Actually, the "war," i.e., battles between hostile government military forces, was won, quickly and decisively, after only a couple months back in 2003. The armies of Saddam Hussein were crushed and his government completely toppled.
By any reasonable definition, the United States has already won the war. So why, five years later, are we still there?
In 1992, facing public criticism for not toppling Saddam Hussein, the U.S. secretary of defense gave a remarkably prophetic reason: "I would guess if we had gone in there, I would still have forces in Baghdad today. We'd be running the country. We would not have been able to get everybody out and bring everybody home. And the question in my mind is how many additional casualties is Saddam Hussein worth? And the answer is not that damned many. So, I think we got it right, both when we decided to expel him from Kuwait, but also when the president made the decision that we'd achieved our objectives and we were not going to go get bogged down in the problems of trying to take over and govern Iraq."
Ironically, the secretary of defense was none other than Dick Cheney, now the war hawk neoconservative vice president.
What are our "objectives" today? In theory, they are to establish a "democratic" system of government in Iraq. In Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was democratically elected. In Gaza, after Bush and Condoleezza Rice demanded elections, the democratic result was support for Hamas. In Lebanon, Hezbollah, was the winner. In Pakistan we are doing our old CIA trick of propping up the military dictator Musharraf out of total fear of what the democratic result of an election will be. Israel, our supposed "ally," is in theory a democracy but in truth a huge voting block in the "occupied territories" — officially part of Israel, according to Likud Party doctrine — are denied the right to vote, thus preserving the Jewishness of the Jewish state.
Will democracy work in Iraq? The historical patterns as well as the long-term systems of governance practiced there clearly say "no."
So, should the U.S. military establishment be used as a sort of club to force the Iraqis into democracy? The new unofficial "objective" is clearly that. Much has been written about the "success" of the "surge," but in truth, even if we overran Iraq with a billion soldiers, it is painfully obvious that when we eventually draw down our forces, a stable democratic government will not take their place.
Even more painful to admit is the reality we have not reduced the terrorist threat. If anything, our "Bush Doctrine" of "preemptive strike," of attacking before possibly being attacked, has been a failure. When we kill one terrorist, 10 newly inflamed recruits rush to fill his place. Our semi-successful hunt for terrorists in Afghanistan is re-opening and new regiments of soldiers are getting prepared to counteract a new offensive planned by the Taliban. Will this cycle ever cease?
We have spent more than $500 billion so far in Iraq. Our forces are going into three, four, five deployments. Our equipment is wearing out, and the American people are legitimately asking, "Why?" When will it end?
We obviously need to re-exam our "objective." It is not a crime to ask for timetables and realistic goals. Even the best football coach knows sometimes you need to punt.
Ira Hansen is a lifelong resident of Sparks, owner of Ira Hansen and Sons Plumbing and his radio talk show can be heard Monday through Friday from 3 to 6 p.m. on 99.1 FM.