Red, White, and Skewed
Winning in Iraq, but terms of victory still unclear
Issue date: 9/4/09 Section: Opinion
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The invasion of Iraq in 2003 is still today extremely controversial, which is probably what this particular war has most in common with our other conflicts, but the most important question remains to be answered even six years after this chapter in American history began: how do we win, and how will we know? Everyone remembers George Bush's catastrophic "mission accomplished" press conference, at which time the U.S. had dismantled Saddam Hussein's Baath Party government and defeated the Iraqi army, but how far have we come toward winning this particular war?
All other major wars in U.S. history have been started with very clear aims: the War of Independence, World Wars I & II, the Vietnam War (among others) had clear goals. The goal, of course, was to defeat the enemy. The Germans (twice), the British, or the Vietnamese/Chinese/Russian Communists were always on the other side as a driving force; a discernable foe from whose clutches victory could be snatched.
In Iraq, however, that sovereign "adversary," Saddam and his army, had been defeated and dismantled within six weeks, but the war was still on. The U.S. and its allies were still killing and being killed, while the Iraqi people were (mysteriously) not waving American flags and welcoming us to their country.
The Iraqi people understood then, I believe, what is just dawning on us: that victory in Iraq has no face. Not that we can't still "win" and accomplish our goals, but that there will be no dramatic moments of the triumphant U.S. president shaming the losing leaders; no Treaty of Versailles moment with the cameras running. Worse yet, however, is that U.S. "victory" might look pretty much the same as before the invasion.