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« The Night Of Shattering Glass | Main | An Idle Thought »

"How We Won"

Greyhawk boldly writes that, though the media hasn't noticed, we've won the war (or at least the battle of Iraq), despite the attempts earlier this year by the Congressional Democrats to seize defeat from the jaws of victory:

...few people are paying attention to what those of us who are here fighting this war might have to say. Everyone is focused on the death metrics, and everyone is wrong. Call it "hearts and minds" or people fighting for their lives and futures who do not fear turning to us for help and helping us in return without fear of retribution from an enemy falling fast - these are the numbers that tell the tale. These are the numbers that indicate something worthwhile. These are the numbers that will drive the death metrics further down and keep them there.

He has a lot of links to support his thesis.

And as I've noted before, it's all about the evolutionary pressures favoring cooperation over chaos.

To use combat (or even civilian) casualties as a metric for progress in a war is puerile, but it serves well the purpose of those opposed to this war, and war in general (and particularly wars waged by the BusHitler). Had we done so in the second World War, one would have thought that we were losing all through late 1944 and early 1945 in Europe, and in the summer of '45 in the Pacific--after all, casualties were soaring as we took territory, and the Japanese were unrelenting in their brutality against the population in the territories they still occupied. Fortunately, the press was smarter then, and knew how to measure progress--by territory increasingly controlled by the victors, island after island, sea after sea.

Similarly, we've been seizing territory from Al Qaeda in Iraq, town by town, district by district, to the point at which they've been completely routed, and the Iraqis now seem ready to forge a new nation. (And for those of limited patience, it's always useful to recall that it took our own nation eight years from Cornwallis' surrender until we had a constitution in place).

This doesn't, of course, indicate that we can immediately pull the troops out, any more than we could have done so in Europe or Japan after the surrenders there. Now, as then, the war is merely transitioning from the major battle that we just won in Iraq, to the larger upcoming ones on its borders, and until its neighbors (all of them, really, other than Turkey, Jordan and Kuwait) stop fomenting sectarianism and hatred, Iraq will remain at risk of slipping back into the abyss, despite the hard-fought victory of Americans and Iraqis. The question for the administration at this point must be, what next?

Tomorrow is the 89th anniversary of the end of the war that was to end all wars. One can hope that there will, in time, be the last war, but that one wasn't it, nor was the one against the Axis, or the one against the Soviets. Each of these wars, in fact, contained the seeds and provided fertile ground for the next, just as the end of the Cold War resulted in a resurgence of violent Islam. We are now deep in the middle of another world war--a fourth one, both cold and hot.

Will it be the last one? Let us hope.

Posted by Rand Simberg at November 10, 2007 07:41 AM
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A minor quibble: world war 1 ended in 1918, 89 years ago (not 79).

Posted by Ed Minchau at November 10, 2007 01:35 PM

I'm good at math. Arithmetic? Not so much...

Posted by Rand Simberg at November 10, 2007 01:47 PM

I suspect that the "last" war will be the one that renders mankind extinct. As a species we're too competitive and ornery to live without war.

I suppose genetic engineering could eliminate war, but I doubt I'd like the "humans" that resulted from that approach.

Posted by Jason Bontrager at November 10, 2007 02:53 PM

The measure isn't casualties for territory acquired,
it's casualties in occupied territory.

The germans were doing quite well between 39 and 43 too.
The key was measuring resistance to occupation by Germany.

Posted by at November 10, 2007 03:00 PM

Unless anarchists are also efficient thieves, there is a very large difference in men and materiel that the cooperators can wield against the anarchists. Nevertheless, with asymmetric warfare, it often takes a while before civilization adapts to repel the intruder.

Posted by Sam Dinkin at November 10, 2007 04:07 PM

It's hard to say we've won the war In Iraq simply because the meaning of that statement has changed so often. However, if winning in Iraq means simply the cessation of sectarian hostilities, a very limited partial victory may be claimed. Even this is unclear since ethinic groups are limited to their own geographic areas, many of which are walled off or otherwise intentionally kept homogeneous or ethnically secured.

It may however be the occasion to pat each on the back and start withdrawing, unless of course one is truly serious about a long term commitment to the Iraqi people. But then one has to be very clear that it is exactly that and not an excuse to extend imperial power. The fact that Iraq has the largest US Embassy in the world tells me that the intent, or at least the original intent stemmed more from a colonial, imperial impulse than any geniune concern for the Iraqi people.

It may be that the original impulses have been so tempered by reality, a reality predicted by our own diplomats and ignored, that a face saving exclamation of victory is what the right now clamors for. If that's it and we do in fact pull out, some of us will ignore the farce and simply applaud the cessation of the imperial urge.

Posted by Offside at November 10, 2007 06:40 PM

Offside: Iran is scheduled for February. Iraqis will help. Have a good year!

Posted by Jenghis Khan at November 10, 2007 08:11 PM

I find it very odd that most lay people, like journalist, have no intuitive feel for the ebb and flow of war. I think this lack of intuitive feel arises because the vast majority of the population never study the history of warfare in any detail and therefore develop their intuitive understanding of "feel" of flow of war purely from its representation in popular fiction and media.

The common narrative structure of the common fictional war story bears little relation to the actual tempo and evolution of real wars. A literature professor of mine once observed that no author would have written a fictional WWII that unfolded in the same way as the actual conflict. The opening of the war with sweeping unexpected victories makes for a good story but the slow grinding down of the Fascist states by overwhelming force in the last two years of the conflict is emotionally unsatisfying. In a fictional WWII, Fascist victory would look all but certain until Americans created the atomic bomb in last great gasp of desperation and saved the day.

The other problem with fictional war is that people can experience it in its entire from start to finish in a matter of days or weeks. I think this causes people to intuitively feel that real world wars run far to long and are thus failures.

In short, persistence and determination make for boring narratives. Wars won by time don't make good stories. Most of the significant battles of the pre-industrial era were sieges won by the side with the most patients and the best logistical management. How many popular depictions of sieges have you ever seen in the fiction or even in histories of the era? If you have seen a siege depicted you see it at its dramatic end, not the months of years of siege itself.

Law enforcement often complains that the timeframes depicted on crime shows, in which cops solve murders in a matter of days, severally distorts the expectations of crime victims and even juries when they evaluate how competently the justice system acts.

I think the same effect cripples the electorates popular understanding of how we fight real wars.

Posted by Shannon Love at November 11, 2007 06:49 AM

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