Saturday, April 21, 2007

Can the US "lose" the Iraq war?

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid got himself into trouble with the usual suspects by saying that the Iraq war has already been lost. Ross Douthat takes note of their reaction and asks whether there are any conceivable situation in which these people would admit a loss.

This may be one of those occasions where the insane people are right, and the sane ones -- like Douthat and Reid -- are wrong. The US really cannot "lose" the Iraq war, for the same reason it can't win. Victory and loss alike require some realizable/frustratable set of political goals. These are precisely what are lacking in Iraq.

Certainly, the US can, if it is prepared to expend the resources, prevent an unfriendly government from coming to power in Baghdad. But it cannot -- without a political settlement beyond its ability to broker -- create an effective state there, let alone the absurd neocon vision of a pro-Israel democracy. Moreover, by any reasonable metric of national interest, an unfriendly government in Baghdad would represent a huge improvement from the point-of-view of the US on the status quo.

Americans don't like defeatists. Since "victory" and "defeat" are equally category errors when applied to Iraq, Reid would be better off saying that the US has already won and it is time for the boys and girls to come home.

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