Fred Kagan tries to answer the question of "How We'll Know Whether We've Won in Iraq" and argues that the achievable endpoint we should be working for is a stable, representative and pro-Western state on the Euphrates, an ally in the fight against terrorism. Kagan argues that to a significant degree, we are already halfway there.
Kagan makes the argument that without the blinders of Washington politics we would be amazed by what has been achieved.
there is no state in the world that is more committed than Iraq to defeating al Qaeda. None has mobilized more troops to fight al Qaeda or suffered more civilian casualties at the hands of al Qaeda--or, for that matter, taken more police and military casualties. Iraq is already America's best ally in the struggle against al Qaeda. Moreover, the recent decision of Iraq's government to go after illegal, Iranian-backed Shia militias and terror groups shows that even a Shia government in Baghdad can be a good partner in the struggle against Shia extremism as well.
Much has been made of the inadequacy of the Iraqi Security Forces' performance in Basra. If the Pakistani army had performed half as well in its efforts to clear al Qaeda out of the tribal areas, we would be cheering. Instead, Pakistani soldiers surrendered to al Qaeda by the hundreds, and Islamabad shut the operation down; it is now apparently on the verge of a deal with the terrorist leader who killed Benazir Bhutto. Iraqi Security Forces who underperformed were fired and replaced, and operations in Basra and elsewhere continue. The United States has given Pakistan billions in aid since 9/11 so that it could fight al Qaeda in the tribal areas. To be sure, it has spent far more billions on the Iraq war. Still, one may wonder which money has produced real success in the war on terror, and which has been wasted.
Even if the reader is not willing to go along completely with Kagan's argument, it might be fair to concede that the points carry enough force, and recent developments are encouraging enough that even critics ought to have an open mind. Before throwing something away, it's always a good idea to check whether something valuable is in it.
An open mind is what Austin Bay hopes to reach in his pilot offering at Austin Bay's Arena Academy. Austin's pilot offering is to examine seven scenarios that would follow a premature withdrawal from Iraq. He argues that whatever one thinks about Iraq, a careful walk through of the scenarios would be an exercise in intellectual due diligence. Kagan tries to make roughly the same point:
The question Americans should ask themselves next is: Have the opponents of this strategy offered a clear definition of their own goals, along with reasonable criteria for evaluating progress toward them? Or are they simply projecting onto those who have a clear vision with which they disagree their own vagueness and confusion?
Here is a gauntlet thrown down: Let those who claim that the current strategy has failed and must be replaced lay out their own strategy, along with their definition of success, criteria for evaluating success, and the evidentiary basis for their evaluations. Then, perhaps, we can have a real national debate on this most important issue.
I suspect that in the minds of many, the question will be begged. A large percentage of public policy debates are determined not by winning intellectual arguments but by forming attitudes. A friend of mine wrote in a private email that many people in his San Francisco office don't even think about the War on Terror or the fact that America hasn't been attacked by 9/11. All that is a hum on a distant planet; something on the margins of their consciousness. Arguments invoking the numbers of Iraqi Government divisions, the Anbar Awakening, etc might as well be a recitation of track lengths in a obscure railroad. A certain percentage of people have made their minds up. 'America has lost. The TV says so. And besides, so what?'
That response underscores the importance of leadership, something which GWB has ultimately failed to provide enough of. While leadership includes reasoned argument, it is ultimately about forming attitudes. Winston Churchill was able to create an attitude of inflexible defiance when the facts all but shouted that Britain was defeated. What US leadership must do is convince people they are winning when in fact they are.
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