Declare victory by changing the rules

One of the charms of sports is that they keep score. For example, if like me you’re a fan of Michigan Wolverines football, no amount of rationalization can hide the dismal fact that, this season, we’ve been sentenced to root for a terrible team.

By contrast, in the world of politics, it’s possible to go on a four and a half year losing streak and still claim that things are actually going well. That’s what’s happening this week in Washington, as the White House pulls out all the stops to try to convince people “the Surge” is working, that there’s light at the end of the tunnel, and that therefore Congress should give the Bush administration yet more time to get the occupation of Iraq turned around.

In the game of politics, you can get away with this kind of thing for several reasons. First, you can mess around with statistics and claim that, while most observers think you’ve only kicked a couple of field goals, you’ve really scored several touchdowns.

This is what the Pentagon is doing with statistics on civilian violence in Iraq. While sources such as the AP and the Washington Post have concluded that by their calculations there’s been no decline in violence in Iraq as a whole, the Pentagon says it has classified information that what it defines as sectarian violence is down by as much as 75 percent (As a Michigan fan, I wish our coaches could conjure up a few “secret” touchdowns, that no one remembers happening, but which mysteriously appear on the scoreboard just before time runs out).

Moreover, you can change the rules in the middle of the game. The original point of the Surge was to create enough stability to allow the Iraqi government, such as it is, to start unifying the country. That’s why Congress has forced the Bush administration to keep score, by specifying various benchmarks that were supposed to be achieved.

So what happened? The Government Accountability Office, which Congress appointed to referee the game, has just reported that almost none of the benchmarks have been met. The Bush administration has reacted by declaring that the grading process is unfair, because partial credit isn’t being given for making progress toward achieving them.

This is the equivalent of a football coach complaining that his offense should be credited with scoring a couple of points for having moved a bit down the field, even though it ended up fumbling the ball away.

Beyond this, the politics of the Iraq war dictate that if cooking the statistics doesn’t do the trick, and altering the rules of the game still doesn’t put you ahead, you can simply declare that you were never playing football in the first place.

This has already happened several times. At first, the game was called Disarm the Crazy Dictator. When it turned out Saddam Hussein didn’t have WMDs after all, the game suddenly became Create a Glorious Mideast Democracy.

Then, when we found ourselves down 42-0 at the half in that contest, it was announced we were now playing We Can’t Leave Because There Will Be Chaos, a.k.a. The Pottery Barn Olympics.

Figuring out the score in this latest game is quite complicated, but a hint of how hard it is to play is provided by one of Gen. David Petraeus’s advisors, Stephen Biddle. According to Biddle, winning We Can’t Leave Because There Will Be Chaos will require deploying 100,000 American troops in Iraq for the next 20 years, and even then the odds of winning will be what he calls “a long-shot gamble.”

Does this sound like a game worth playing? Before trying to answer that, we ought to fire all the current coaching staff.

(Paul F. Campos is a law professor at the University of Colorado and can be reached at Paul.Campos(at)Colorado.edu.)

3 Responses to "Declare victory by changing the rules"

  1. Carl Nemo  September 12, 2007 at 12:37 pm

    A superb analogy Paul Campos and possibly one that just might sink into all the “war jocks” heads that are cheering this losing team and coaching staff onward. The trouble with war is that dead or severely injured players are hauled off the playing field after every inning or down…!

    The most dangerous chemical compound on the face of the planet is not meth, cocaine, or heroin, it’s raging “testosterone” with it’s unbridled effects killing off humanity by the death of a thousand cuts!

    Carl Nemo **==

  2. SEAL  September 13, 2007 at 4:48 am

    Well, if that’s all there is to it – let’s just declare “we won” and go home.

  3. Carl Nemo  September 15, 2007 at 3:54 am

    Hi SEAL…

    We did win! The mission was accomplished; ie., to rid Iraq of Saddam and the influence of the Baath party. That mission was accomplished a number of years ago, but that wasn’t our purpose for going there. It was to secure Iraq’s oil reserves for the West and to obtain free real estate for the placement of bases post our encouraged exit from Saudi Arabia. We needed a place to maintain our presence in the Middle East and what better place than between Israel, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Kuwait, Syria and Lebanon in the West and Iran and Afghanistan in the East. It turned out to be a very bad call when all the parties continue to slug it out as to which religious faction will control the region. We are now foolishly mired down in the middle of an internecine civil war that’s fueled by hatreds that have been in existence for a thousand years or more; ie., Sunni vs. Shia control of the region. We have no business being involved in this ongoing religious based debacle.

    We have every right to declare your suggested…”we won”; i.e, mission accomplished, then to exit with only special ops forces remaining as a quick response teams stationed in Jordan and Kuwait. We can then quarantine Iraq as we did so before monitoring both their ground and air space 24/7/365. Since our forces “own the night”, we can take out detected shipments of contraband when necesary and then fly back to the aforementioned basing nations. We also have state-of-the-art, remote controlled, aerial drones for the purpose of surveillance, general snooping about and even taking action if necessary. On occasion we may need to insert a small contingent of SOC personnel to excise a terrorist “tumor”, but there’s no need for us to be in Bagdhad nor anywhere else in Iraq at this time.

    Carl Nemo **==

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