“We have no strategy to win”

In recent weeks, the idea that we have no strategy to win in Iraq has become conventional wisdom: Thus in a Democratic Party radio address the other week, former senator Max Cleland said that “it’s time for a strategy to win in Iraq or a strategy to get out.” A letter writer to David Frum at NRO said: “One might say that the President and his team have failed America by not adopting a strategy to win this war and now we are bleeding to death by thousand cuts.”

In fact, after two years, the country is catching up with VFR. For two years I’ve been repeating endlessly that not only are we not winning in Iraq, but that we don’t even have a strategy or serious intention to win. I was virtually alone in saying this. It’s not hard to understand why this was the case. On one side, the Bush administration and their cheerleading journalistic supporters believed in victory and kept saying we were winning, despite all evidence to the contrary. On the other side, the Bush opponents were either opposed to or indifferent to the war and didn’t care if we were winning or not. So there was no faction in American politics that was both supportive of the basic aims of the war, and sufficiently critical of President Bush to see that Bush was not carrying out the war that he claimed to be carrying out.

Below is a brief sampling of my statements on this issue between Sepember 2003 and November 2004, all of them from VFR except for one from FrontPage Magazine. There is a lot more than this in the VFR archives. I found these by searching for “Iraq,” “no strategy,” and “victory.”

Sept 10, 2003, How do we defeat militant Islam?

While I was and am a strong supporter of the Iraq war, I have been increasingly worried about the course of American policy in occupied Iraq, and about the continuing absence of a broad ranging public debate on where the war on terror is headed and what our options are. My un-ease was not lessened by the president’s superficial, “just stay the course” speech this week, which, moreover, he delivered with a disconcertingly blank expression on his face, adding to the impression that he does not have a fully thought-out policy….

[W]hat does “success” mean, and how do we get there? Mainstream war supporters do not ask the latter question. Consider these two commentatators at National Review Online who accept Bush’s premise of “success” in Iraq, without asking how this “success” is to be achieved….

April 20, 2004, The Dream of Iraqi Democratization vs. the Reality of Iraqi Violence, FrontPage magazine

Another way of understanding the situation in Iraq is that our leaders have disregarded the lesson of Vietnam: If you’re going to fight a war, either fight to win or get out. In the Iraqi context, winning means destroying the jihadist or Ba’athist forces that threaten the Coalition, and, as indicated above, creating a successor Iraqi government that will have the force and energy to maintain its own existence. But instead of such a strategy, we’ve had the “stay the course” mantra. “Staying the course” does not mean victory. “Staying the course” means adhering to a policy that is not leading to victory and that is not even logically designed to lead to victory. As far as anyone can tell from the president’s own remarks, “staying the course” simply means showing resolve, soldiering on, and enduring the insurgents’ attacks as long as they keep coming at us. But the question is, what if the insurgents keep coming at us? What do we do then? What policy do we have in place to eliminate the insurgents—both those from within Iraq and those entering the country from outside? To my knowledge, this is a question that Bush has never addressed and that he has never even been asked. Thus we not only lack a policy aimed at victory in Iraq, we have not even had a national debate aimed at formulating such a policy. We have had a parody of a debate, in which the Left mindlessly screams, “Bush lied,” and the Right stolidly replies, “Stay the course.”

September 2, 2004, Did Bush misspeak or did he speak the truth?

President Bush and his handlers are saying that he misspoke when he told a tv interviewer, “I doubt that you can win” the war on terror. As far as I see it, Bush was not misspeaking, but was revealing the truth about his approach to the war on terror, or at least to the war in Iraq, that I have been pointing to, over and over, for the last year. I have been saying that the war is a fraud, because we have no strategy or capability in place to defeat our Islamist and terrorist enemies, and therefore will have to stay in Iraq for an endless number of years in order to prop up the new government which, because of the ongoing presence of the enemy whom we have no plans to defeat, is not sustainable on its own.

September 30, 2004, E-mail to a pro-Bush blogger

I wrote an e-mail to “Captain Ed” at Captain’s Quarters, one of those useful but off-puttingly triumphalist pro-Bush weblogs, about his rah-rah support for Bush’s policy in Iraq. VFR regulars don’t need to read this, as I’ve said it a hundred times before, for all the good it’s done.

Your argument in this blog entry is very weak. In World War II, to which you compare the Iraq situation, we utterly conquered and subjected Japan, ran the country for ten years, and imposed a new government on it. We’ve done nothing like that in Iraq. Please take in this basic fact: We are not in control of the country and we are not doing anything that will lead toward our getting control of the country; intermittantly striking at our foes is not a military strategy aimed at defeating the enemy. Nor would the construction of a new government represent victory in this war. Iraq’s new government can only survive as long as U.S. troops are there to maintain a modicum of order against the terror insurgency. There will be no self-sustaining government in Iraq, “democratic” or otherwise, until the insurgency is defeated. But we have no strategy in place to defeat the insurgency. As it looks now, we will have to stay there forever, even as our troops and innocent Iraqis are being mass murdered every week.

We have everything backwards. In WWII we defeated the enemy, then we set up a new government. In Iraq we are trying to set up a new government, without having first defeated the enemy….

Nov 10, 2004, Our main goal in Iraq remains an unsustainable “democracy,” not victory

The purpose of the much-vaunted Fallujah campaign is not, as had been both promised and logically expected, to D-E-F-E-A-T the enemy, the purpose is to quiet down the enemy for a couple of months so he won’t disrupt the election. As I’ve been saying for over a year, we have placed the cart of a democratically elected government before the horse of a monopoly on the organized use of force. The point is elementary. Before a government can govern a country, let alone govern it democratically, it must have a monopoly on the use of force in that country. Without such a monopoly, there is no government. To establish such a monopoly for the sake of the Iraqi government, we must defeat the insurgency, meaning that we must destroy the insurgents’ ability to wage war, wreak havoc, blow up police stations, kill people at will on highways, and so on. But we’re not doing that, and we’re not even seeking to do that. It is as though we were trying to build a house by contructing the above-ground floors first, and leaving the foundation for later. Since we’re helping bring the new Iraqi government into existence without first defeating the enemy or even having any prospects of doing so, we are not even creating the prospect that the government will be able to survive without us. We will have to keep our forces in Iraq forever to prop up the government; which means that Iraq will not be a sovereign free and stable country, but a client state and puppet; which means that Bush’s democratization plan fails.

Here are other VFR articles on the same theme:

“Staying the course” means staying in Iraq—forever

US commanders in Iraq grim about prospects

Buckley: we cannot win in Iraq

Running out the clock, time standing still

The unreality of our Iraq policy—and of the thought process required to defend it (September 13, 2007)

Posted by Lawrence Auster at August 29, 2005 02:34 PM | Send

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