Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Joint Chiefs Nominee: We Can't Afford to Lose

This may not be a particularly insightful observation. However, to the extent that Operation Phantom Thunder ('the surge') is viewed as a success, political reconciliation becomes more and more important in Iraq.

That's because there are two things that must happen to judge Iraq a success:

  1. The nation must be more or less at peace; and,
  2. Iraq must have a stable government that can run the country -- in whatever form that takes.
Today Admiral Michael Mullen testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee, and talked about what's necessary for success in Iraq:

When Graham asked Mullen how he would define "winning in Iraq," the admiral said he worried about specific definitions. He said he hoped to see "a stable Iraq which can govern itself," reconcile the feuding factions within the country and not be a haven for terrorists.

Pressed to gauge the chances of an American victory, Mullen acknowledged that he was troubled about the Iraqis' failure to come together politically. "I would be concerned about whether we'd be winning or not," he conceded.

If Iraq cannot maintain a cohesive government, then all our work to maintain security may be for naught. So come September, if Phantom Thunder is seen as having miraculously transformed Iraq and put it on the path to peace, it's appropriate then to ask: can the Iraqis govern?

Now for the title of the post. While others will draw from Mullen's testimony the assertion that the ranks of the insurgents in Iraq seem almost limitless, I'll point to another critical point that many will choose to ignore -- Mullen's belief that we cannot afford to lose:

Cartwright said he thought victory was achievable. "It's going to be a challenge," he said.

A mid-September progress report from General David Petraeus, the top American commander in Iraq, will offer a chance to determine whether the path "we're on is the right path or whether we want to make adjustments," he said.

The admiral said he saw the struggle in Iraq as one with global impact. Asked whether he believed that "this is a war really we can't afford to lose, when it's all said and done," as Graham put it, he replied, "Yes, sir."

You know you're in a challenging environment when you don't know if you can win, but you do know that you can't afford to lose.

Update: Also read the Post account. Twenty-nine paragraphs long, and no mention of the need to win.

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