Hagel: America cannot win its failed war in Iraq

Sen. Chuck Hagel, one of the few Republicans with guts enough to speak out against President George W. Bush’s failed Iraq war, is also willing to admit the United States cannot win the conflict.  He also says we will not leave in defeat. The solution, he says, is not a military one.

Writes Hagel in Sunday’s Washington Post:

There will be no victory or defeat for the United States in Iraq. These terms do not reflect the reality of what is going to happen there. The future of Iraq was always going to be determined by the Iraqis — not the Americans.

Iraq is not a prize to be won or lost. It is part of the ongoing global struggle against instability, brutality, intolerance, extremism and terrorism. There will be no military victory or military solution for Iraq. Former secretary of state Henry Kissinger made this point last weekend.

The time for more U.S. troops in Iraq has passed. We do not have more troops to send and, even if we did, they would not bring a resolution to Iraq. Militaries are built to fight and win wars, not bind together failing nations. We are once again learning a very hard lesson in foreign affairs: America cannot impose a democracy on any nation — regardless of our noble purpose.

We have misunderstood, misread, misplanned and mismanaged our honorable intentions in Iraq with an arrogant self-delusion reminiscent of Vietnam. Honorable intentions are not policies and plans. Iraq belongs to the 25 million Iraqis who live there. They will decide their fate and form of government.

It may take many years before there is a cohesive political center in Iraq. America’s options on this point have always been limited. There will be a new center of gravity in the Middle East that will include Iraq. That process began over the past few days with the Syrians and Iraqis restoring diplomatic relations after 20 years of having no formal communication. The next installment would be this weekend’s unprecedented meeting in Iran of the presidents of Iran, Syria and Iraq, if it takes place.

What does this tell us? It tells us that regional powers will fill regional vacuums, and they will move to work in their own self-interest — without the United States. This is the most encouraging set of actions for the Middle East in years. The Middle East is more combustible today than ever before, and until we are able to lead a renewal of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, mindless destruction and slaughter will continue in Lebanon, Israel and across the Middle East.

We are a long way from a sustained peaceful resolution to the anarchy in Iraq. But this latest set of events is moving the Middle East in the only direction it can go with any hope of lasting progress and peace. The movement will be imperfect, stuttering and difficult.

America finds itself in a dangerous and isolated position in the world. We are perceived as a nation at war with Muslims. Unfortunately, that perception is gaining credibility in the Muslim world and for many years will complicate America’s global credibility, purpose and leadership. This debilitating and dangerous perception must be reversed as the world seeks a new geopolitical, trade and economic center that will accommodate the interests of billions of people over the next 25 years. The world will continue to require realistic, clear-headed American leadership — not an American divine mission.