Sure, let's go ahead and say this new "troop surge" being bandied about Washington comes off, and tens of thousands of additional American troops pacify enough of Iraq to pull off what President Bush this week called the Iraqi dream -- "a stable government that can defend, govern and sustain itself."
OK. So then what? It's not hard to imagine that the United States would take the first opportunity to wish that dream-come-true government well in defending, governing and sustaining itself, and then high-tail it back home.
But that's no strategy. That's an escape hatch. What happens after that?
Looking back on, lo, our many costly years of liberation and occupation in Iraq, what would it turn out that we had actually won? In other words, what, in this best-case scenario, is "victory" supposed to look like?
This is an important question. But it's one that is never, ever asked, let alone discussed. For reasons I can't altogether explain, tunnel vision on Iraq has led to a kind of dead-end thinking on Iraq. Amid what amounts to a group failure of imagination on the part of our Big Brass and Deep Thinkers, no one takes into account, or even seems curious about what exactly "victory" in Iraq might mean, or, more important, might gain for the United States of America and friends.
To the president, victory must seem self-evident, which is why he will say things like, "Success in Iraq will be success." Taking the opposite tack, the new secretary of defense explains also that "failure would be a calamity." But neither of them -- and no one else, either -- offers much more in the way of hard detail. "Success" may well be the stabilized Iraqi government the president waxes pre-nostalgic about, and "failure" may well be the absence of that "success," but none of this talk counts for enlightening debate.
What I want to know is what happens if this much-discussed American troop surge actually manages to secure Iraq, which then emerges as a natural ally of Iran and perhaps Syria? Will we salute U.S. efforts that brought into the (Islamic) world another Shi'ite dominated, pro-Hezbollah, anti-American, anti-Israel sharia state with lots of oil? To me, such "success" sounds more like the "failure" that is usually described, roughly, as the loss of American face or the transformation of Iraq into a terrorist haven. In the aftermath of any "victory" in Iraq that benefits Iran more than the United States, our face wouldn't look so hot with all that egg on it, and the world would surely have a new terrorist haven.
So maybe "more troops" to shore up the Iraqi government doesn't give us a bona fide win in the so-called war on terror -- which is, of course, what this intervention in Iraq was supposed to achieve in the first place. That's not a failure of our great military; it's a failure of our best intentions. The next question is, what can we salvage from battle for the United States?
The only way we can even try to answer this question is to take a longer, wider view that takes in more than just the map of Iraq, which remains, after all, the arbitrary creation of Anglo-French diplomats carving up conquered landmasses after World War I. We need to refocus this 21st century war effort of ours around the specific needs of the United States as it fights against what we persist in calling "terror," but which really comes down to the expansion of Islam and Islamic power -- via terrorism, both gangland (Al Qaeda) and state (Iran), oil, massive demographic movement, and the resulting introduction of sharia (Islamic law) -- into the West. If we were to acknowledge this over-arching mission and recognize its urgency, "stabilizing" Iraq -- which now means spending American blood and treasure to try to quell millennia-old Sunni-Shiite barbarism -- might not figure prominently in the fight.
Stopping Iran and its allies in mass murder from becoming a genocidal nuclear outlaw and world-class menace; stopping the liberty-sapping spread of sharia into the heretofore non-Muslim world; stopping U.S. aid to countries that foment jihad against us; stopping our addict-like dependence on Islamic oil: These are the urgent missions of our day. They are grand objectives on whose success the future of the West turns. I'm increasingly dubious we can make the same case for "success" in Iraq.