re: "Celebrate the victory in Iraq"
"(C)ounterinsurgency has different rewards, satisfactions, frustrations, and burdens than conventional interstate war. One of its frustrations is that it is harder to know whether you are winning or losing, and victory is often not clear until long after the fact. In Iraq, hawks have thought we have "won" on many occasions, and doves argue that we can never win."
And they were both wrong."Unreconstructed opponents of the war will still say we cannot have "won" because the cost of the war was too great and (or) it weakened our geopolitical position rather than strengthening it. Those qualifications torture the meaning of victory, at least according to the standard of history. Does anybody say that the United States did not "win" World War I, notwithstanding the good argument that, in retrospect, the costs far outweighed the geopolitical benefits? Of course not, because victory has its own value independent of cost and benefit. This is especially true in a global struggle with a competing ideology, for victory in that wider war will be a function of credibility as much as anything else. Winning a local war that essentially everybody believed had been lost is an important contribution to American credibility no matter what the opinions of the international chattering classes."
This is called "moving the goal posts."
The reasons for invading Iraq were pretty clearly spelled out in the 23 clauses of the Iraq War Resolution (see my Sidebar for a link).
Regime change was obviously the first victory. Saddam no longer held the levers of power and neither his WMD, genocide, support to international terrorism, nor ceasefire violations could continue.
What to do then, in "Phase IV"? Well, obviously the thing to do is to try to set things up so that, a.) none of the Saddam-related problems would continue under any future new management, less obviously, b.) try to incubate the Middle East's second democracy.
Victory Condition "b.)" was probably mission-creep, but the U.S. seems to have gotten out of the business of leaving countries in the hands of dictators when it can be avoided.
"None of that necessarily rehabilitates the original decision to invade Iraq or the poor decisions that so influenced the first three years of the counterinsurgency. Either history will ultimately reveal the invasion as a boon to the United States and its allies, or it will not. Either way, however, the United States should take what good it can from the very real victory it has achieved."
Time will tell, defeat can be snatched from the jaws of victory after all, but for today things are looking better and like they'll stay that way.