Winning the battle, but losing the war

Military strategists have long known that it is possible to win battles while not achieving overall objectives.

President Bush originally proposed the war in Iraq as necessary due to the threat of weapons of mass destruction. His advisors promised him a quick and easy victory as he ordered the combined U.S. forces into battle.

Most experts on the Middle East - both military and civilian - cautioned him against this course of action declaring that such a war would be costly and outside normal conventions. They pointed out that while a swift military victory was possible, winning the "hearts and minds" of Iraqis was unlikely to be achieved by their wholesale invasion.

These objections did not dissuade the President, Congress, or their allies. We entered into war confounded by incorrect assumptions and vague objectives.

Bush's new goal is for Iraq to "deny terrorists a base of operations, discredit their narrow ideology, and give momentum to reformers across the (Middle East) region." With an agenda this broad it will be a long time before victory can be declared. The Pentagon expects to have hundreds of thousands of troops in Iraq for months, if not years. There is questioning over whether we are even winning the battles, much less the war.

Reconstruction has almost ground to a halt due to increasing violence and daily attacks on soldiers and Iraqis. Security spending is eating into rebuilding budgets and many contractors are afraid to continue their work. Congress has ordered more heavy armor and troops to Iraq to bolster the forces already there, further aggravating already strained resources.

Bloodied and battered bodies lie tangled in the streets of Iraq while hospitals groan under the burden of healing the injured. An estimated 10,000 Iraqis have died since the war began and as many as ten times that number have been injured. Almost 1,000 coalition troops have died in battles large and small.

The $4.4 billion per month the Pentagon indicates these battles costs shows no sign of decrease and is approaching that of the Vietnam War. The U.S. Defense budget, already accounting for almost one-half of the total world expenditures, is expected to increase next year as well.

With all of that money, energy, and lives, we should win this war, right?

Iraqis apparently don't think the U.S. is winning. The most recent poll commissioned by the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) has found that the majority of Iraqis have lost confidence in the US-led occupation and would feel safer if foreign troops just left their country. The results stunned CPA officials. "If you are sitting here as part of the coalition, it [the poll] is pretty grim," said Donald Hamilton, a career diplomat who helps oversee the CPA's polling of Iraqis.

One Iraqi mother of three sums up popular opinion in Baghdad, "they are angry -- angry -- angry! Angry at the Americans who are, in fact, the root of the chaos in Iraq. The Americans continue to believe that they are do-gooders and that everyone should love them. They don't get it! They want the Iraqi people to throw flowers and kisses at the invaders and the occupiers."

Back in the U.S. the debate rages over an increasingly unpopular war. At the recent Democratic State Convention in Houston, delegates from around Texas cheered loudly as activist wearing "End The War in Iraq" t-shirts marched through the convention center with signs touting peace and nonviolence.

In two weeks Iraq will achieve pseudo-sovereignty with the handoff from the CPA to the newly appointed Interim Iraqi government led by Prime Minister Ayad Allawi. Ostensibly this means Iraqis will be able to make their own decisions regarding national elections, rebuilding, security, and law. But the situation is expected to remain unstable.

Battles continue and the war in Iraq remains far from over.

Peace, Charlie


Charlie Jackson, founder of Texans for Peace, recently returned from his second trip to Iraq, undertaken through the Christian Peacemaker Teams organization of Chicago. He is a high-tech CEO and lives with his two sons in San Antonio.


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