Let's proceed from the assumption that there are winners and losers in wars (although a case can certainly be made that wars create nothing but losers).
Let's further proceed from the assumption that every war is fought for a purpose. And, let's further proceed from the assumption (and, sadly, it's a big one) that the purpose of fighting a war is not to enrich the people who inevitably get rich from fighting wars (in the case of Iraq, the Blackwaters, Halliburtons, General Dynamics and Exxon Mobils of the world). For a somewhat more contrarian thesis, read my article entitled "Support the Troops?"
Given these assumptions, it is reasonable to assess the success of a war by measuring it against its stated objectives. In Iraq, the objective (supposedly) is not only to provide security and a stable, democratic government in Iraq, but to prevail in what this administration likes to call the "war on terror."
And, since Iraq has been characterized by this administration as the "central front" in that war, and since one of the stated purposes of fighting on that "central front" is to "fight them over there so we don't have to fight them over here," it is certainly valid to measure the success of all those purposes and objectives against the results that have been achieved. That measurement, and those standards, are sometimes referred to as "metrics."
There is little question that the war in Iraq has, at least thus far, failed to achieve the objectives the administration has set out for it. Remember that, as a condition for implementing the "surge," there were "benchmarks" that were supposed to be achieved. Well, in September, the General Accountability Office issued its report saying that the majority of the benchmarks had not been achieved.
And it is generally acknowledged that the overarching objective of the war in Iraq, namely political reconciliation, hasn't been achieved, and, based on statements made recently by Iraqi officials, isn't likely to be achieved, ever.
But there are other "metrics" by which the success of "war on terror" may be measured. One of the standards by which that success must be measured is the answer to the following question: is the U.S. being made safer from terrorist attack by fighting in Iraq. If the "fight them there...fight them here" slogan is to have any meaning, surely this is the first question that must be answered.
Astonishingly, not even the folks who are in charge of fighting the war, either on the battle front or on the intelligence front, can answer that question. Who can forget General Petraeus' startling admission, during his recent testimony before Congress, that he didn't know whether the war was making us safer.
Here is the man who is running this war, who is watching the troops under his command be killed and maimed on a daily basis, and he can't even tell us whether their sacrifice is worth it. This is un-freaking believable! Perhaps even more revealing was the recent interview conducted by NBC's Iraq correspondent, Richard Engel, with the director of the National Counterterrorism Center, Admiral Scott Redd.
This newly created agency is supposed to be, according to its mission statement, leading the fight to "combat the terrorist threat to the U.S. and its interests" When asked directly by Engel, "are we safer today," and after a long, uncomfortable pause (not unlike the one Petraeus exhibited in response to the same question), Redd replied: "tactically, probably not; strategically, we'll wait and see."
What the hell does that mean? Wait for what, 3,800 more American combat deaths? See what, al Quaeda continue to use the war as a recruiting tool? Well, Admiral Redd won't have to wait or get to see anything (at least not at the NCTC): two days after he gave that interview, he abruptly announced his resignation from the NCTC.
Just another example of where speaking truth to power gets you with this administration.
A recent report issued by the American Security Project answers, with a resounding "no," the question of whether weÃ¢â¬â¢re winning the war on terror. ASP is a self-described "non-profit, bi-partisan public policy research and education initiative dedicated to fostering knowledge and understanding of a range of national security and foreign policy issues" (read: think tank) whose board of directors includes Gary Hart (the former Senator), John Kerry (the former presidential candidate), George Mitchell (also a former Senator) and General Anthony Zinni (the former commander of CENTCOM, and long-time critic of the war in Iraq).
It answers the question in cold, statistical fashion. Using ten objective criteria for determining the results of the "war on terror," the report concludes, not surprisingly, that we are losing that war. From a "massive and dramatic increase in Islamist terrorism since 2003" to "Al Qaeda's [expansion of] its reach globally," to the increasing perception in the Muslim world of the U.S. as an "aggressive, hostile and destabilizing force," the report paints a dismal picture of the effect of the war in Iraq on the "war on terror."
The report's quantification of terrorist attacks is startling. It finds that the number of such attacks, worldwide, has increased exponentially. It does not suggest that just because the U.S. hasn't been attacked it is therefore safer, and therefore doesn't need to worry about terrorism elsewhere in the world, because those aren't "American interests," a position espoused, either ignorantly or dishonestly (but most revealingly), by the Vice President's wife in a recent interview with Jon Stewart on "The Daily Show."
As the NCTC's mission statement acknowledges, even our intelligence community recognizes that our "interests" go beyond our borders. And, of course, there is now the depressing fact that the war in Iraq has resulted in the death of more Americans than were killed on September 11th.
The mantra of the Vietnam era, equally applicable to the current era, was most poignantly revealed in a song by the group known as Country Joe and the Fish. The chorus of their song "I Feel Like I'm Fixin' To Die" included the question "And it's one, two, three, what are we fighting for..." My question is: Joe, where are you now that we need you?