As Bob posted below, William S. Lind, in The American Conservative, wrote an article titled, “How to Win in Iraq.” If you haven’t read it, please do. It is beyond good: it is brilliant, perhaps staggeringly so. Lind grasps many concepts about the war that I had thought only fringe analysts like myself understood– and, with a military background, puts them into the context of U.S. strategy and tactics. This is the best analysis on the subject I have ever read.
In a nutshell, Lind argues that the best we can do is to get out of the way and let Iraq form its own state, which will in turn defeat the non-state combatants that are our real enemy. And if that state is unfriendly to us, it is still less of a threat than the non-state enemies. Further, he argues that the real victory would be reconciliation with Iran. Oh, how rarely we hear someone speak of victory in terms of turning an enemy into a friend!
In short, I see Lind’s answer as a practical (and perhaps the only possible) approach. But… There are some challenges it will face. The cycle of violence has its own dynamic, and resistance to a stable state in Iraq is predictable.
First, of course, are the non-state entities, which need a chaotic Iraq in order to continue to operate and recruit. Once the U.S. begins to withdraw, they will attackÂ American and allied troopsÂ in an attempt to bait them into re-engaging the fight. They will also trumpet loudly their victory and U.S. defeat– ostensibly to develop further support, but also in an attempt to shame our government into returning to the battlefield. After all, few leaders can stand being called losers.
Then there are leaders on our side– those same leaders who have kept us in Iraq, creating chaos, claiming they were winning and looking like idiots in the process. You’d think they’d just fade away and let someone else take this victory that looks a lot like defeat. (Lind argues that Vietnam was in fact a victory because it eliminated China as an enemy, but you won’t read that in the history books!)Â
I have long argued that the Bush administration has kept our troops in Iraq, taking a political beating for it, because it suits them to do so. Otherwise, the only sensible thing to do would have been to bring the troops home long ago. So there is something they gain by this war, and obviously it is not political power. I surmise that it has to do with boatloads of money being made– by contractors in Iraq, by weapons providers, and by oil companies for whom chaos in Iraq has raised the price of oil.Â There’sÂ also the elimination of civil liberties and so forth, which may be the prime objective for some.
Whatever the gain, those receiving it will resist ending the war. They will couch their argument in patriotism, calling those who oppose them cowards. And they will use the inevitable attacks by the non-state entities as ammunition for continuing the war. “We must defeat the terrorists!” (Cha-ching.)
There will be those, too,Â who gain from opposing the war. If the war goes away, they lose that political leverage. We’ve seen them recently getting elected on the promise to end the war, but rather than ending it, using the war for political gain. Dare I say that there might be not only politicians, but perhaps some anti-war groups as well. I don’t have any particular group(s) in mind here, I am just aware of the paradox of forming a group whose purpose is to put itself out of existence, much like an NGO working to end poverty: if poverty disappears they’re all unemployed.
There will be others, too, who have (or believe they have) reason to oppose ending the war in such a fashion. This is one reason wars are much easier to prevent than to stop, though much like heart disease there’s less incentive for prevention until it’s actually begun.
All of this negative analysis is not in any way meant to suggest that Lind’s answer is wrong or impractical. I see it as the best answer so far, and perhaps the only possible answer. But let’s be clear that it will be no easy task. The war benefits a lot of the people that matter. Implementing a solution, any solution, will not be easy.