There is no possibility of America winning the war in Iraq. The first reason for this was presented by retired Marine General John "Jack" Sheehan when he explained why he turned down the job of "War Czar." He pointed out that Bush and his administration have no strategy for winning the war. They have no vision of what it means to say that we have won. Gen. Sheehan also pointed out that while there is no strategy for winning, there is also Dick Cheney who is always in the background ready to sabotage efforts to resolve the war that he considers insufficiently hawkish. This is not intended to win the war, merely a refusal to accept that the war is unwinnable.
The second reason is presented by Juan Cole. The twentieth century, and now the twenty-first, demonstrate clearly that the western forms of high-tech, industrialized mass war cannot subdue the desires for independence of much less developed nations. The collapses of the Spanish, British, French, Soviet, Ottoman, and American Empires during the twentieth century have all occurred as less developed nations impressed their will for independence on the more developed Imperial nations.
In Iraq in particular
The Sunni Arab guerrillas in Iraq enjoy all the advantages of internal social and political mobilization-- sophisticated tactics, high-powered munitions, excellent networking and communications. They benefit from a vast Sunni Arab hinterland of support that includes the oil millionnaires of the Gulf (there are a lot of them and they hate to see fellow Sunnis mistreated) and the committed young professionals of Saudi Arabia, Syria, Jordan, the Sudan, and North Africa.The refusal to accept the inevitability of American defeat in Iraq is the primary motivation of Cheney, Bush, and I think of Sen. McCain. All are convinced that as long as America doesn't admit defeat and pull our troops out of Iraq then there is still some off chance that somehow America will ultimately "win." But fear of loss is not a strategy for winning.
Against 6 million truly mobilized people, a mere 160,000 foreign troops is unlikely to prevail. The US lacks good intelligence on the guerrillas, and there is no prospect of it getting better intelligence soon. In fact, every year more Sunni Arabs hate us than the year before.
The only possible route to a successful end of the Iraqi dilemma is for the U.S. to somehow extricate our military forces from Iraq and for Iraq to develop an adequate government (or governments) with the necessary police, military and political will to prevent further mass killings. But the Iraqis cannot achieve the goal of stability as long as we have our troops there inflaming the population. It is impossible to achieve peace by fighting a war with nothing but use of military force. There has to be a credible set of actions demonstrating that the use of military force will end as peace and stability is achieved before any of the combatants will consider stopping their combat.
But the American leaders who fear losing the war in Iraq refuse to entertain the necessary confidence-building and necessarily non-military actions that can change conditions enough to permit an ending of military actions. The result is the continuation of a war that cannot be won.
We are essentially locked into the dilemma of the gambling addict who cannot quit gambling until he makes up his previous losses. Since the odds are on the side of the House rather than the gambler, the gambler can never win. He will simply lose at a more or less rapid pace.
But at least the gambler is playing a game in which there is a definition of what it means to win, no matter how unlikely it is that he will achieve that goal. In Iraq there is no such definition of winning. Every goal that is discussed today involves at best not losing, the best such definitions being to be able to stop combat operations using American troops and turn control of Iraq over to two or more effective governments (any effort to eliminate the Kurdish government in favor of a single central government is a recipe for further war.)
As professor Cole points out, the history of the twentieth century is increasingly against hope of conquest in Iraq. The odds are tremendously against any possible success for the military adventure there. Efforts to continue the war so as to avoid admitting its loss cannot succeed.
What can succeed, however, are efforts to continue the war until the situation in Iraq is one that Dick Cheney and the NeoCons are willing to define as "winning." Since there is no advance goal or definition of success this could only happen by chance, and is so unlikely as to be considered impossible.
The real problem with this, exemplified by Gen. Sheehan and the other generals who refused the "War Czar" position, is that there must be a clear goal in order to successfully fight a war. A war without an achievable purpose can never succeed.
This administration has no clear achievable goal for winning. They have simply defined removing the American troops from Iraq as "losing the war" and declared that unacceptable. Just as the gambling addict will keep on gambling forever attempting to leave as a winner, Cheney and the NeoCons will fight on in Iraq forever to the last bleeding soldier, Marine or National Guardsman just to avoid losing.
America will continue to fight in Iraq until
- the end of President Bush's term, or
- until Bush resigns or is impeached, or
- until the pentagon generals revolt and refuse to continue fighting an unwinnable war.
A war that cannot be won is by definition already lost. The only remaining question is how much money, prestige and how many casualties we will continue to throw into the pot. That's where America is now in Iraq. It is trapped in addictive behavior. Refusing to admit the loss will not somehow achieve a victory in Iraq. It will only perpetuate the losing behavior, just as refusing to quit gambling will not somehow make a gambling addict into a winner.