March 20, 2006
Yesterday, On ABC’s “This Week ” with George Stephanopoulos, Republican Senator Chuck Hagel, who the Washington Post accurately describes as “A frequent critic of the administration”, said the following:
“I think it's important that we stop this talk about we're not going to leave until we achieve victory. Well, what is victory? We achieved victory, Saddam's gone, the Iraqis have a constitution, they had an election, it's now up to them.”
I’m inclined to agree with this assessment of the conflict in Iraq, which implies that the war in Iraq ended when Saddam was removed. By saying "we achieved victory" Chuck Hagel brings up an interesting point, which is: should we even consider the current conflict as "The War In Iraq"? And moreover, does it even really matter what label is applied to the conflict? And for the record, calling the Iraq conflict a war or not does in no way diminish the efforts of our troopers who are toiling there.
Then there is the matter of “civil war” in Iraq which has been bandied about quite often lately. To start, The Bush Administration is certainly not willing to concede that Iraq is in the grip of civil war. Civil strife perhaps, but not war. On the other hand, Iraq’s interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi, a man to be respected to be sure, on Sunday’s BBC “AM Programme” suggested that there is no other way to describe the sectarian violence that is going on in Iraq other than calling it a civil war. He said:
"It is unfortunate that we are in civil war. We are losing each day as an average 50 to 60 people throughout the country, if not more. If this is not civil war, then God knows what civil war is."
On the aforementioned ABC Sunday show, Senator Hagel seemed to agree with Allawi’s assertions when he said:
"I think prime minister -- the former prime minister is correct. I think we have had a low-grade civil war going on in Iraq, certainly the last six months, maybe the last year. Our own generals have told me that privately, George [Stephanopoulos]. So that's a fact.”
But what kind of, and how widespread is, this 'civil war' if it does indeed exist? From my understanding, Iraq is a Nation of some 25 million plus persons. Of which, only a small minority are involved in or want to be part of, a civil war. If the millions of persons in Iraq were to want a civil war, then the 135 thousand troops we have there could hardly prevent it. In reality, it is only the terrorists who desire civil war and the recent violence can hardly be desribed as anything approaching a "full scale" civil war. Whatever the case, I don’t think it is fair to say that we are at war with Iraq and that Iraq is involved in a civil war. It seems to me that either one or the other is true. Possibly neither label is truly appropriate.
Perhaps relying on the application of such terms as ‘war’ or ‘civil war’, in order to measure success is not a worthwhile exercise because; how we define what is transpiring in Iraq, in and of itself , does not do anything to advance our overall objectives in the region. For example, those who are opposed to our efforts in Iraq seem to want to say, “Aha, Iraq has devolved into civil war and therefore we should pull out.” Or “…therefore we should have never gone in.” Applying these sorts of artificial and arbitrary benchmarks and labels of “civil war” or “war” are not helpful in our efforts. Even defining a “victory” in the classical sense, seems to me to be painting ourselves into a corner unnecessarily.
In the end, people can go ahead and apply whatever terms they want to the conflict in Iraq, but the fact remains that we are invested in the country and region, and that one way or another we have to see this thing through. If humanitarian concerns are somehow not enough of a reason to see the situation through, then certainly all can agree that stability in Iraq would go a long way towards achieving our overarching objectives in the war on terror. Therefore, it is incumbent upon Americans who would like to see us make progress in the war on terror to support our President and our Nation's efforts to help stabilize, and hopefully one day bring a free society and peace to, the country known as Iraq.