This question seems to be a recurring theme in the national debate. Few of those criticizing involvement in Iraq actually define what victory would consist of, much less articulating a coherent way to get there. I suggest this is answered by simple saying “Victory = Ax - By + Cz +/- …”. This leaves the more complex question, however, of what are the elements of victory (x,y,z) and how relatively important are they (A,B,C).
The most discussed element of victory (x) was preventing Saddam from passing weapons of mass destruction to terrorists. Historically we might say this was weighted at anywhere from 40% to 80% of the reason why many supported the 2002 war into Iraq. We all remember the testimony by Colin Powell showing pictures of the Iraqi storage facilities for WMD’s. In hindsight it might be reassuring that we confirmed Saddam had few such weapons, but today (x) is far less persuasive and has been the subject of much of the ongoing Democratic Party rhetoric. If (x) is the extent of victory, then, having confirmed Saddam had few if any WMDs, we can pack up and bring all our soldiers home.
A second variable (y) is that few US resources, whether lives or tax dollars, are lost. The interaction between this and variable (x) might explain why there is such disagreement over Iraq. Someone who valued “having a clear exit plan” at 60% and removing a bio-chemical terrorist threat at 40% would have voted against invading Iraq in 2002. Someone who is willing to sacrifice 10,000 US military personal to fight the terrorist on their homeland is obviously opposed to someone like Cindy Sheehan who is not willing that even one US soldier should die to free Iraq. For Sheehanites victory is immediate withdrawal. Unfortunately, the conversation between people holding these opposing positions often dissolves into hyperbole and name calling, and by my observations it is the Cindy Sheehans doing most of the name calling.
A third variable (z) is that Iraq does not become a training ground for terrorists to export to the US. Originally this might have been only weighted at 10%, but now it appears to be the major goal of the Bush administration. An expanded version of prevention is for Iraq to become strong enough to insure its own security against terrorists acting inside Iraq, training and exporting to the world. If this is a new rationale, however, than the past losses of variable (y) are “sunk costs.” Business people usually do not consider sunk costs in making future business decisions. For example, if a division of a corporation lost $10 million in the past but has the probability of producing $1 million in the future, the business will continue the division because the past losses are there whether or not one continues with the future program.
Likewise, military personnel losses and spent money are lost and neither going forward in Iraq nor stopping will bring back the approximately 3,400 that have died. If one values variable (z) and is willing to sacrifice 1,000 US soldiers to achieve it, then that person will support the ongoing effort in Iraq. If a person is not willing to suffer one more American casualty, then that person will demand an immediate withdrawal no matter what the consequences after the US withdrawals.
Other variables exist according to the values of diverse members of society. Some might be appalled by Saddam’s mass executions and therefore support the ongoing presence in Iraq for a humanitarian purpose. Others might argue that the US involvement in Iraq is necessary to stop or slow down Iran on its path towards expanding their international terrorist efforts. Still others are allegedly for the war because they make money out of it. Some might have additional reasons not to stay in Iraq such as: the military is ill-prepared; the military is needed elsewhere and cannot do two things at the same time; the military cannot operate without violating enemy combatants’ civil rights; or the ever popular “I hate Bush so I hate the war he supports.”
The point I am making is that people have different “definitions” of victory; and therefore, much of the discussion about “Victory in Iraq” is useless. The “futility of the marketplace” is the label used by Lord George Gordon Byron (1788 - 1824) to describe this same phenomenon of people failing to communicate because of different assumptions underlying their word meanings. Any individual’s definition of “Victory in Iraq” is comprised of what they think is important (the xyz’s) and how relatively important it is (the ABC’s). This leaves the door open to thousands of different definitions of “Victory in Iraq.” Awareness of this semantic complexity is the pathway to meaningful debate.
For example, if I argue for ongoing involvement in Iraq for the humanitarian purposes such as ten million Kurds and Sunnis escaping mass assassinations, then the Cindy Sheehans of the world are in error when they call me a murderer on the basis of my willingness to sacrifice an additional 2,000 US soldiers, airmen, sailors, marines or coasties plus 36,000 “innocent” Iraqis every year. Rather than name calling, the discussion should rather be whether the 36,000 “innocent” Iraqis would be 3.6 million if we were not there. We should discuss the potential value of giving one American life to save hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, or we should discuss how many US citizens are protected at home for every sacrifice in Iraq.
And rather than the Murthas and Kerrys calling our soldiers, airmen, sailors, marines or coasties “murderers” and “terrorists who break in children’s bedrooms at night,” we should consider whether they are motivated by love as was Sergeant Alvin York. (The story allegedly goes that the great WWI hero of the 82nd All American Division was asked his thoughts as he single-handedly killed 28 enemy soldiers and captured 132 of the German machine gun battalion. York responded that he was motivated by love for the people he was protecting.)
People are unique, their values are complex, and name calling with hyperbole makes misunderstanding worse. If I argue to continue efforts in Iraq it might not be because I am one of the “stupid soldiers” Kerry speaks of, but because I put higher value on prevention of international terrorism together with humanitarian goals of using the military to protect the weak and vulnerable.
Mark Beatty MA, THM, PHD, MBA, JD practices law in Kaneohe Hawaii (www.tbadk.com). He was formerly a Republican candidate for the US Senate in Hawaii (www.electmarkbeatty.com) For Mark’s other articles see www.bestideashawaii.com.