The case for victory

Posted: Aug 24, 2005 12:00 AM

In Tuesday's Wall St. Journal, reporters Farnaz Fassihi and Christopher Cooper wrote the phrase: "Mr. Bush and others have stopped talking so much of an outright victory in Iraq as they focus on plans to train Iraqi soldiers … so American troops can come home."

 I guess they didn't read President Bush's radio speech from three days earlier where he said, in referring to our troops who had died in Iraq: "Now we must finish the task that our troops have given their lives for and honor their sacrifice by completing their mission. We can be confident in the ultimate triumph of our cause because we know that freedom is the future of every nation and that the side of freedom is the side of victory."

 They surely must have missed the lead of a June 30th Washington Post article that read: " … President Bush confidently predicts victory in Iraq."

 And they couldn't have heard the speech President Bush was making yesterday (as they presumably were writing their article) that we must " … win and fight -- fight and win."

 The Wall St. Journal version of reality is of a piece with the liberal journalists I debate on radio and television. They are keeping up a constant drumbeat of not only their own defeatism but the regular suggestion that President Bush also has stopped calling for victory in Iraq.

 These mischaracterizations of the president's view on victory are important, because public support of the war is largely based on an expectation of victory. In a major USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll from three weeks ago, 32 percent of the public said we can't win the war in Iraq. Another 43 percent predict victory, while -- critically -- 21 percent say "the United States could win the war, but they don't think it will."

 If one adds that "could win, but don't think we will win" 21 percent to the 43 percent who predict victory -- one has a very solid 64 percent supporting the war. But if that 21 percent become convinced that our government has given up trying to win, then they could form a 53 percent defeatist majority in the public. It is worth noting that despite the doubts expressed by the public in that Gallup Poll 53 percent of those surveyed still said it was not a mistake to send U.S. troops to Iraq.

 But although President Bush suffers from a biased, defeatist mainstream media, he still holds his (and our nation's) fate largely in his own hands. The president and his advisors should puzzle long and hard over what is in the minds of that critical 21 percent of the public who think we can -- but won't -- win the war in Iraq.

 Let me hazard a guess. Many of the strongest supporters of the president's Iraq war aims are coming to suspect that the president has placed a limit on troop strength in Iraq for reasons extraneous to calculations of victory.

 It is hard to argue that the war is going optimally, and the administration argument that more troops wouldn't help is, at the least, counterintuitive. The president says he is sending as many troops as the generals ask for -- which is true. But recently, retired generals, and others, are saying that they are afraid to ask for more. If that is true, it is rather unheroic of the generals not to give the president the unvarnished truth of what is needed. Moreover, it is the president's job not just to listen to the generals but to fire those generals who do not deliver credible plans for victory -- as Lincoln and FDR routinely did.

 That aside, Sec. Rumsfeld argues that more troops would merely be a larger footprint, creating more targets for the enemy. But by that analysis any troop level above zero would only increase the targets. Surely there must be an optimum level of fighting troops -- irrespective of how many total troops it takes to support the actual fighters.

  I have been told that there aren't enough highways in Iraq to support higher useful levels of troops. But that is an argument for the Corp of Engineers to build more temporary roads. As the president rightly says, we must bring the battle to the enemy. After all, on D-Day at Normandy, a shortage of docking facilities led us to invent and bring with us our own manmade docks.

 Surely we could use an extra Army division to secure the Syrian and Iranian border, across which the administration asserts enemy terrorists are regularly crossing. A recent hard-fought assault "in force" by our troops in the Sunni triangle that took several casualties was a mere thousand troops -- a mere battalion-level strength -- not even a brigade.

 If, as many presidential supporters suspect, the president is making do with current in-country troop levels because we don't have enough troops worldwide at our current force levels to properly fight the war in Iraq and also fulfill all our other responsibilities, the president should say so.

 We are country of 300 million citizens with an annual GDP of $12 trillion and the lead in virtually all human technologies. Within a couple of years we can marshal whatever level of resources -- men and material -- that are needed to win on this front of the war.

 The president rightly says that Iraq is currently the central front on the war on terror. We don't need to win this month or this year. We can hold on at current levels until more resources are brought on line.

 But what we need -- and what the president's potential and actual war supporters need -- is not only his call for victory (which is gratifying), but a persuasive explanation for why we are doing everything necessary for victory. That will win over the doubting (and growing) 21 percent. Defeat being unacceptable, victory must be seen as inevitable.