At this very moment, American troops are engaged in a running gun battle with the Mahdi Army in Sadr City, Baghdad. In order to push Moqtada al-Sadr’s control of the area back to a point where his militia’s rockets lack the range to reach the Green Zone, where the American embassy and Iraqi government offices lie, a decision was made to take on Sadr’s forces in a sort of follow up to ongoing actions in Basra. In a disturbing instance that is becoming an alarming trend, Iraqi troops, allied with the Americans, abandoned their positions in the middle of the fight, leaving U.S. forces to face the brunt of Mahdi resistance.

Fighting has been fierce; ground hard won. A wall is being built along the furthest reach of American occupation in Sadr City, with the idea that Sadr will consent to this being the southern terminus of his area of control in Baghdad. Presumably, the Americans will turn over security of the barrier to Iraqi government troops, who will be tasked with preventing insurgent re-infiltration into areas which threaten the Green Zone.

One American commander, while addressing his troops, said the prefabricated concrete wall would be “sort of like Berlin” in its purpose, forgetting that the Berlin wall was built by the communists to keep East Germans from escaping into freedom, not to protect the fragile western enclave of the city.

Recently, President Bush announced that at least 140,000 American troops will remain in Iraq through the rest of his presidency; troop levels above what they were when the surge began in January of 2007. When United States Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and General David Petraeus testified in front of Congress, in a mandated progress report, they could not, or would not, define conditions that would allow withdrawal of American forces from the country. Yesterday, during a press conference with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, President Bush was asked how he would define success in Iraq. He responded, “So long as I’m the president, my measure of success is victory, and success.”

Despite the drop in violence that accompanied the surge, it is clear that there is still no strategic plan for victory in Iraq, no conditions to be met by which victory can be declared, and no conditions which will mean we have lost, other than withdrawal without victory. Catch-22. Our leaders seem to be operating under the premise that they will know victory when they see it.

The drop in violence in Iraq was good news. With the recent actions, and a tick upwards in insurgent attacks, that drop appears to be over. The chaos of 2006 seems a distant memory, unlikely to return with as much fury, but the surge appears to have accomplished all that it can, leaving the United States in the same position as before, albeit less bloodied. We may not be as obviously in the weeds as we were previously. Instead, we have carved out a niche of stalemate. This is only better than outright losing in that there is less death, but it still means that insurgent forces have the upper hand. While what success is for us is anybody’s guess, success for the insurgency is not losing. And they are not losing. This is evidenced by the facts on the ground, and by our leadership’s inability to tell us what it means to win in Iraq.

Of course there are conditions for victory in Iraq. The most important ones are as follows: An end to the violence. Complete disarmament of militias, insurgents, and terrorist groups, giving the Iraqi government a monopoly of force. A self-sustaining economy and robust infrastructure. As it is, none of these conditions seems possible, so our government cannot use these conditions to define victory. To do so would be to admit that we cannot create a stable Iraqi state, that no matter what we do from this day forward, short of staying indefinitely, we have lost. But if we do stay for another ten or twenty years, another generation, and such a state emerges, will we be able to call that victory?