While Senator Harry Reid certainly has the right to practice his freedom of speech and declare that the war in Iraq is "lost," to do so from the position of a United States Senator and as the leader of Democratic Party in the Senate has been lampooned by Republicans as both cowardly and irresponsible. They claim that such statements do nothing but demoralize our troops and strengthen the enemy, making the fight that much harder to win. In this sense, it may be a self-fulfilling prophecy. If the U.S. believes the war is lost, then it will more than likely end on terms that could reasonably be called a defeat for the U.S.
But will such a hypothetical future "defeat" be one the United States has suffered, or will it be something that the Bush administration has suffered? For many, there is no disctinction. George W. Bush is the President after all, and that means that whatever he believes in, whatever he chooses to do, whatever the consequences, that is where American goals and policy should be headed. After all, he was elected by the people (and not a friendly Supreme Court, or anything like that, right?).
The sad truth is, the Bush administration never had a plan for "victory" in Iraq, beyond the success of the military invasion and overthrow of Saddam. Surely there was never any doubt that the most advanced fighting force in the world would defeat one lone Middle Eastern dictator with nothing but an ill-trained army outfitted with outdated Soviet technology and not even any WMD's to cheat with. In a fair fight against Saddam, the U.S. was going to come out on top (and in spectacular fashion, after only a few weeks of major combat operations).
However, if that was the only fight the Bush administration was expecting in Iraq, which it seems like it was, then I can barely express my shock and outrage at the criminal level of negligence and myopic planning that has so far proven to be the case. From Bob Woodward's book, Bush at War, it becomes shockingly clear how little planning or preparation there was for the post-war operations phase of the campaign. From administration officials refusing to heed the pleas of commanders and soldiers deployed on the ground for money or support, to Rumsfeld's decision that the Iraqi army be immediately disbanded after the war (thus releasing hundreds of thousands of young, disgruntled, unemployed men into the streets, instead of retraining or reconstituting them for reconstruction or police duties), it's obvious the adminstration didn't think Iraq would be a big deal after Saddam. Dictator gone, mission accomplished (look, a banner on an aircraft carrier that I just landed on, how cool is that!).
But you can't take apart a country's leadership and expect things to just be dandy. I am not saying the war in Iraq should not have been fought, I am saying that once the decision was made to fight this war, the amount of planning and preparation for it was absurdly inadequate. Our troops were dropped into a fractured country and left to dry, hanging in the middle of the brutal sectarian violence that was inevitably going to follow. And once it became apparent that the mission was most certainly not "accomplished," it became the Republican rallying cry to support the troops no matter what. I support the troops. I support keeping them alive. I support using them for missions for which they are fully informed, for which they have clear, accomplishable objectives.
There are those out there who would claim that by denouncing the "leadership" of President Bush (in quotes, because in truth, he has not shown anything resembling that quality, except perhaps a naive and foolish stubbornness that some mistake for "determination" and "courage"), I undermine the troops, and abet our enemies. They say that these enemies will go on fighting us, with even more resolve as we lose our stomach for the fight. And I say, why are we fighting them? To defend our freedom? To defend Iraqi freedom? They fight us because we are there, they fight us because they can easily be made to believe that we are the oppressors. The longer we stay, the more innocents will die. They are our enemies, because by being there, our presence has created them. We cannot win this war in the traditional sense, because the longer and harder we fight it, the longer and tougher the resistance to our efforts will be. Republicans happily claim now, with an "I told you so" attitude, that the growing violence in Iraq is proof positive of the extensive Al Qaeda presence there. What they fail to realize, is that Al Qaeda is there, and is stronger than ever before, ONLY BECAUSE WE ARE THERE. They were not there before the invasion, but they sure as hell had plenty of reason to jump in the fray after we did.
And that is what is lost in the senseless yelling in this "debate" on Iraq. This is not the Revolutionary War, and saying that George Washington never would have quit has nothing to do with anything. We are not fighting a just war against an imperial power who threatens to dominate our liberties and our livelihoods. This is not like any war we have ever fought before, because we have no defined enemy. The current troop surge is like trying to knock down a wall with a rubber mallet; it didn't work the first time, so now we'll just swing harder. But the harder we fight, the harder the fight will be. Instead we must be fighting smarter, and if at all possible, not engaging in physical combat at all. In that sense, Senator Reid was right, that this war will need to be won on economic, social, political, and diplomatic fronts, because it cannot be won soley by brute force.