"The Iraq war is lost," according to Peter Galbraith. "Of course, neither the President nor the war's intellectual architects are prepared to admit this. Nonetheless, the specter of defeat shapes their thinking in telling ways."
Galbraith has long relished dissecting American failures in Iraq, so a declaration that the US has now officially lost follows the narrative of his expectations.
What makes Galbraith's latest piece notable is that he seems to have captured a rhetorical shift in White House talking points that could indicate a tacit acceptance of defeat in the executive branch. As Galbraith writes:
The case for the war is no longer defined by the benefits of winning—a stable Iraq, democracy on the march in the Middle East, the collapse of the evil Iranian and Syrian regimes— but by the consequences of defeat. As President Bush put it, "The consequences of failure in Iraq would be death and destruction in the Middle East and here in America."
Tellingly, the Iraq war's intellectual boosters, while insisting the surge is working, are moving to assign blame for defeat. And they have already picked their target: the American people. In The Weekly Standard, Tom Donnelly, a fellow at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute, wrote, "Those who believe the war is already lost—call it the Clinton-Lugar axis—are mounting a surge of their own. Ground won in Iraq becomes ground lost at home."... (This "blame the American people" approach has, through repetition, almost become the accepted explanation for the outcome in Vietnam, attributing defeat to a loss of public support and not to fifteen years of military failure.)
In Galbraith's view, if the US intends to readjust thinking on what the end state in Iraq should look like, efforts need to focus on a limited number of achievable goals, instead of redefining success as any situation in which Iran, Syria, or al Qaeda can't declare victory.
We need to recognize, as Lugar implicitly does, that Iraq no longer exists as a unified country. In the parts where we can accomplish nothing, we should withdraw. But there are still three missions that may be achievable—disrupting al-Qaeda, preserving Kurdistan's democracy, and limiting Iran's increasing domination. These can all be served by a modest US presence in Kurdistan. We need an Iraq policy with sufficient nuance to protect American interests. Unfortunately, we probably won't get it.