America has "lost" the war in Iraq primarily because most people believe it has. And most people believe it has because the news media have said so.
If this sounds bizarre, consider this: Why is it widely believed that Israel lost its 2006 war against Hezbollah in Lebanon? The answer is essentially the same -- people believe it because the media said so. In fact, there is no rational case for arguing that Israel lost its war against Hezbollah.
I have believed that Israel won, or at least that Hezbollah lost, since the end of the war in 2006. I was convinced of this by Michael Young, the opinion editor of the Lebanese newspaper the Daily Star. In an interview on my radio talk show, he made the compelling case that Hezbollah had lost.
I was reminded of this by a recent Thomas Friedman column. Echoing the Beirut editor, the New York Times foreign affairs columnist delineated six reasons why Hezbollah lost that war. In Friedman's words, they are:
1. "Mr. Nasrallah (the head of Hezbollah) demonstrated a total failure to anticipate Israel's response to his raid ... Some 1,200 Lebanese died because of this gross error in judgment."
2. "(Hezbollah) did grievous harm to Lebanon's fragile democracy and democratization in the Arab world. All the fears that if you let an Islamist party into government it will not respect the rules of the game were fulfilled by Hezbollah."
3. "By launching all these rockets prematurely, without strategic purpose, Hezbollah has diminished its capability and Syria's and Iran's."
4. "(Hezbollah) has lost its military infrastructure, and can't attack Israel now without getting embroiled with France and Italy (which have peacekeeping troops in southern Lebanon) -- a huge strategic loss for Hezbollah."5. "Israel has embarked on a broad upgrade of its military (thanks to the lessons learned from its poor performance). In any future war Arab armies will meet a much better trained and equipped Israeli force."
6. "Israel's response to Hezbollah's attack has resulted in billions of dollars of damage to Lebanese homes, factories and roads, with Shiite areas the worst hit and with zero security benefit to Lebanon."
So why does just about everyone believe that Israel "lost" the war in Lebanon?
For two primary reasons:
First, the world defines victory of the stronger party -- in this case, Israel -- as either total victory or as a loss. Israel did not destroy Hezbollah, therefore it lost. Second, the world's news media said Israel lost; and the media now determine reality. Some 40 years ago, Marshall McLuhan made his prophetic statement, "The medium is the message." It is truer than ever. Man-made global warming is deemed the greatest threat to mankind's future because the media have announced it to be so. Anna Nicole Smith's death was significant because the media said it was. Genocide in Sudan is insignificant because the media don't much report on it. The Chinese decimation and annexation of Tibet is insignificant because the media have ignored it.
The Israeli army and defense establishment made grave errors, which have been the focus of a devastating Israeli government report. But those errors do not negate the fact that Hezbollah lost that war.
One lesson to be learned from these two wars is that victory as we have understood it in the past may not be possible when fighting terror organizations. There will be never be an equivalent to the Japanese surrender aboard the USS Missouri in 1945. There is no way to completely stop suicide terror against "soft" targets or to stop car bombs in public places. The only total victory over Islamic terrorists will have to come from within the Muslim world. There will have to be a theological and moral revulsion so great that no Muslim would dare risk hell and universal Islamic opprobrium by targeting innocents for murder. Unfortunately that day seems quite distant.
In effect, then, America will have lost in Iraq when America decides it has lost. And then it becomes what is known as a self-fulfilling prophecy.