"A Major Debacle," Yes, But It's Also A "Must Win"
Joseph J. Collins who was, until 2004, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Stability Operations, writes in a study published by the National Defense University (pdf)
Measured in blood and treasure, the war in Iraq has achieved the status of a major war and a major debacle. Given the standards set by The Man Called Petraeus, that is refreshingly candid. So has America's establishment started to come back to reality? Well, it's not that simple:
For many analysts (including this one), Iraq remains a “must win...” If you read more, he makes a point of calling the effects of the surge "impressive." Oh well.
But a quick skim of the report reveals nothing in the way of a serious description of what a "win" would look like, let alone a concrete plan for how to turn the debacle into such a "win." It deals mostly with very vague efforts to strengthen interagency planning in the US. Needless to say, this is something of a cop-out. It is always the case that interagency planning should be strengthened. We should also eliminate all waste from government programs and love our mother and father.
So the report has two meta-meanings. First, the military is prepared, at a pretty high level to acknowledge publicly that the Bush/Iraq war is "a major debacle." That is most certainly important news (not that the war is a debacle, but that the military will admit it so baldly). Secondly, even now, no one in in the upper echelons of the establishment (with an occasional exception who is immediately derided as out of the mainstream) is brave enough to speak the full truth that most Americans realized a long time ago: The Bush/Iraq war, by any standard you care to mention, not only is unwinnable, but should never have been fought.
And again that question: What to do now? Well yes, we can strengthen interagency planning and remember to call our Moms, but neither will turn a debacle into a success.
For years I have said that any serious plan to confront the catastrophe created by Bush's utterly immoral invasion, conquest, and occupation of Iraq must acknowledge the unavoidable step one: Bush must leave office and a sensible president of the United States must be elected. In short there is nothing anyone can do but wait.
I realize that is a horrible plan, not much better than strengthening interagency planning. But it has the virtue of being honest and of not pretending anything can be done now that has a hope of mitigating the disaster.
Once a competent, reality-based president is installed, hopefully in January, 2009, then we can discuss the next step, namely US withdrawal. Until then, let's applaud the fact that people like Collins are prepared to call Bush/Iraq a major debacle, but let's not try to hide the fact that the establishment discourse is still overwhelmed with pie-in-the-sky, hope-trumps-experience magical thinking. And let's not hide the fact that nothing whatsoever we can propose has a chance of improving the situation in Iraq until Bush is out of the White House and there's a president with a connection to consensual reality.