The independent news organization of Duke University

'Winning' the war

Richard Nixon actually campaigned in 1968 that he had a secret plan to win the Vietnam War. Times are changing now, and I don't think even a secret plan, not even one cooked up by the infamous not-crook himself, could help the U.S. effort in Iraq. You can talk all your military business, your supply lines, your conflicting Sunni Muslim, Shi'a Muslim, Kurds, insurgents, terrorists of all shapes and sizes, radical clerics, civilian targets, roadside bombs and what have you, but I don't think that's the entire or even most important problem. I think it's that we just can't conceptualize the Big Win.

Yeah, yeah, it's been said before, the reason we can't win in Iraq is that we don't have a definition for "winning." The American public is so stupid, so beat up and cannot stand for too long this and that about making Iraq safe for democracy, about having a constitution, milestones, baby steps. It's not what we like hearing-that's the official war hawk word, anyway. Americans like to win decisively and cannot grasp the complexities of the situation, those smart folks in charge say, which is close, but sadly undeserving of the metaphorical cigar.

Richard Nixon was a big sports fan. The man really liked his football. Well, what's football? Football is two front lines, two military formations lined up face to face, whereby through grace, size and athletic ability, one of the two sides scores decisive victory over the other in an average 6-second operation. Then they all take a break, go to a huddle and then line up again, over and over, until one side ultimately scores more points than the other and wins the game. While this is happening a whole bevy of gentlemen and ladies stand upon the sideline or in the press box recording statistical information about every player on the field-even the linemen.

It's this focus on statistics, the reliable numbers charting football wars, ending up in box scores in morning paper, cup of coffee, fried egg or two, watching my cholesterol- hey, did you see that Trotter got three sacks? In a box score the game is broken down into numbers, into meaningful evidence of human movements.

There's a box score for Iraq too, but it isn't nearly detailed enough, and there's no running score. It's the box that tells you two or three American soldiers were killed in a roadside bomb attack, or RPG attack, some kind of horrible fire-death. Maybe it doesn't even tell you that much-just their rank, hometown and age, most times. We have no intelligible way to quantify progress in Iraq, no separate statistic to point to, like, say, a sack, to prove our defensive strategy is working well. I think this is a major failure of our military and civilian leadership in its communication of the war effort and its aims.

What kind of respect is there for families of soldiers when we've got no quantifiable, communicable way of proving or achieving decisive victory? I don't give a crap about no Scooter Libby-I know that powerful men are corrupt and mislead the public-I want to know how we're going to win the war, whatever that could possibly mean, and I want to know right now! I don't care about the Watergate, the tapes, the leaks, Dick Cheney, White Men (in caps) or any of that crap. I care about effective military operations, responsibility, definable statistics and a Big Win-decisive, proper, promised; saving lives. Show me a new box score with the positives and negatives-Iraqis killed, economic figures, growth of civil society, I don't know, just show me something other than two or three soldiers a day being killed and this pie-in-the sky crap about constitutions. I want some context, something I can understand about Where This Whole Thing Is Going. I want some stats from the battlefield to prove it.

Yeah, I'm tired (and polls say most other Americans are, too) but it's not from a lack of depth or understanding of the complexities of Iraq. We're tired because there are no statistics to give; there is no strategy to win and therefore no means of communicating it. And I think even a secret plan would do better than that.

Aaron Kirschenfeld is a Trinity junior. His column runs every other Tuesday.

 

Discussion

Share and discuss “'Winning' the war” on social media.