but it hasn’t turned everything bright and rosy.
Considering moral issues instead of pragmatic politics doesn’t improve things. The conduct of the war has not distinguished our forces from the terrorists we claim to be our targets. We capitulated any claim to moral superiority early on, and have not acknowledged that there was a problem to be corrected since. The decision to devalue the lives of non-citizens did not proceed without damage to how citizens are valued by the agents of our government. The corrosive nature of this moral turpitude that we adopted is nowhere clearer than in the loss of personal freedoms for our own citizens, covered over with mistaken labels invoking patriotism. The Republican nominee, who should understand the basic injustice against human dignity that torture represents, failed to stand up for that dignity, and instead connived with our current administration in their attacks upon it. Candidates for various positions of both parties, though, have found it convenient to extend the current administration’s policy of denying — not merely failing to protect — the free speech rights of those who disagree with them. “Free-speech zones” are no such thing, as removal to where one will neither be seen or heard by those one disagrees with is straightforward denial of free speech.
Iraq’s future, rightly or wrongly, is now a responsibility that we as a nation have taken on. We may eventually, with massive expenditure of money and heartbreaking loss in lives, help ensure the security of the regime there that we made possible. But to reduce this complex issue to the jingoism inherent in Palin’s “victory” rhetoric is an insult to those who have given their lives in the war and to ourselves, our children, and very likely our grand-children, whose livelihoods have been yoked to the burden of paying for every advance made or defeat endured. We deserve leadership who can assess actual situations, not techno-fantasies as this war’s architects indulged in, and come to a sober assessment of benefits, costs, and risks, and be willing to abandon convenient political equations to secure our best interests. Sarah Palin’s speech shows a facile command of cheap rhetoric; it does not demonstrate the resolve or ability needed to fix the mess that she would be inheriting from the current administration.
PS: After writing this, I had a look around and found a similar topic in Slate