Let's get right to the heart of the matter. Barack Obama said famously, "I am the only major candidate who has opposed this war from the beginning. And as president, I will end it." What he really meant was "I will disengage U.S. forces from it." An enemy not yet defeated will have decidedly chosen not to "end it," and therefore likely claimed an abandoned victory for their own.
In 2004, President Bush was the only major candidate who supported the war. And as president, he won it. He might get a footnote in the immediate contemporary history to be written in the coming months and years, while Obama will be awarded full credit for withdrawing U.S. forces — now that, as Michael Yon describes to Glenn Reynolds via phone from Iraq, in "the 10th Mountain Division . . . about half of the guys I'm with haven't fired their weapons on this tour and they've been here eight months."
"THE WAR IS OVER AND WE WON:" Michael Yon just phoned from Baghdad, and reports that things are much better than he had expected, and he had expected things to be good. "There's nothing going on. I'm with the 10th Mountain Division, and about half of the guys I'm with haven't fired their weapons on this tour and they've been here eight months. And the place we're at, South Baghdad, used to be one of the worst places in Iraq. And now there's nothing going on. I've been walking my feet off and haven't seen anything. I've been asking Iraqis, 'do you think the violence will kick up again,' but even the Iraqi journalists are sounding optimistic now and they're usually dour." There's a little bit of violence here and there, but nothing that's a threat to the general situation. Plus, not only the Iraqi Army, but even the National Police are well thought of by the populace. Training from U.S. toops has paid off, he says, in building a rapport.To be sure, the murderous enemies of al-Qaeda, remnant insurgents and Iranian-backed Special Groups led, trained, armed and funded by the IRGC's Quds Force were not sitting back cowering in hopes of relief through talks without preconditions by then-presidential hopeful Barack Obama.
No, they were defeated on the battlefield by American forces, Iraqi forces, Coalition allies and an emboldened and protected citizenry. All of this made possible by one man's steadfast determination to win the war: President George W. Bush. He was about victory when victory wasn't cool.
The absence of the concept of "Victory" (let alone the word) or any recommendations geared toward actually achieving victory in the over-hyped and under-performing Iraq Study Group Report was palpable. It was the spark that inspired Marvin Hutchens, Michael Tanji and me to shut down all other activities for several weeks upon reading the ISG Report and construct a counter-study; one that was geared toward achieving victory in Iraq. In fact, so central was victory to each of the 40 recommendations, that's exactly what we titled the 33-page report: Achieving Victory In Iraq. It was well-received where it was distributed.
You might be saying now, "Way to congratulate yourself, Schippert," right? Wrong. I am trying to illustrate a few things with that self-reference above.
There is no way to end a war but through victory or defeat. Defeat is embraced through various forms of nuanced language, such as "end it," "honorable withdrawal" and "redeploy." Victory requires no such trickery or vocabulary. Victory is victory.
No victory is ever assured, and not every idea or strategy is a good one. If such were the case, there would have been no need for an Iraq Study Group Report or The Surge® which ultimately defied it. But the drive for victory must remain constant; learning, adapting, lopping off the bad ideas not working and implementing new ones in their place. Likewise, an American public and political leadership must expect and demand the same rather than giving up and embracing defeat under the guise of "ending it," seeking honorable withdrawal or redeployment without defeating the enemy first.
There is no monopoly of good ideas (or bad) held within Washington, DC. There is nothing special in the Beltway water, nor anything intellectually disabling on such matters in the water elsewhere. Take personal ownership of and responsibility for your own understanding and knowledge base. Build it. Discuss it openly along the perpetual path of learning, unafraid of (and open to perhaps) being wrong and without seeking personal credit and recognition when you are correct. This is where ideas come from, not a special Fountain of Brilliance nestled in some undisclosed DC-area location. And ideas shape strategies implemented by brave and humblingly capable men and women. Ideas produce victories. You can contribute.
There are many who deserve credit for the successful strategy that has brought victory in Iraq (one which must, naturally, be maintained and preserved), such as General David Petraeus, Fred Kagan, Jack Keane, Aussie David Kilcullen, Dr. Mary Habeck, and the list could go on to include every man and woman in and out of uniform who contributed and sacrificed. But the fact remains that only President George W. Bush made or would have made the command decision he made. Only President George W. Bush, derided and vilified, had the conviction and determination to allow a path to victory when nearly everyone else had written Iraq — and her people — off to defeat. Call it "The Audacity of Victory."
Imagine life as an Iraqi in Baghdad or Ramadi or even Fallujah or Najaf or Baquba and all points between had President Bush relented to common popular domestic and international wisdom, opinion and sentiment and left the Iraqi people to the wolves among them, only to abandon them by "ending it," executing an "honorable withdrawal," or "redeploying" our forces. Our defeat would have been theirs ten-fold. Ask one.
Our current narrative-defining trifecta of media, political elite, and academia will surely not credit George W. Bush with achieving victory in Iraq while they are afforded the more palatable option of crediting a President Barack H. Obama with a draw-down of forces. But it is with certainty afforded by said trifecta's predictability that without President George W. Bush's steadfast determination and leadership, the events, discussion and reporting surrounding Iraq today would be horrific in nature.
The audacity of victory. You have to want it.
(Also see Greyhawk and Bob Owens weighing in on Michael Yon's assessment, as well as a compelling before-and-after video by JD Johannes via Blackfive.)