‘Return on Success’ Something Less than ‘Victory’?
Speaking of reading too much into a word, LAT’s Doyle McManus spots a strategic shift in a linguistic choice:
For more than four years since the invasion of Iraq, President Bush most often has defined his objective there with a single, stirring word: “Victory.”
“Victory in Iraq is vital for the United States of America,” he told cadets at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in May. “Victory in this struggle will require more patience, more courage and more sacrifice,” he warned National Guardsmen in West Virginia in July.
But this week, the word “victory” disappeared from the president’s lexicon. It was replaced by a slightly more ambiguous goal: “Success.”
“The success of a free Iraq is critical to the security of the United States,” Bush said Thursday evening in his brief televised address from the Oval Office. “Now, because of the measure of success we are seeing in Iraq, we can begin seeing troops come home,” he said.
Bush’s description of his war aims reflected two hard realities about his position on Iraq. First, a large majority of the American public does not believe “victory” is possible. Dozens of opinion polls have found that fewer than 40% of voters think the war can be won. Second, the men who are running the war — Army Gen. David H. Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker — made it clear this week that their immediate goals were more limited than “victory.”
Where the United States once hoped for a peaceful, united Iraq governed by a Western-style parliament, Petraeus and Crocker described more modest goals: reducing sectarian violence, avoiding all-out civil war and encouraging self-rule with a strong role for tribal sheiks who are not elected. “I cannot guarantee success in Iraq,” Crocker said in hearings before Congress. “The challenges. . . are immense.”
Petraeus shied away from even using the word “success.” When a senator asked whether the United States had “a realistic chance to be successful” in Iraq, the general carefully replied: “I believe we have a realistic chance of achieving our objectives.”
From a military perspective, “achieving our objectives” equals “success” which equals “victory.” The terms are interchangeable. Indeed, one could argue that we achieved “victory” when Saddam’s government was toppled or, surely, when a new government was democratically elected. We’re not anywhere close, though, to “achieving our objectives.”
There’s little doubt that we’re defining “success” in a much different way than the grandiose neocon visions of the spring of 2003. Nobody figures on surfing the wave of democracy that was going to be cascading through the region. But the idea that a slight rhetorical shift is signaling that is just silly.