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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Kissinger On Iraq

A lot of folks who want us out of Iraq yesterday have latched onto a small portion of Henry Kissenger's interview with the BBC on Sunday as a reason to leave Iraq quicker, even though that's not what he advocated in the remainder of the interview. In fact, he warned against too quick a withdrawl from Iraq.

His statement that's getting all the attention was:

"If you mean by 'military victory' an Iraqi government that can be established and whose writ runs across the whole country, that gets the civil war under control and sectarian violence under control in a time period that the political processes of the democracies will support, I don't believe that is possible,"

Well, that's actually not only not news, it's not surprising. You don't win standard military victories against insurgents and suicide bombers. If you could Israel wouldn't be having the problems they are with the Palestinians.

The second part of the statement "in a time period that the political processes of the democracies will support" is a hit on the US and British political systems. Our two countries because of how our governments, and press, and citizens do things don't have infinite patience for conflicts. It's one of the disadvantages of free and open societies in times of war, it's hard to conduct prolonged conflicts when everyone has a voice.

Kissenger, like many others does believe we have to redefine what we are doing in Iraq, but his final quote on the subject is the most ignored by the folks pointing to his interview as a reason to leave:

"I think we have to redefine the course, but I don't think that the alternative is between military victory, as defined previously, or total withdrawal," he said.

You won't find that quote in any of the op/ed columns or blogs that are advocating leaving "because Henry said so", because he didn't say so. Instead, his words have become another case of the media and political class using out of context phrases to try and make their point.

Columnists like Eugene Robinson use the first half of what Kissenger said to try and win their arguements, but ignore the second portion, and reality of the war itself. Robinson was also struck by the President's comparison to Viet Nam, when he said "we'll win if we don't quit". Most people have misread that to mean he thought we won Viet Nam, but what he said was we could have an chose not to.

Bush was correct in that statement, we lost Viet Nam when we quit trying to win, but we stuck around for five more years attempting not to lose. We have the same option in Iraq, but the President has been determined not to conduct it that way, regardless of the political atmosphere in Washington.

In Iraq traditional miltary victory isn't possible, and never was once Hussein was out of power. The insurgents aren't going to elect a leader to sign a surrender document, so those looking for that milestone will always be able to say they were right.

The difference between Iraq and Viet Nam is that a traditional victory against the North was both possible and probable, except for the politicians afraid of angering China and Russia. A traditional victory or the Viet Cong probably wasn't; but we'll never know if they would have collapsed with the fall of Hanoi, because we never tried that.

In Iraq a measurable set of goals for "victory" has been laid out (something Viet Nam was missing), and has been around for nearly a year, The National Strategy For Victory In Iraq.

My guess is if Kissinger instead of the Bush administration had released this document we'd be arguing about which of it's goals we were working towards. Instead, due to political pressures on the left to leave Iraq, and a media obsessed with failure in Iraq, very few people have actually read the document objectively.

The left dismissed it out of hand as a Presidential propaganda, and the media didn't like it because of that whole traditional military victory they are looking for, and the fact that it didn't say anything about winning before the next news cycle.

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Blogger shoprat said...

Of course the gloom and doom "we can't win" crowd will concentrate only on the first half of the quote. The second half is irrelevant because it doesn't fit their worldview.

4:43 PM  

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