During his recent interview with pastor Rick Warren, Senator John McCain described General David Petraeus as a “great leader. . .who took us from defeat to victory in Iraq.” Obviously, General Petraeus deserves all the acclaim he is usually afforded by citizens and politicians alike for making the Surge an effective strategy. The Surge, together with the Sunni Awakening and the stand-down by Shiite militias, have successfully reduced violence in Iraq. But what must have surprised some is McCain’s claim to have achieved “victory” in Iraq. Previously, the Senator has repeatedly stated that he will never leave Iraq until US and Coalition forces had achieved “victory.” McCain has chided Senator Obama for trading votes for victory, for wanting to leave Iraq before we had a chance to win, thus not putting America first-something McCain claims he will always do. Now, it seems as if we have done exactly that-achieved “victory.” Has McCain suddenly realized that we have achieved his end goal? We are left to wonder if we have, indeed, achieved “victory,” what do we do now? What is our exit strategy? Did he mean that the Surge has “worked”? And that now we must move on toward “victory”? Or did he simply mis-speak? Did he, perhaps, mean to use a different verb tense-not “took us to victory” but rather “is leading us toward victory.”
If the latter be the case, what then constitutes “victory” in Iraq? The Administration is always speaking about “the facts or conditions on the ground.” So what are those conditions or facts that warrant declaring victory? Perhaps they include some or all of the following: Numbers of casualties Binding agreements amongst Shia, Sunni and Kurd Viable oil sharing laws Conducting future elections Using oil resources to fund reconstruction Functioning of civic organizations-free press, keeping schools open, viable market place and availability of electricity, water, sewage Having Iraqi armed forces fully “stand up” to their own defense Security of borders and absence of terrorist sanctuaries Productive relations with neighbors Support for the United States Perhaps these are the sum total of the kind of security we hope for in Iraq.
And, if we haven’t quite achieved “victory,” what is our strategy for doing so? We are now withdrawing Surge forces. Prime Minister Maliki has agreed to some kind of time table withdrawal. We haven’t heard of a new strategy from Senator McCain. Senator Obama’s objectives are quite different, obviously. This doesn’t mean that Obama is any less patriotic. He analyzes the problem differently. And, we should note that “victory” may just be an outworn concept for this “war on terror.” There will be no signing on the forward starboard main deck of the USS Missouri as there was in Tokyo Bay on 2 September, 1945. There will be no Paris Peace Accords that terminated the Vietnam conflict in January, 1973. Whatever “victory” looks like it is certain, as Petraeus and others have told us, it will be achieved not only by military power but the force of diplomacy, discussions, the very hard work of reaching agreements amongst disparate groups and power sources. So, Senator McCain, have we indeed achieved “victory” or are we still working toward it with a strategy you and others have not clearly articulated? The key to preserving our democracy is to continually ask politicians important questions about policy, philosophy and performance. We must, as Dr. Sally Ride has said of a NASA manager, be “inquisitive to a fault.” We must keep asking serious questions of all who would be in government-questions about philosophy, priorities and, especially, performance. This is our only guard against the tyranny of a few, our only means of preserving our democracy.
John Barell Author, Quest For Antarctica-A Journey of Wonder and Discovery (2007)
John Barell is a national consultant to schools desiring to foster inquiry, critical thinking and authentic assessment in classrooms for all students. He is author most recently of Why Are School Buses Always Yellow? (2008); Surviving Erebus–An Antarctic Adventure (2008); Quest for Antarctica–A Journey of Wonder and Discovery (2007) and “Inquisitive to a Fault”–Preserving American Democracy.