Dean and a number of others are linking to this post from My Election Analysis in which the situation in Iraq is considered by the numbers. The numbers suggest that, regardless of how you consider it—U. S. casualties, Iraqi National Guard casualties, attacks, Iraqi civilian casualties—the insurgency in Iraq is winding down. Not out but down.
Naturally, Dean is encouraged and his advice to those who’ve already put the situation in Iraq into the loss column (putting words in Dean’s mouth) is “Chill, dude!”. The blogger at MEA cautions us that he’s not proclaiming victory, just noticing that you have probably received a different impression from following the news coverage.
Unfortunately, war is not waged solely by the numbers. As Rudy Rummel put it in a brilliant post earlier in the week:
Power = capabilities X interest X will
U. S. and, increasingly, Iraqi capabilities in dealing with the situation there are without question. We have the means.
I and, I’m sure, lots of Americans recognize that the situation there is definitely within the vital interests of the United States (whatever the situation prior to the invasion was). If we withdraw from Iraq before there’s a stable and decent state there, it will be portrayed as a U. S. defeat regardless of the circumstances or the stated commitments to return as needed. And we simply can’t allow a failed state of Iraq’s size and intrinsic power with resources of its own in the heart of the world’s most significant oil-producing area.
There are also lots of Americans no doubt of good will who don’t believe that ensuring a decent, stable state in Iraq is a vital interest for America.
Power = capability X interest X will
I continue to have reservations about America’s will to continue occupying Iraq in the face of mounting casualties. Voices in the Democratic Party including John Murtha and John Kerry’s call for withdrawal. I think that James Joyner put this notion very well:
It’s true that Kerry’s plan, like Murtha’s, calls for placing our troops in “garrison” for “emergency response.” While that sounds well and good, the political fact of the matter is that, once out, there is no going back in. If we are going to cut and run from “an escalating civil war” that we helped create, we surely would not try to impose ourself into a full blown civil war that developed after our departure.
If we don’t have the will to stay, where will we find the will to return?
Power = capabilities X interest X will
And the mounting casualties are important regardless of the declining casualty rate. The larger the absolute numbers become the more likely it is that the war will touch you personally. A neighbor’s son. Your niece. A kid your niece went to school with. And, without a reservoir of hope and confidence and commitment, the constant low level of casualties becomes a death of 1,000 cuts: the horrible style of execution in which the condemned is executed slowly, one slice at a time.
I’ve noticed this in preparing the Carnival of the Liberated every week. In the period following the fall of Saddam only the most confirmed Ba’athists (like Riverbend) weren’t buoyed by a new-found hope. Some were ecstatic. This continued through the first election. For example, here’s part of a post from Hammorabi from February, 2005:
Congratulations to the Iitylaf Iraqi Al-Mouahad.
For free, democratic and prosperous Iraq!
Iraq for all the Iraqis.
Thank you for our friends from the Coalition forces who provided security for election and on the top pf them those who lost their life among them.
No for the terrorists
Yes for democratic and free Iraq and Middle East.
Here’s Hammorabi again from last week:
Iraq passed from darkness of the two Gulf wars and 12 years ugly sanction into another kind of darkness. As the last sanction which killed millions never seen in the history; the new terrorism and occupation is unique in its mischief and destruction plus hypocrisy. In the first Gulf war the West armed Saddam and turned a blind eye to his crimes for seeks of war against Khomeini. The birth of the second war was an illegitimate daughter of the first one after a pander green light given to Saddam to enter into the red zone of Kuwait. The entry was harsh as was the exit. Iraq then was destroyed while the violist kept ruling it. Following this and on a destroyed country by wars more than one million children killed by the sanction during which the USA under Bill Clinton attacked Iraq and killed its children several times. At least one of these attacks was to cover personal scandal for Mr. President.
Now and after 3 years from the third war there are new waves of deaths, killing, insecurity, instability, puppets, and hypocrisy. It is nothing but darkness gave birth to darkness.
I could provide dozens of similar examples.
We need to continue our presence in Iraq and to do that we need a reservoir of hope and confidence.
Lest this post be placed into the “doom and gloom” bin, here’s what I’d like to see.
The president and his administration need to get on the stump and encourage Americans. Not to go shopping. To continue to believe in the worth and virtue of what we’re doing. It’s ironic that George Bush’s greatest failing has been as a cheerleader but there you have it.
Demand spending cuts and tax increases so we can pay for this war with fiscal sanity. Veto a damned spending bill every once in a while.
Take steps towards actual airport, port, and border security rather than just posturing and trying to create the impression of airport, port, and border security.
We also need to discover some way to change the system of incentives in Iraq. Without that change insurgency or even civil war will be eternal there. How do we do that? I have no idea.
The Iraqi politicians who were elected in December need to form a government and start some cheerleading themselves. It’s not all up to the Americans. However, Americans should provide some incentives for their becoming realistic and getting on the stick on this. Carrots and sticks. And by sticks I don’t mean leaving. For some of the intransigents that wouldn’t be a stick: it would be a carrot.
I think politicians of both parties need to make a firm commitment to return to the practice of letting politics stop at the water’s edge. Regardless of internal squabbles we need to present a united front. This goes for former presidents, too. Someday, perhaps soon, there will be a Democratic president in the White House. That president can expect no more support and no freer a hand in conducting foreign policy than the incumbent has experienced. We’re going to be in Iraq a long, long time. Deal. There should be explicit censure and criticism of those who violate this rule of decorum. The United States is singular not plural.
The media and other opinion-making institutions are a tough nut. Their current nihilism isn’t productive or helpful. And, as the link above indicates, they’re not just reporting the news.
For the ordinary souls like you and I: get involved. Devote some of your time to searching for the news of what’s actually happening and understanding what we’ve got to do. Write or call your Congressman demanding spending cuts and tax increases so we can pay for this war in a fiscally sound way. Contribute to rehab facilities for our soldiers who’ve been injured in Iraq. Or for the support of the families of those who’ve been killed there. Or for organizations that are helping the people in Iraq. Volunteer. Learn Arabic. Make a commitment.
Light a candle, damn it.