I really hate to break it to Michael Barone, William Kristol, Kenneth Pollack, Michael O'Hanlon, and other triumphalists, but the United States is not "winning" in Iraq (whatever that means) and George W. Bush's "surge strategy" is a failure and a fraud.
I don't know if Kristol, Barone, Pollack, and O'Hanlon think it is "good" news that the Iraqi Defense Minister, Abdul Qadir, while making the usual rounds in Washington power circles announced recently that he wants American troops to stay in Iraq at least until the year 2018. Or that he has given the Pentagon a "shopping list" for huge amounts of American military equipment including helicopters, warplanes, reconnaissance vehicles, tanks, artillery, and armored personnel carriers. Maybe these commentators think Mr. Qadir's request of the American taxpayers (who have already spent over $700 billion on his country) is a sign of "progress."
Or maybe Kristol, Barone, Pollack, and O'Hanlon believe that it's good news that dozens of high-ranking members of the Sunni "Awakening Councils," the tribal sheiks the U.S. bought off with millions of taxpayer dollars in bribes, have been assassinated in recent months, including Judge Amir Jawdat al-Naeeb, who was considered one of Iraq's most important jurists. These optimists see "victory" in everything that happens in Iraq, including the targeted assassinations of lawyers, doctors, professors, and other professionals who are identified with the U.S.-backed Baghdad government.
Or maybe these armchair warriors believe that it is a sign of "success" that a suicide bomber killed Col. Riyadh al-Samarrai, a founder of the Sunni "Awakening Council" in Adhamiya. Or that a suicide bomber recently struck the offices of the "Sunni Endowment," and the blast was accompanied by a nearly simultaneous car bombing just yards away killing 14 people and wounding 18 others. Or maybe Kristol, Barone, Pollack, and O'Hanlon think it's really a sign that the U.S. is "winning" that ten days ago gunmen riding in a single car brandished pistols with silencers and killed Ismael Abbas, a leader of the "Awakening" movement in Shaab. Or that also in Shaab gunmen kidnapped eight "Awakening Council" guards, and that 13 bodies were found strewn about the city, all of them killed at close range. Or maybe these sage pundits believe it is a "good" sign that American troops recently found five severed heads near Baquba each of which had scrawled in blood on their foreheads an Arabic warning to other Iraqis not to cooperate with the Americans.
Or maybe Kristol, Barone, Pollack, and O'Hanlon think it is good news that in Iraq's rural "Breadbasket," Diyala province, thousands of American troops and their trained Iraqis have met with such ferocious resistance from insurgents that the U.S. decided to drop over 40,000 pounds of ordnance on the area after 6 Americans were killed in a booby-trapped "house bomb." Maybe these commentators think it's a "positive" sign that after nearly 5 years of occupation the U.S. military must rely on B-1 bombers, F-16 aircraft, and helicopter gunships to attack poorly armed insurrectos hiding out in Diyala.
Or perhaps Kristol, Barone, Pollack, and O'Hanlon see a silver lining in the fact that in the days prior to the American/Iraqi assault on Diyala the insurgents had been tipped off by informants within the ranks of the Iraqi military giving them ample time to flee in advance and litter the area with deadly booby traps.
Or maybe Kristol, Barone, Pollack, and O'Hanlon believe it is evidence that Bush's "surge" is "working" because the year 2007 was the deadliest year for American troops.
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Or maybe these war boosters think it's terrific that U.S. officials don't even know what to call the people they are fighting: Are they "insurgents?" Or "extremists?" "Terrorists?" Or "militants?" Pentagon spokespeople use these terms interchangeably. And after years of being told that the Pentagon doesn't "do" body counts, Kristol, Barone, Pollack, and O'Hanlon all point to the decrease in Americans coming home in body bags as tangible evidence of "progress" in Iraq. I guess the Pentagon doesn't "do" body counts if the bodies being counted are Iraqis.
Kristol, Barone, Pollack, O'Hanlon and their ilk might also believe it is wonderful news that the U.S. has sent Marine officers into Anbar province to dole out millions of dollars in cash to tribal sheiks to buy their loyalty by financing non-existent "development" projects without any means of accounting for how this taxpayer money is used.
Or maybe Kristol, Barone, Pollack, and O'Hanlon are enthralled by "Operation Phantom Phoenix," the Pentagon's most recent attempt to subdue those areas north of Baghdad where the insurgency is strong. Or maybe they see the U.S. "winning" because there's been a series of horrific suicide bombings, assassinations, and car bombings that have killed and maimed hundreds of people in Baghdad in recent months.
Those who claim the United States is "winning" in Iraq must define exactly what they mean by "winning." Does "win" mean we have a pro-U.S. government successfully running Baghdad without American military assistance? Or does "winning" mean the U.S. stays in Iraq until 2018 or 2025 or 2085 or longer? Or does "winning" mean the Iraqis accomplish some form of lasting "reconciliation" among the various political, tribal, religious, ethnic, and class factions? Or does "winning" simply mean that more Iraqis die in the fighting than Americans? What exactly has the United State accomplished in Iraq? In other words, I wonder what Kristol, Barone, Pollack, and O'Hanlon think the U.S. has gotten for all of those taxpayer billions and American lives thrown at that country.
In addition to these pro-war pundits, all of the Republican presidential candidates who advocate continuing the occupation of Iraq must define for the American people what their idea of "winning" means. The current status quo in Iraq could lumber along in the form of what we used to call "low intensity conflict" for decades or even centuries.
Joseph A. Palermo is Assistant Professor of History at CSUS.
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