Sunday, November 30, 2008

What Does Victory Look Like?

What does victory look like?

That is a question that has been asked since shortly after the fall of the Saddam Hussein Regime in 2003. There were those who argued that victory was the removal of Saddam, regardless of what the aftermath would look like. There are others who argued that we could only claim victory in Iraq if Iraq resembled the United States. The bar for claiming victory has also shifted as those forces who wanted defeat sought to raise the bar to an unachievable level just as those who wanted victory would lower it. As is the case in many things, the truth probably lies in between. Then again, what constitutes victory is ultimately determined by the President as Commander-in-Chief in collaboration with the Joint Chiefs.

In light of recent news, I think it is an apt question for people to ask. As you all know the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) was signed by Ambassador Crocker and his Iraqi partners and approved by the Cabinet. The next hurdle for the document is the Iraqi Council of Representatives, which should be quite entertaining. It makes me upset that there isn't a good English language news station that can cover the debate in English. The bits and pieces shown on Fox News and other news sources indicate that lively would be an understatement. But SOFA is a step forward.

SOFA is part of what victory looks like. As President Bush has said on numerous occasions, "As the Iraqis step forward, we will step back". That is what victory in counter-insurgency looks like. Obviously it’s something incredibly difficult to measure, and what ultimately is victory is up to others to decide. SOFA lays the groundwork for the United States Armed Forces and her Coalition Allies to step draw back as her Iraqi Allies step forward into the gap. The Iraqi Army has not always been ready to take the lead and there is a danger of putting someone in the lead too early. Some have argued that this was the precise problem in 2005 and 2006 - the rush to push inexperienced and under-trained Iraqi units into the lead when they were not ready. The Iraqi Army of 2008 is not the Iraqi Army of 2005/6. There is still work to be done, but they are much more capable than my last tour in this country. Some of the Iraqi units can even operate independently of Coalition Forces support.

It is the Iraqis who must ultimately step forward and win their country. To quote the great insurgent leader, T.E. Lawrence, "It is better that the Arab do it tolerably, than we do it perfectly". Iraqi "democracy" will never be the same as that in our Republic. The Iraqi military will likely never be as professional and well-equipped as ours. But that isn't the issue. As the Iraqis can take the fight to the enemy, and fight for their own country, they are doing it tolerably. The goal of any counter-insurgency is to get the HN (Host Nation) forces to do things tolerably. The Iraqis are rapidly approaching or have surpassed that point in some areas. SOFA is part of that process. It can be frustrating because it can be difficult to take a back seat or a supporting role when one is used to being up front. We have to adapt to the new reality. It isn't easy, but Victories are never easy.

We are winning in Iraq. A great deal of that credit belongs to the strategy employed by GEN Petraeus when he became the new MNF-I commander and now continued by GEN Odierno. The surge worked and because of it, we are witnessing a transition, a transition embodied by SOFA.

It will make my life more interesting, frustrating, and perhaps at times more difficult. It's good to recall the words of T.E. Lawrence to keep myself grounded and focused. What does victory look like? We may soon see.

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