Foreign policy is not theology…A foreign policy that might have been wise crumbles if the cost becomes prohibitive.
— Journalist Fareed Zakaria
We are now committed to a favorable outcome in Iraq, but it must be understood that this will require long-term assistance or our efforts will be in vain.
— Former Congressman and Secretary of Defense Melvin R. Laird
Iraq is a horrible conundrum. We are losing the war we wage there. The period when the final results of our efforts in the Persian Gulf were in question is long past. Yet, it also seems clear, we could win in Iraq. Our own history shows again and again that circumstances of a high order of magnitude rarely present themselves that we do not have the ability to overcome. In this circumstance, we are our own worst enemy.
We will lose Iraq not because we are unable to defeat 15,000 insurgents. Nor will we lose Iraq because we, as a nation, fear casualties. We will lose Iraq because the Bush administration manipulated intelligence to create a false justification for war; the planning for the war failed to account for the aftermath of the inevitable collapse of the Iraqi regime and its military; the American military refuses to develop effective strategies for defeating an insurgency, despite having gone down this road previously in South Vietnam; and the American people, awakening to all of these realities and more about the war in Iraq, no longer have the patience or confidence in our leadership to allow our expeditionary forces the time that would be necessary to prevail. Simply put, the war no longer looks like it is worth the cost of winning to a majority of Americans.
What would be happening in Iraq today were the conditions listed above reversed? Would the war effort benefit from honesty and competency from the leadership of this nation? For that matter, would we have invaded Iraq at all? Or consider this: How much does the insurgency factor in our travails? To be sure, they are our adversaries. The insurgency is hotly contesting the stability of the entire country. But they are more dependent on American attitudes at home than their performance against our troops. They are also more concerned with spreading chaos among the wider populace of Iraq through bombings, kidnappings, assassinations, and other tactics than they are with openly engaging Americans. It is the insurgency’s visibility around the world outside of Iraq that is their greatest weapon. Every time a roadside bomb blows up a vehicle and kills Iraqis, world opinion sours a little more against the Americans. Every time an American vehicle is the one destroyed, our will at home is tested that much more. Could the insurgency still succeed by being more lethal yet its results marginally visible? Not likely. This type of reversal only tips the attrition of wills that the war has become back in our favor.
Indeed, it is reasonable to assume the insurgency has coupled its strategy of a chaotic Iraq to the shifting sands of American willpower. Therefore, they can delight in the bright light of truth penetrating the collective consciousness of American society.
Support our troops is the refrain stuck onto the windows of cars from Portland, Maine to San Diego, California, its plea becoming more ominous and desperate as the months go by, and American bodies continue to pile up in Iraq.
We have been misled. We have been victimized by a neocon orthodoxy whose ideas became morally bankrupt the very second lies were necessary to sell this war.
Ultimately, we will lose in Iraq because the decision has been made: this war must end. The discontents are now the majority. The scale of dissent pales in comparison to that of four decades ago, but this country’s overall disgust towards the war is palpable and unmistakable.
The great mysteries of the next ten years are the fate of Iraq (or whatever state emerges from this conflict), and the war’s long term effects on American national security and foreign policy. The war has vaulted anti-Americanism into a pandemic of rage, the streets of Iraq its proving ground.
The new reality for America after Iraq will be one of reckoning. We will have to deal with the continued war on terror, re-energized by the new jihadists from Mesopotamia, as well as with a worldwide loss of trust. The “go it alone” cowboy mentality that has led us into the wrong war at the wrong time unfortunately will hinder our ability to wage wars of necessity in the future. Once friendly nations will be wary, allies will become reluctant, and no matter the justification or degree of our will, we will be condemned as imperialists in the eyes of the peoples of the world.