Iraq War Over? We Won?

Michael Yon says that we’ve won the war in Iraq and all that remains is clean-up.

The war continues to abate in Iraq. Violence is still present, but, of course, Iraq was a relatively violent place long before Coalition forces moved in. I would go so far as to say that barring any major and unexpected developments (like an Israeli air strike on Iran and the retaliations that would follow), a fair-minded person could say with reasonable certainty that the war has ended. A new and better nation is growing legs. What’s left is messy politics that likely will be punctuated by low-level violence and the occasional spectacular attack. Yet, the will of the Iraqi people has changed, and the Iraqi military has dramatically improved, so those spectacular attacks are diminishing along with the regular violence. Now it’s time to rebuild the country, and create a pluralistic, stable and peaceful Iraq. That will be long, hard work. But by my estimation, the Iraq War is over. We won. Which means the Iraqi people won.

Granting that I haven’t been to Iraq in more than seventeen years and am relying on media accounts whereas Yon is a regular in the region, this assessment still strikes me as wildly optimistic. The United States military doesn’t seem to think that we’ve won in Iraq. Nor, so far as I can tell, do the Iraqi people. Or the Iraqi government. Or the people and governments of Iraq’s neighbors. Or the people I encounter in foreign policy think tanks.

Sure enough, though, a quick Google search for “iraq over we won” confirms it.

Success in Iraq (War over. We won. Iraqis Won.)

Jul 14, 2008 But by my estimation, the Iraq War is over. We won. Which means the Iraqi people won. I wish I could say the same for Afghanistan.
freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/2045489/posts – 25k – 10 hours ago – CachedSimilar pagesNote this

Iraq War OverWe Won! | Outside The Beltway | OTB

Nov 2, 2007 In case you missed the news, as I did, Andrew Bolt informs us that The war in Iraq has been won. You’d think somebody might have mentioned
www.outsidethebeltway.com/archives/2007/11/iraq_war_over_-_we_won/ – 63k – CachedSimilar pagesNote this

Silobreaker: Success in Iraq (War over. We won. Iraqis Won.)

Jul 15, 2008 Success in Iraq (War over. We won. Iraqis Won.) 14 July 2008The war continues to abate in Iraq. Violence is still present, but, of course,
www.silobreaker.com/DocumentReader.aspx?Item=5_879952149 – 119k – 8 hours ago – CachedSimilar pagesNote this

The American Enterprise: The War is Over, and We Won

Jun 20, 2005 The War is Over, and We Won By Karl Zinsmeister. Your editor returned to Iraq in April and May of 2005 for another embedded period of
www.taemag.com/issues/articleid.18615/article_detail.asp – 21k – CachedSimilar pagesNote this

Think Progress » Richard Perle Claims We’ve ‘Already Won’ The Iraq

Feb 20, 2008 75 Responses to “Richard Perle Claims We’ve ‘Already Won’ The Iraq War But It’s Also ‘Far From Over’”. robbez_92107 Says:
thinkprogress.org/2008/02/20/richard-perle-claims-weve-already-won-the-iraq-war-but-its-also-far-from-over/ – 107k – CachedSimilar pagesNote this


It¹s Over, We’ve Won, Let’s Go Home. By Allan C. Stam Hanover, NH

File Format: PDF/Adobe Acrobat – View as HTML
conclusion that America’s war in Iraq is over. The question of who has won or. lost in Iraq is in large part immaterial, the more relevant question is do we
allan.stam.googlepages.com/Iraqvictory.pdf – Similar pagesNote this

The war in Iraq has been won | NEWS.com.au

Nov 2, 2007 Here it is: The battle is actually over. Iraq has been won. Actually, we went to war to free Iraq from a tyrant who had used weapons of
www.news.com.au/story/0,23599,22689634-5007146,00.html – Similar pagesNote this

Indeed, Karl Zinmeister had the news over three years ago!  (My own report from last November was a commentary on Andrew Bolt‘s at Australia’s News.com.)

Seriously, though, these pronouncements bring up a real point that we keep coming back to:  What’s the definition of “victory” here?  We’ve announced numerous goals, many of which have been achieved.

  • Regime change:  Done five years ago.  Saddam hanged to keep it changed.  Check.
  • End WMD program:  Done before invasion.  Check.
  • Democracy:  Two elections, albeit with some major actors sitting them out.  Close enough by Middle East standards.   Check.
  • Shining example leading to democratization of region:  Uh, no.  Stupid goal.  Rescind.
  • 15 Milestones:  Mostly achieved.  Close enough for government work. Check.
  • Stability:  Amazing progress but not exactly Sweden.   Incomplete.

Yet, despite the proponderance of Checks, I don’t consider the mission complete.  Nor, as noted previously, do most observers.   Are we right?  Or is Yon?  Discuss.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. duckspeaker says:

    When the mission is counter-insurgency, as long as there is a reasonably functional insurgency that poses a threat of creating instability, then the mission can not be pronounced complete.

    The question is and always has been, “how does one quash a global, ideologically-based insurgency?”

    Potential answers to that question, logically, can be either 1.) attack everywhere, or 2.) attack nowhere. In other words, either invade one country after another, or, take a more isolationist approach.

    There may be a continuum between option 1 and 2, and I surmise that the major decision in the upcoming election will be where on the scale between 1 and 2 our long-term foreign policy will reside.

  2. Bithead says:

    Do not be fooled. There are a number of people who have been leaning toward this false hope of “declare victory and get out” for some time, now. And now that they can no longer claim with any degree of logic that we’re losing in Iraq, they take this approach.

    However, like the claims that there’s no way to win in Iraq, this, too, is a lie.

    The president suggested a long time ago, that this was going to be a long war… far longer than it has thusfar been. I suggest we’re dealing with a mislabeling and thereby a misperception.

    Here’s the deal; Iraq wasn’t a war, but a battle within a war. That our enemy is still active and still seeking our defeat seems to have been amply demonstated near the Afghan/Pakistan border yesterday.

    I submit that the war’s not over, it’s just the field of battle that’s changed.

    As the the International Relations and Security Network has recently said:

    Over the last two months, more US troops have died in Afghanistan than in Iraq, highlighting the depressing truth that, while violence in Iraq may have been decreasing; in Afghanistan, the Taliban- and now al-Qaida-led insurgency in the south and east continues to pose an escalating threat to the country’s stability.

    It has also drawn attention to the way that the war in Afghanistan has been, in the words of General Dan McNeill, the man who until recently led the US military effort there, “under-resourced.”

    Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, admitted this month for the first time that he wished more troops were available for the conflict in Afghanistan, which is larger and more populous than Iraq, but where the US has less than a quarter as many troops.

    “Afghanistan […] remains an economy-of-force campaign, which by definition means we need more forces there,” he told reporters. “I don’t have troops I can reach for […] to send into Afghanistan until I have a reduced requirement in Iraq.”

    This, despite the public assessments from US intelligence officials that the safe haven al-Qaida enjoys on the Pakistan-Afghan border is the most likely site for the planning and execution of terror plots against the US homeland.

    Allof which is why Bush went out of his way to suggest that the enemy would be found and defeated, regardless where he goes. He knew the effectively borderless nature of the region would affect our plans and so it has.

    We’ve had a hard time of it in Iraq, there’s no question. And our victory is deserved, and yes we should feel good about it. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that we ahve a long way to go yet, in terms of the total war effort.

  3. Dave Schuler says:

    President Bush’s objectives in Iraq have been much more consistent than his critics are giving him credit (if that’s the right word for it) for. From a speech in 2005, echoing a speech from 2004:

    A little over a year ago, I spoke to the nation and described our coalition’s goals in Iraq. I said that America’s mission in Iraq is to defeat an enemy and give strength to a friend — a free, representative government that is an ally in the war on terror, and a beacon of hope in a part of the world that is desperate for reform.

    Note that I am only citing the objectives, not supporting them, claiming they’ve been accomplished, or claiming that they’re achievable.

    Have those objectives been achieved?

  4. duckspeaker says:

    Sort of crazy, but I kind of agree w/ Bithead here. “Winning” in the context of Iraq, and Iraq alone, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Since this is a struggle against a global ideology, “whacking a mole in Iraq” will certainly not prevent another mole in Afghanistan, or Somalia, or Iraq (again) from popping right back up.

    That said, I suspect Bithead and I would disagree about what logical conclusions or policy decisions would come about as a result of this.

  5. Bithead says:

    That said, I suspect Bithead and I would disagree about what logical conclusions or policy decisions would come about as a result of this.

    Pray, continue….

  6. Herb says:

    Please elaborate on what must still be done.

    Here’s a few of my own thoughts on the matter:

    A) George W. Bush’s vindication for invading Iraq.
    B) Permanent bases for the eventual war with Iran.
    C) Oil at $200 a gallon, making the oil business even MORE profitable.

  7. duckspeaker says:

    Pray, continue….

    Well, I think how you deal with terrorism hinges entirely on what you think the motivations of the terrorists are. If you believe, as I think you do, Bithead (correct me if I’m wrong), that generally Islamic terrorists are both evil and insane, then anything short of their total destruction would pretty much be failure.

    However, if you believe that these folks are yes, indeed, evil, but NOT insane, then I think you can reach entirely different conclusions. Based on my reading on this topic, I don’t believe that Al Qaeda leadership is insane (again, evil yes, insane no). I believe that someone doesn’t become enraged enough to blow him/herself up over things like “our freedoms” or “our way of life” or BBQ and bikinis, for that matter. Rather, I think they have a perfectly logical (evil yes, insane no) thought process that begins with American intervention in Middle Eastern affairs, and unflinching support of Israeli policies, continues to the hardships of the displaced in Palestine and now Iraq, and ends with a noxious slurry of hatred against the West.

    While I disagree with much of this logic, it at least comforts me to some degree that the logic exists. The fact that these people aren’t necessary insane means that hopefully, over time, things like policy changes, negotiations, and yes, well-targeted and well-thought out force, will affect real progress in reducing hatred towards America and therefore reducing violence borne out of that hatred.

    I suppose the major point here is that long-term, we can either keep responding with force via the whack-a-mole process in order to try to contain the problem, or, we can try to address the root causes of the hatred that produces these vile acts. I’m not necessarily advocating a Ron Paul style isolationism, but I do think things like talking with our enemies, upholding our standards on human rights, and seriously weighing the long-term impact of any policy action we take in the Middle East are all steps in the right direction.

  8. Alex Knapp says:

    Two elections, albeit with some major actors sitting them out.

    Mere elections don’t make democracy. Institutions do. Given that the central government has little control over Kurdish areas or Sunni tribal areas or areas controlled by the Mahdi army (except in Baghdad somewhat), the elections don’t mean squat. Several major cities in Iraq are controlled by U.S.-backed strongmen, not the central government.

    Even Baghdad itself is still a virtual armed camp, with frequent checkpoints and walls dividing ethnic neighborhoods.

    There’s a good chance that Iraq will fall apart again, especially if Malikis government and private militia continue their campaign of violent intimidation against their political enemies. The question is: are we going to keep US troops there to get caught in the middle of the next firefight? Because at this point, the idea that US troops will bring about a stable democracy is laughable. We’ve created a police state that gives some Iraqis a choice of voting for either one set of Iranian-backed political parties or a second set of Iranian-backed political parties.

    In the meantime, large swathes of Iraq aren’t truly involved in the central government, nor do they think of themselves as “Iraqis.”

  9. Bithead says:

    Well, I think how you deal with terrorism hinges entirely on what you think the motivations of the terrorists are. If you believe, as I think you do, Bithead (correct me if I’m wrong), that generally Islamic terrorists are both evil and insane, then anything short of their total destruction would pretty much be failure.

    However, if you believe that these folks are yes, indeed, evil, but NOT insane, then I think you can reach entirely different conclusions. Based on my reading on this topic, I don’t believe that Al Qaeda leadership is insane (again, evil yes, insane no). I believe that someone doesn’t become enraged enough to blow him/herself up over things like “our freedoms” or “our way of life” or BBQ and bikinis, for that matter. Rather, I think they have a perfectly logical (evil yes, insane no) thought process that begins with American intervention in Middle Eastern affairs, and unflinching support of Israeli policies, continues to the hardships of the displaced in Palestine and now Iraq, and ends with a noxious slurry of hatred against the West.

    Well, here we part. That some chocies made in their fight are rational, does not mean that they’re sane, by any standard we judge by. Perhaps that’s part of the issue; by whose guidelines are we judging rationality?

    Let’s exemplify this, and put some real -world teeth in it. At what point did Hitler cross the ‘sanity’ line?

    And your pointing at “Palistine” is laughable in this context, since the self-described “Palistinians” have no real recogognition in the Arab world… they’re merely being used as cannon fodder for the front lines, and an excuse for anti-western activity.

    In the overall, there are two levels of this discussion.

    With the exception of radicalised Islam, there is no insurmountable issue with the Islamic world. Not really. Diplomacy will work among these, absent the radicals. Indeed, the perception of the rest of the world disliking America, is a perception that is fostered and cultivated by the left wing in this country. It is not, as they would have you believe, a matter of any serious heft. Our own left, by means of Hollywood, and by means of our mainstream media, has made disliking America a popular thing to do, and it’s in reaction to that that these numbers show up. And to a large degree, it’s what limited pictures of us they get through our own leftist controlled media that causes us the biggest problems. It’s this image gevn them by our own media whcih provides the biggest weapons to the radicals.

    As for the radicals, there is no way we’re going to make them like us. We’re not their particular brand of Muslim, and anything less than their brand of Islam being adopted by us make us their enemy. This is not a diplomatic matter, anymore. It’s beyond the reach of pure diplomacy.

  10. anjin-san says:

    Over the last two months, more US troops have died in Afghanistan than in Iraq, highlighting the depressing truth that, while violence in Iraq may have been decreasing; in Afghanistan, the Taliban- and now al-Qaida-led insurgency in the south and east continues to pose an escalating threat to the country’s stability.

    Bush took his eye of the ball in Afghanistan, where the real enemy is, to persue his administration’s obsession in Iraq. Thats pretty much what we have been saying all along…

  11. Bithead says:

    Even Baghdad itself is still a virtual armed camp, with frequent checkpoints and walls dividing ethnic neighborhoods.

    At what point in the last 50 years has it been otherwise?

  12. Bithead says:

    Bush took his eye of the ball in Afghanistan, where the real enemy is, to persue his administration’s obsession in Iraq. Thats pretty much what we have been saying all along…

    It’s what you’ve been saying Anjin, but you’re wrong. The real enemy? To whom do you refer? BinLaden? Are you suggesting that killing that one man will solve all this? That it would have at ANY point?

  13. Tlaloc says:

    At what point in the last 50 years has it been otherwise?

    Great, so once again we’re the power behind the throne of an Iraqi strongman? Gee, why do I suspect this won’t end well…

  14. Tlaloc says:

    The real enemy? To whom do you refer? BinLaden?

    The guy who took credit for 9/11? Yeah he just might be worth actually doing something about.

    Are you suggesting that killing that one man will solve all this? That it would have at ANY point?

    Any point? Did I wake up in bizarro world where conservatives want to let murders (or at least people who conspire to murder) go without punishment?

  15. Alex Knapp says:

    Bithead,

    At what point in the last 50 years has it been otherwise?

    You need to read more news reporting on the war, and less cheerleading. The past five years have seen the virtual ethnic/cultural/religious cleansing of Baghdad, and neighborhoods which previously contained Sunnis, Shi’ites and Christians on the same block are now just composed of one group alone. Thousands of people have been violently chased from their homes while more “appropriate” people moved in. Petraeus decided that the best way to stop the violence was to simply erect walls and checkpoints between neighborhoods–walls and checkpoints which did not exist before. Between virtually curtailing freedom of movement and ethnic cleansing, violence has decreased. Not exactly admirable.

  16. […] are discussing that question over at OTB (Iraq War Over? We Won?).I have been making this very point for years, most recently: Iraq on the Brain, Wasted Column […]

  17. Bithead says:

    Any point? Did I wake up in bizarro world where conservatives want to let murders (or at least people who conspire to murder) go without punishment?

    Hardly, but at the same time, BinLaden is just a small part of this. Keep your eye on that larger conflict. Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that we only need to capture or kill Obama bin Laden to end world wide Jihad on the west, which I hasten to add is currently being waged in more than 70 countries, including our own, by more than 100 million Islamic Jihadists. If you’re sayng that would end the conflict, you’re worse off than I figured.

    You need to read more news reporting on the war, and less cheerleading. The past five years have seen the virtual ethnic/cultural/religious cleansing of Baghdad, and neighborhoods which previously contained Sunnis, Shi’ites and Christians on the same block are now just composed of one group alone. Thousands of people have been violently chased from their homes while more “appropriate” people moved in. Petraeus decided that the best way to stop the violence was to simply erect walls and checkpoints between neighborhoods–walls and checkpoints which did not exist before. Between virtually curtailing freedom of movement and ethnic cleansing, violence has decreased. Not exactly admirable.

    But in reality, the only functional way of doing it, save for the way Saddam did it, which isn’t exactly admirable, either. It’s time to consider the idea that there are cultures which are incompatable with freedom, and Radicalized Islam appears to be one of these.

  18. Tlaloc says:

    Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that we only need to capture or kill Obama bin Laden to end world wide Jihad on the west

    Nothing in our lifetimes will end religious intolerance and persecution. My goals are a little more immediate and achievable- OBL is a criminal. He is in fact the most wanted criminal in the world (by us at least). Let’s try to remember that.

    If you’re sayng that would end the conflict, you’re worse off than I figured.

    This “conflict” of civilizations is largely imaginary on the part of those who find an external boogeyman a convenient political ally. So quite frankly I don’t give a damn about it.

    But in reality, the only functional way of doing it, save for the way Saddam did it, which isn’t exactly admirable, either.

    Uh, bit… that’s *exactly* how Saddam did it. He used government power to displace and harrass those who were his political enemies. Remember how “ethnic cleansing” was one of the things we blamed hime for?

    Oh yeah…

  19. Alex Knapp says:

    It’s time to consider the idea that there are cultures which are incompatable with freedom, and Radicalized Islam appears to be one of these.

    So you’re saying that the entire population of Iraq is composed of “Radical Islam”?

    Wow.

    I’m not sure if that betrays a larger lack of knowledge of Islam in general, or merely Iraq in particular. You are aware that Iraq was not controlled by any religious political parties until AFTER the U.S. invasion, right?

  20. duckspeaker says:

    As for the radicals, there is no way we’re going to make them like us.

    I’m definitely not contending this. Merely pointing out that with some policy changes, perhaps we can dial down their hatred just enough so that they don’t go through all the hassle of flying planes into our major buildings.

  21. Bithead says:

    Nothing in our lifetimes will end religious intolerance and persecution. My goals are a little more immediate and achievable- OBL is a criminal. He is in fact the most wanted criminal in the world (by us at least). Let’s try to remember that.

    Stopping the attacks against western interests should hold a higher priority, though, don’t you think?

    This “conflict” of civilizations is largely imaginary on the part of those who find an external boogeyman a convenient political ally. So quite frankly I don’t give a damn about it.

    Then you ignore the real root cause. I guess it’s just easier to blame the US for it all.

    Uh, bit… that’s *exactly* how Saddam did it. He used government power to displace and harrass those who were his political enemies. Remember how “ethnic cleansing” was one of the things we blamed hime for?

    Well, not exactly, though I’ll admit there are enough similarities, there seems a major difference with how the populations split out.

    So you’re saying that the entire population of Iraq is composed of “Radical Islam”?

    Bartender, I’ll have what Alex is having. How you got that, Alex out of what I said seems a question for which the answer will take all day.

  22. steve says:

    ” It’s time to consider the idea that there are cultures which are incompatable with freedom, and Radicalized Islam appears to be one of these.”

    Yet, there is complete confidence by the current administration that this current group of Muslims in the Iraqi government, are capable of forming, or have already formed a pro-western democracy ready to act as our ally.

    As I go through the milblogs and Arab news sites, it looks to me as though we are just developing another strongman government. Maliki does not appear to be liked or respected. He is feared. A kinder, gentler Saddam with a more humane and better equipped Republican Guard, our U.S. troops.

    Steve

  23. Bithead says:

    Yet, there is complete confidence by the current administration that this current group of Muslims in the Iraqi government, are capable of forming, or have already formed a pro-western democracy ready to act as our ally

    True, but the word ‘incompatible’ does not of itself imply a permanancy, though it often can.

    That said, please understand my seeming wavering on this point; While I don’t see such hard lines as an end state, I consider that to deal with such as radical Islam one needs to take on the role of strongman, at least for a while. Sorry, that’s the nature of the beast… and it’s one concept a lot of Americans, leftists screaming about the rights of those at Gitmo, as an example, can’t seem to get their arms around; there isn’t much that is less brutal than that which can deal with it.

    The problem with Saddam was, he never planned for or made moves for any other state than with him being a strongman.

  24. […] New Strategy for a New World,” sounded eerily like what I was getting at this morning in my Iraq War Over?  We Won? post. Iraq is not going to be a perfect place, and we don’t have unlimited resources to try to […]

  25. Bithead says:

    I’m definitely not contending this. Merely pointing out that with some policy changes, perhaps we can dial down their hatred just enough so that they don’t go through all the hassle of flying planes into our major buildings

    Sorry for the delay, just notiuced this.

    I don’t see that happening, barring a major change in the religion itself. When the rocks stop saying “There is a Jew behind me, come and kill him!”, perhaps there’s a chance. But do you really expect such a foundational change to their mindset?

  26. G.A.Phillips says:

    I don’t see that happening, barring a major change in the religion itself. When the rocks stop saying “There is a Jew behind me, come and kill him!”, perhaps there’s a chance. But do you really expect such a foundational change to their mindset?

    That’s the problem, it’s Islam, not this silly little talking point about radicals,it’s the whole sorry religion, of lies, murder, and terror, as it’s foundations and true and only way of being faithful to it’s god.

    When some one prays to a god that commands him to be evil for his faith it’s a bad thing and should not be encouraged, the thought that if we would have killed a couple of the very very bad ones would have saved us sum trouble and made the rest hate us less is as stupid as thinking that allowing people to murder their babies is good because it’s some kind right or a choice.

  27. […] J. Totten weighs in on the  Iraq War is Over and We Won argument and decides that, while he’s “reluctant” to answer that question in the […]

  28. […] done the “Have we won in Iraq?” thing a couple of times recently, without ever really answering the question.  The problem […]