Virtually everyone who wants to win this war agrees: Success will have been achieved when Iraq is a stable, representative state that controls its own territory, is oriented toward the West, and is an ally in the struggle against militant Islamism, whether Sunni or Shia. This has been said over and over. Why won’t war critics hear it? Is it because they reject the notion that such success is achievable and therefore see the definition as dishonest or delusional? Is it because George Bush has used versions of it and thus discredited it in the eyes of those who hate him? Or is it because it does not offer easily verifiable benchmarks to tell us whether or not we are succeeding? There could be other reasons–perhaps critics fear that even thinking about success or failure in Iraq will weaken their demand for an immediate “end to the war.”
For an article that’s full of dishonest propaganda, Kagan actually does a pretty good job of exploring the issue here. The fact that his definition of success doesn’t admit of any sort of benchmarks really is a serious problem with it. And, indeed, the fact that it’s a dishonest and delusional vision also counts against it in my view. At the heart of the problem is that Kagan’s vision is contradictory and absurd. Given the contradictions involved in mixing various kinds of procedural and substantive criteria, any development whatsoever can be portrayed as bringing us closer to success.
Given that there is no viable political movement in Iraq that embodies this vision of a unitary, U.S.-aligned, democratic Iraq any advance by any turn of events embodies it just as well as anything else. The hawks haven’t failed to produce some words they claim define success, they’ve failed to produce a realistic notion of success. There only interest is in whining about defeatism on the idea side and ginning up fairy tales about how wonderful everything will be if only the mean ol’ war critics will stop pointing out that the mission has long ago become pointless.
U.S. Army photo by Sgt Tim Ortez