Cross posted from Iraq Insider
Ambassador Peter Galbraith, Senior Diplomatic Fellow at the Council’s sister organization, the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, just published his latest essay in the New York Review of Books. The title says it all: Is This a ‘Victory’?
Galbraith’s assessment of the ongoing sectarian disputes in Iraq is fantastic. He excels at explaining the hidden motivations behind different Iraqi leaders’ seemingly altruistic actions.
Galbraith’s essay also is extremely relevant within the context of the presidential race. I regularly take umbrage at John McCain and other surge enthusiasts’ constant use of words like “victory” and “defeat.” I posted last week about what George Kennan might say on the matter. The week before that I couldn’t help but remind people that General David Petraeus said that he did not know that he would ever apply “victory” to Iraq.
In the foreign policy debate last Friday night, McCain again used the word victory without defining what exactly that means for the United States in Iraq. “We came up with a great general and a strategy that has succeeded,” McCain said on Friday. “This strategy has succeeded. And we are winning in Iraq. And we will come home with victory and with honor.”
Galbraith, on the other hand, grapples with the uncertainties:
Less violence, however, is not the same thing as success. The United States did not go to war in Iraq for the purpose of ending violence between contending sectarian forces. Success has to be measured against US objectives. John McCain proclaims his goal to be victory and says we are now winning in Iraq (a victory that will, of course, be lost if his allegedly pro-surrender opponent wins). He considers victory to be an Iraq that is “a democratic ally.” George W. Bush has defined victory as a unified, democratic, and stable Iraq. Neither man has explained how he will transform Iraq’s ruling theocrats into democrats, diminish Iran’s vast influence in Baghdad, or reconcile Kurds and Sunnis to Iraq’s new order. Remarkably, neither the Democrats nor the press has challenged them to do so.
John McCain says that partly because of his persistent support of the surge, we are now winning the Iraq war. He defines victory as an Iraq that is a democratic ally. Yet he advocates continued US military support to an Iraqi government led by Shiite religious parties committed to the establishment of an Islamic republic. He takes a harder line on Iran than President Bush, but supports Iraqi factions that are Iran’s closest allies in the Middle East. He praises the Awakening and but seems not to have realized that the Iraqi government is intent on crushing it. He has denounced the Obama-Biden plan for a decentralized state but has said nothing about how he would protect Iraq’s Kurds, the only committed American allies in the country.
George W. Bush has put the United States on the side of undemocratic Iraqis who are Iran’s allies. John McCain would continue the same approach. It is hard to understand how this can be called a success–or a path to victory.
Galbraith’s realistic analysis or McCain’s empty slogans? You be the judge.