Can we afford to lose this war?

Contrary to what you’ve read in the newspapers, we are not debating whether to “change course” in Iraq. We are debating whether to accept defeat in Iraq.

Contrary to what you’ve seen on television, there is no way for us to “end the war.” If we retreat from Iraq, the war will not just continue but expand. The only difference is that a battlefield on which we are now killing our enemies will be transformed into a base from which our enemies can safely plan to kill us.

Yes, it’s disappointing that the American-backed government in Baghdad has not yet met its “benchmarks” for enacting political and economic reforms. Iraqi politicians have failed to pass laws dividing oil revenue among the country’s main population groups; excluding fewer Baathists from obtaining government jobs; and scheduling provincial elections in areas where Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds are competing for power.

But let’s get serious: Passing such laws is no longer our primary goal in Iraq. What is? Preventing al Qaeda (and/or Iran’s radical mullahs) from defeating us on what they call the “central front” of the global war being waged against America and the West. Should they beat us in Iraq, they will be seen as giant killers. Recruits will pound on their doors. What would our enemies do next?

No need to guess. Al Qaeda leaders have vowed that after they “expel the Americans from Iraq” they will launch a “jihad wave to the secular countries neighboring Iraq.” The National Intelligence Estimate — the collective judgment of the U.S. intelligence community — concurs: In the wake of too-early American withdrawals, al Qaeda would use its strongholds in Iraq “to plan increased attacks in and outside of Iraq.”

Intelligence sources already have seen evidence of a link between the recent British car-bomb plots and al Qaeda in Iraq. If Osama bin Laden’s followers can manage this now, consider what they’d be able to do were U.S. forces to pack up and leave.

The truth is that President Bush has changed course in Iraq — belatedly but significantly. We now have a new commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus — unanimously confirmed by the Senate. He is implementing a very different strategy from that of his predecessors. The first large-scale operational phase, “Phantom Thunder,” began only on June 15. Among its key components: targeting al Qaeda hideouts and bomb factories in and around Baghdad.

Petraeus also is focusing on Anbar Province in western Iraq. A year ago, that area was given up as lost, so firmly was it under al Qaeda’s control. But the more the region’s traditional tribal rulers experienced the reality of al Qaeda rule — e.g., the baking of children in ovens to teach obedience to their parents (as reported by Michael Yon) — the more they looked for a way to escape the group’s clutches.

Petraeus and his troops have given them one. If we were to now abandon these people to the tender mercies of al Qaeda, what message would it send to the world? This message: To be America’s enemy entails minimal risk; but to be America’s friend is hazardous and foolish in the extreme.

The new U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, warned in a New York Times interview that a hasty departure of American troops would lead to the deaths of many thousands in Iraq and, very likely, a broader regional conflict as well. The benchmarks that were set for the Iraqi government’s performance, he has suggested, may not be the most reliable measure of whether the American military and diplomatic missions are making progress.

More useful indicators might include (1) the level of damage being done to al Qaeda; (2) the extent to which Iraqis are assuming responsibility for their own security; (3) Iraqi government progress in delivering basic services such as electricity; and (4) whether Shia, Sunni and Kurdish leaders are working more collaboratively.

It was never anticipated that the Petraeus mission, in its early stages, would lead to settlement of the most difficult issues dividing Iraqis. The idea was, rather, that those issues could be tackled only when the military mission had brought a reasonable degree of peace and stability to the country.

At this moment, America’s enemies are doing all they can to prevent Petraeus and his troops from achieving that goal. Washington politicians have to choose whether they want to assist our enemies — or give our military men and women the resources, time and support they need to successfully implement their new strategy and achieve their new objectives. Why is this a tough call for so many of them?

(Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism.)


  1. DejaVuAllOver

    What a load of sewage. Are you SO stupid that you think staying in Iraq is going to allow us to police the world? Everyone hates us. Are we going to start a war with every other country, too, just so we can shoot everyone we don’t like? These things happen for reasons. If there were a way to fix this degenerate mess, we should do it. But there ain’t. The best we can do is admit we’re a nation of immoral fools who have been misled by some evil scumbags and hope the world will cut us some slack for our unmitigated hubris. THERE IS NO RIGHT WAY TO DO SOMETHING THAT’S FUNDAMENTALLY WRONG.

  2. Sandra Price

    Thank you Snowcrash for your very informative point of view. We need more like you to speak out and I thank you for doing so here.

  3. JoyfulC

    But is it really about fixing someone else’s problems? Or even about protecting ourselves from terrorism?

    All this has really only increased the danger the average American faces from terrorism.

    One thing I’m starting to wonder about is the relationship between active US military involvement in Iraq and US taxpayer funding of private (corporate) efforts there. Could it possibly be that it’s necessary to be at war and stay at war in order to continue subsidizing private “security” operations in Iraq?

    I guess what I’m wondering here is, if the US decided to withdraw from Iraq, what would happen to taxpayer dollars that are currently going to private corporations operating there? Are they there supporting our troops? Or are they there supporting corporate interests?

    Maybe I’m just paranoid.

  4. allan hirsh

    mr. hirsh
    Just because someone is considered a pundit doesn’t necessarily mean that he is more or less than you or I. Punditry with the addition of partisanship is no longer wisdom so much as craftiness or slyness. The public is cowed by people in office or in think tanks and they have been responsible for the nightmare we live in. So, you can say anything you want to say and so can I. And then where is the guilt? If you have a conscience and once did something wrong, hocked a yoyo at the 5 & dime, consider the guilt these rabid invaders must feel for pursuing the war.

  5. Wayne K Dolik

    I remember all the talk from the Vietnam days. Oh those bad Commies. If we leave the war Countries will all fall like Dominos! The Domino theory did not work then and it won’t hunt now.

    Firstly, the Iraqi’s are not America’s friends. Iraq is to fractured to be America’s friend. That is a fact. It is impossible to hold this Country based upon present Troop strength. The Generals knew that up front, but Bush Co. didn’t. The notion that if we leave, that Al Qaeda would rise is just plain false. In fact, there is a high degree of probability that the Kurds, Shia and Sunni would push Al Qaeda out of Iraq.

    The best way is to redeploy our Troops to a friendly Country and let the Iraqi’s sort this out on their own.

    But, then there is the Oil Sharing Agreement, which is illegal, immoral and downright unethical. Cheney’s little oil scam doesn’t have a chance in hell.

  6. anthny

    anthny: It ain’t easy being Green.
    SnowCrash7 and Joyful C have it pegged, this guy May is just spoutting off Fox News sound bites that the regimes propaganda machine manufactures.
    This is a Civil War and when we leave the fighting will go on without us.
    Bin Ladin was a CIA operative when Russia was in Afganistan and I think he is still working for them.
    The whole point of the war was to bleed us dry of money and make Bush and Cheneys Corporations rich beyond belief, in that sense Mission Accomplished they have put the police state in place and its a matter of time that Blackwater and Halliburton will be ruling with an iron fist.
    Stop the non-sense and give the criminals the boot they deserve, life in prison for starting a war againist humanity……………………

  7. Carl Nemo

    The mission was accomplished! No WMD’s were discovered. The top 52 of Iraq’s wayward leaders were rounded with the main perps executed. We should have exited long ago as liberators but no the real mission is to secure their oil fields for the shadowy “oil oligarchs” and construct bases on their land. So if we have lost it’s only because we have outstayed our welcome long ago. Besides these “police action” style engagements such as Korea, Nam, Kosovo-Serbia, Gulf War I, and now Gulf War II aren’t the atypical wars found found in the 19th and the early to mid- 20th century;i.e, massive world-encompassing conflagrations with sovereign nations fighting sovereign nations on a level playing field over large land masses.

    The U.S. and it’s allies whipped both Nazi Germany and the Empire of the Rising Sun in less time then Bushco and his gang of “Oil Commandos” have been mucking about on the streets of Bagdhad. Iraq isn’t about winning it’s about the MIC and the “oil patch” sinking their vampiric fangs in the U.S. Treasury and the wallets of the American people. Lose/Win…sorry Cliff May, this isn’t a Saturday NFL game…! These modern wars due to their less than sterling reasons for engagement are really lost or won in a fog of relativism and think-tank sophistry.

    Unfortunately people are dying while our evil, greedy, mattoid leaders are marching to the jody calls of their shadowy corporate drill-masters! Nobody really gives a crap whether we call it a win, lose or draw as long as we clear our butts out of Iraq immediately if not sooner.
    We’ve overstayed our welcome. It’s now time to win the peace and not this businessman’s faux-war waged for the purpose of resource acquisition and military base implacement!

    Carl Nemo **==

  8. nuQler Ostrich

    Gawd, what spew from another steers rear end.

    Look at Viet Nam now. And all that talk about dominoes. It’s the only country that we have ever invaded where we don’t still have permanent military bases.

    We invaded the Phillipines during the Spanish American War and we are still there. More than 100 years ago.

    Borrowing another 5 trillion dollars from China, Japan, India, Brunei, etc, the question should have been: CAN WE AFFORD TO WIN THIS WAR?

    Ask our great grandchildren, cuz they are the ones that will have to pay it.

  9. JudyB

    So, we LOSE big time if we lose the war in Iraq? This may be true, but there is no way for us to win this needless un-thought-out and un-planned war that should have never been fought in the first place. “We The People” LOST big time the instant Bush was appointed to the Presidency.. with a congress that had no checks & balance method in place and nothing but lies & smoke screens the normal procedure. The reign of the G.W.Bush administration will go down and refered to by historians as ” Americas eight years of Infamy and the eighty disasteous years ensuing as a result”

  10. nuQler Ostrich

    I should have said:


    By the way, how much ** IS ** the yearly interest on 13 trillion dollars? How much a week is Joe Six pack’s share?

    That’s a question the Chickenhawks don’t want us to even ask.

  11. Dionysis

    Convoluted neocon claptrap is what the author is offering. I don’t have the time or interest in picking this piece apart, bit by bit, but concur with most of those posting rejoinders, especially Snowcrash 7.

    It is now not only abundantly clear, but empirically valid, that the madness of Chimperor George and his quisling sycophants have made this world a far, far greater danger than before 9/11, and the cost to this country in blood, treasure, international standing, credibility and virtually every other measure has been, and continues to be, enormous.

    How many more American lives, limbs and tax dollars do you chickenhawk clowns think we ‘owe’ Iraq? And is Mr. May prepared to don his flack jacket and air drop outside the green zone, or send his kids to do so? Probably not, since the stock in trade of his ilk is to use other people like cannon fodder. In this case, to try and salvage Der Chimpenfuehrer’s ‘image’.

    Not many are buying from you, sir, beyond the 25% or so of the extremist nut cases in this country that support this idiocy, regardless of objective reality.

  12. JudyB

    The trumped-up Bush oil war in Iraq was lost before it even began..It was based on greed and lies then went terribly wrong from what they had IMAGINED. Having no plans in place on how to procede after the initial invasion and releasing Iraq police from duty, then declaring “mission accomplished”.. the worst possible thing resulted, with the criminals now running the land and threatening the world with various acts of terrorism.
    I see no use in continuing the speculation in what
    losing this war will mean, because America & the world will be experiencing it first hand for the next century. Yes folks, this war will be forever known as the unnecessary, unwinnble & disasterous war. The price of this Bush’ folly has resulted in the loss of the lives of tens of thousands of innocent people, unknown bazillions of $$$ and with the security of Americans & our allies in jeopardy for the next century or more. The eight years of the G.W. Bush reign will live on in infamy and it saddens me to my core for what he could have chosen to for his county instead of what he did chose to do it.

  13. jgw

    Wrong question I think. Can we really afford to keep on fighting this war at 16 BILLION dollars a month? I don’t think so, most economists don’t think so, the budget office doesn’t think so (it goes on and on).

    We are now told that we are responsible for fixing an almost 2000 year old problem (the middle east) because, if we do not, all hell will break loose. So we continue to screw it up. We started it, we made a mess, and, under normal circumstances we should fix it. That being said its pretty obvious that these people love their mess, consider it THEIRS, and want us the hell out of there and we should comply with their wishes. In spite of all the claims its also pretty obvious that we are simply not helping! (them OR ourselves).

    There are, admittably, some poor sods who want us to stay. Most, I suspect, are those that got into bed with us and who we are currently refusing to help anyway. I feel bad for them but, had they examined history, they would find that we do not exactly ‘help’ allies in failed wars. In addition to this we are hearing almost exactly the same rhetoric as we heard towards the end of the Vietnam mess after which the sky did NOT fall! Its time that we realize that we are simply not very good fixing somebody else’s problems!

    I think the worst part of it is that its all been for NOTHING. THAT, I think, more than anything else continues to fuel support for this war. Its obviously VERY hard for some folks to come to grips with that reality. How do you tell a guy that he had his limbs blown off for nothing? How do you explain to mothers that her child was blown up for nothing? We are REALLY bad at admitting mistakes. Unfortunately, if you can’t admit mistakes its also almost impossible to learn. Its time, I think…..

    john white
    Port Angeles, WA

  14. gem100739

    I am amazed this piece is allowed to be published here. It is actually tommyrot.

    As said above, we have lost. Also, as said above, we will reap what we have sown. What is not said above is:

    Everyone who voted for this war and the continuation of this war is a war criminal. Please refer to the reasons why Bush and Cheney should be impeached. It is also time for people to start questioning why the Bushes have bought 98,000 acres of Paraguay, a political state that will grant them asylum. Being tried by the World Court is not an ending poor George or Dicky want, you know.

    It is also time to question really, really hard the oil “sharing” agreement (80% for us, 20% for you) that the Iraqi Parliment will not sign. Good for them. Why should they share anything? They have a whole country to rebuild…I’d say they have a few grievences. Greedy, malevalent, avericious us.

    Yes, we have to leave. Then we have to figure out how we, now a pauper nation, can help rebuild what we tore apart, how we can pay reparations to the families of the murdered Iraquis…etc., etc., etc.

    I am ashamed of us and have been ever since our Congress fell to its abjectly fear-ridden knees and kow-towed to the liers George, Cheney, Rice and Powell. I am ashamed of our school system that disallows our citizens the history and civics to understand what has taken place.

    Scooter Libby will be forgotten…he is small potatoes…but our Constitution will never be the same.

    Sorry, guys and gals, Bush and Cheney have pulled of their coup. We are a fascist state having a unitary government (thanks to the Judicial Department and a very powerful VP and probably a cabal of industrialist, technocratists and politikos) and run by minions of the corporate-ocracy. We just haven’t heard the other shoe or boot drop, yet.

    It it time to replace the whole lot and send to the gallows anyone in public office who takes money in any way shape or form from any corporation, or other such or similar institution before or after elections. By definition, we can only elect the greedy as they are the only ones with the money…and, in my opinion, anyone with great wealth who hasn’t shared 98% of it with people who are poorer, is greedy. We have millions of needy in this country. Our social and health services are in shambles.

    How will all this end? It is worthy of a thought or to…I am telling my kids to have their kids learn Chinese!

  15. JoyfulC

    Mr. May is absolutely correct in his assessment of the mess the Bush administration made of Iraq, however, it’s no justification for continuing down the same path. The US made a mistake with Iraq, and when you make a mistake, there are usually consequences. Those who don’t want to withdraw from Iraq are trying to sidestep the consequences of their mistake, understandably, but it’s unlikely that will be possible.

    The United States has a very strong and capable tool in its military, but like any tool, if it’s used improperly, it may not accomplish its end and may break in the process of trying. My cell phone, for example, is a remarkable tool. It can do many things — phone calls, message centre, text messaging, contact management, and so much more — but as capable as my cell phone is, it has its limits. Say, for instance, I tried to use it to hammer in a nail — it would likely do a poor job of it, and would very likely break or damage my phone in the process. That’s what’s really going on here with Iraq — President Bush chose the wrong tool for the job there, and that’s why he hasn’t made much progress. And he’s also damaging the tool — depleting resources that might be needed in a proper military application and eroding confidence in/fear of the US military abroad.

    Everyone’s all a-twitter about al qaeda these days — and rightly so! They’re a bad enemy. But meanwhile, there are a lot of other things going on in the world, and it may turn out that al qaeda isn’t the only enemy America and its friends have. There may arise a situation where the military IS the right tool for the job — but if we’ve squandered its capabilities in an inappropriate application, then we won’t have it when we need it.

    The US must leave Iraq and accept the fact that the Bush administration’s choices led to a situation which greatly increased the dangers we already faced from terrorism. President Bush and his team gambled and lost, and now it’s time to accept that. But meanwhile, so many resources that have been going into Iraq haven’t been going into shoring up security at home. Considering the circumstances, that’s where the money and effort will give the greatest return on investment. Let’s hope the President and Congress figure it out, discontinue strategies that have only created more problems, and start looking realistically at what we can do to protect ourselves in a world where there already were terrorists and where our own recent choices have only served to embolden them. It’s never too late to learn from our mistakes. We can’t avoid the consequences we’ve already created, but we can avoid creating more of the same by continuing to use the wrong tool for the job.

  16. adamrussell

    Can we afford to lose this war? We already did. This is a war we lost before we started. It’s about time we come to the understanding that we cannot control the world without destroying it and ourselves.

  17. Hexalectris

    Any thorough reply, as with most questions of international relations, requires more time and analysis than those of us interested in the future of this country even have access to. Broadly though, I strongly agree. We have no support in the world community, The loss of national treasure alone is an international disaster, and a practically useless congress refuses to hold Bush/Cheney responsible for anything. Bush/Cheney’s relationship with Congress reminds me strongly of a petulant little kid dragging a miserable puppy around on a leash. The puppy doesn’t want to go, struggles some, but in the end knuckles under. His real recourse is to bite the little bastard but he fears getting scolded

  18. SnowCrash7

    More Chicken Hawk Nonsense. These comments fly in the face of virtually everything the real experts in counter insurgency warfare have felt and been saying since the start of this fool’s errand. And its really sad as these are the sentiments of the living room commandos who are so brave with other’s folk’s sons and daughters and who are responsible for our military being wasted in this fool’s errand.

    First, as a retired combat vet with 20 years experience in counter terrorism, I can tell you that virtually every snake eater I knew felt that our going into Iraq a second time was a sucker’s ploy. They all felt that the real enemy was in Afghanistan and that our presence in Iraq would only serve to inflame, recruit, and most importantly, TRAIN Islamic radicals in combat operations.
    That is exactly what has come to pass. Bin laden LOVES our being in Iraq. He couldn’t buy this kind of motivation and training.

    For every insurgent our warriors kill, there will be 5 more created to take his place. That’s something the chicken hawks just can’t seem to grasp.
    Our presence there makes us far LESS safe, not safer.

    If this administration was serious about protecting our national security, they would bring the troops home and secure our own borders. Instead we get a delusional CoC with far too many politicians of BOTH parties lacking the courage to step up and speak out for and protect our warriors by getting them out of this 8 sided civil war.

    By the way, if you are waiting for the ‘Iraqi Security Forces’ to get their act together, don’t hold your breath. They are as corrupt and incompetent as the majority of the South Vietnamese Army and police forces were. Both would not hesitate to stab our troops in the back. Despite the fact that we have seen this movie before, Bush and friends refuse to learn from history.

    Please contact your reps and demand that our troops be redeployed to safe zones now!

  19. Jellicoe

    Pathetic drivel. Not surprising from someone who apparently makes a very good living out of ginning up reasons for fighting an endless war against “terrorism” that, among other things, is militarizing our country into something that only vaguely resembles the democracy we thought we all knew and loved. If we were really against terrorism, we would have to disavow the last sixty years of US “foreign policy” (i.e., nuclear intimidation, assassinations, coups, puppet dictatorships, invasions, black ops, “strategic” bombing of civilian targets, horrendous “collateral damage”, etc etc etc) and stop the completely bipartisan “Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomg Iran” express train. Do we really need to have this kind of stuff displayed on this web site when we can always turn to Fox News, the NYTimes, ABC and the other pillars of the echo chamber media?

  20. bryan mcclellan

    Dynamite commentary people,clear and pointed.Echo chamber media ties it up perfectly,drivel being their stock and trade…. apologists also comes to mind..

  21. Gerald Sutliff

    Defining “defeat” first requires defining “victory” or “success”. Our government didn’t do that going in and stills fails to do so. Why should the Sunnis trust the Shiites not to seek payback for decades of abuse and theological based tyranny?
    In India it’s said wild monkeys are captured by merely putting a monkey treat in a tethered narrow necked vase. The monkey reaches in, grabs the treat but can’t pull it’s hand out without releasing the treat. Whatever are our other goals in Iraq our refusal to relinquish our grasp for favorable oil concessions there may doom us to being tethered there into the foreseeable future.

  22. Magginkat

    Quoting: ” What would our enemies do next? No need to guess. Al Qaeda leaders have vowed that after they “expel the Americans from Iraq” they will launch a “jihad wave to the secular countries neighboring Iraq.”

    Not likely. I think the reverse will happen. The neighbors will chase them back to where ever they came……if they came from any other place.

    Most people are not wearing those rose tinted glasses that Mr. May seems to be wearing and realize that this is a civil war brought upon that country by the illegal and poorly managed occupation by one pResident Cheney and his sidekicks, George and Rummy.

    When these incompetent, bumbling idiots are gone from Iraq, the country will go back to what it’s been doing for centuries…..the squabbles between different ethnic groups.

    Yes, they will have to rebuild. We should leave Iraq immediately and leave the military bases and the green zone to be converted to apartment complexs to give the people a place to return to and regroup to rebuild their country.

    Cheney & his oil guzzling, greedy friends should pack up and move to Saudi Arabia where they seem to have lots of friends after they forfeit all the ill-gotten assets they have piled up because of this illegal war.

    As for the Bush, Cheney, Rummy, etc., think war crimes. Lots of them.

  23. Electric Bill

    May makes basically the same old justifications and prognostications the administration has made for four years. The Foundation for the Defense of Democracies is just another radical right wing think tank funded by oil companies, defense contractors, and far right wingnuts. His crowd has echoed the administration and fed misinformation to the public for four years and where are we? To borrow one from Reagan, are we any better of than we were four years ago? I think not and apparently neither do the vast majority of the American people. May and his crowd have been wrong about everything up until now, so why in the hell should we believe these loonies?
    PS I just heard on NPR that American troops were fired on by Iraqi troops and police to prevent them from arresting insurgents. Sounds more and more like Vietnam every day.

  24. Steve Horn

    This war was lost before we set boot1 in country – apparently we’ve failed to learn from other aggressor nations who invaded and then were kicked out by an “insurgent” force. By failing to control the territory following the defeat of the Iraqi army we opened the doors for the “insurgents” – had we controlled the borders, had we had enough men and equipment in country the outcome of this little adventure could have been quite different.
    But Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld (all well know military scholars with seconds of field experience in command and control) knew better – they figured we could dominiate the country and steal their oil on the cheap.
    For a history major, Bush doesn’t seem to have read much. He could have asked his dad about WW2 – the problems the Nazi’s had controlling the territory they’d conquered – especially once that big American “insurgent” force got involved.
    Because of this blunder, we’re fooked. Any attempt to withdraw troops will turn into a blood bath, staying there continues a bloodbath and the Iraqi government isn’t going to do jack shit to try and help.
    Nice job, Mr. President – you’ve managed to put our troops in a position where there really is no way out.



    Oh – by the way – where’s our #1 priority for capture – Bin Laden? Anybody remember him?