Is the Iraq War “Lost”?

Harry Reid has taken a lot of flak for saying that the United States has lost in Iraq:

This war is lost, and this surge is not accomplishing anything, as is shown by the extreme violence in Iraq this week.

Taken literally, this is an odd thing to say. The Iraq war is obviously not “lost” in any conventional military sense. Our troops haven’t been defeated in battle, and won’t be. In any normal military sense, the war is “won,” not “lost.”
What Reid means, no doubt, is that we have “failed” in Iraq. Still, though, the question needs to be answered: are there really no events that could occur over the coming months that would cause our policy to be judged a success? What, exactly, is the Democrats’ basis for saying that we have failed, so that success is now out of the question?
I think the Democrats’ answer to this question is not empirical. Empirically, it could well be the case that with enough effort on our part, a reasonable degree of security could be imposed over the coming months. Statistics on violence since the surge began probably support this inference, and close to half of the troops contemplated for the surge aren’t even in place yet.
But the Democrats aren’t interested in that kind of evidence, even though they are more than willing to seize on each violent act as proof of our “defeat.” Rather, they view the proposition that we can’t succeed in Iraq as more or less tautological. I think this is why they insist on calling the violence in Iraq a “civil war.” They think that this terminology somehow invokes a per se rule that our intervention can’t possibly have a good outcome. Likewise with the claim that what is needed in Iraq is a “political solution.” Many on the left seem to think it is self-evident that if a political resolution is necessary, then military force must be irrelevant. This, of course, is a non sequitur. Moreover, it overlooks the fact that Iraq already has adopted a political solution: three elections have been held, a constitution has been approved, and a government has been chosen pursuant to that constitution.
In truth, the Democrats have needlessly put themselves in a rhetorical hole with their talk about “losing” in Iraq. They would be much better served to argue (as some do, of course) that the game is not worth the candle: that our security interests are not sufficiently at stake in Iraq to justify more than a year’s worth of further costs. This argument would avoid the valid charge of defeatism. Moreover, it would be consistent with the Democrats’ policy of setting a deadline for withdrawal.
If we have already lost in Iraq, then it is irrational to continue funding the war for another year. On the other hand, it is logical to say that we haven’t yet lost in Iraq, and that we have enough security interests there to justify some further effort and some additional costs, but that those interests are sufficiently peripheral that if another twelve months aren’t enough to bring success, the costs have exceeded any potential benefits, and we should pull the plug.
So why do so many Democrats persist in defeatist rhetoric which alienates millions of voters, has little empirical basis, and is inconsistent with their own policy prescription? I think this is another case where the Democrats’ Bush-hatred has gotten the better of them. To take a rational approach to evaluating our progress over the coming months, the Democrats would have to acknowledge that we do have security interests in Iraq and that President Bush’s policy may yet be vindicated. This, they cannot bring themselves to do. Rather than arguing for a policy that a substantial majority of Americans may well accept, they prefer to antagonize millions of voters while at the same time making nonsense of their own Congressional votes.
Hate can do funny things to politicians.
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