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Declaring Victory Does Not Make It So
June 24, 2004
By Michael Shannon

We all know the one that says, "victory has a thousand fathers but defeat is an orphan." Well that old saw remains true as far as it goes but - if you will pardon the familial pun - we seem to have forgotten that before defeat can truly become an orphan somebody on the losing side has to cry, "Uncle." Of all the things that have gone wrong in Iraq over these past months, that one seemingly trivial omission is at the root of them all.

The Iraqi army may have been thoroughly whipped on the field of battle, the command and control structure of the Hussein regime may have been systematically dismantled, the heirs apparent to the throne may have been killed, and the man who spawned and nurtured them captured and humiliated for all the world to see, but still nobody on their side of the ledger has ever uttered the words, "we surrender."

As history has shown countless times - that goes for, among others, the Continental Army at Morristown and the Viet Cong at Hue - if you are engaged in armed conflict with an enemy that has a "refuse to lose" credo at their core, you have a big time problem. As has been increasingly self-evident over the course of the last year or so: the American led effort in Iraq has such a problem.

During the week long celebration of the life of Ronald Reagan a great deal of attention was paid to the claim that as president, Mr. Reagan was responsible for the West winning the Cold War. While such a claim can and will be argued in detail from now until the end of recorded history, there is a basis in fact to it. What was completely overlooked in the wave of adulation which poured forth in the passing of Mr. Reagan was that, as stated above, his victory would not have been at all possible if his opponent had not willingly conceded defeat. While Mr Reagan is hailed as a hero, it is with historic and tragic irony that his primary antagonist Mikael Gorbachev is summarily dismissed as a loser.

There is no denying the Soviet Empire had systemic and pandemic flaws and weaknesses. The combination of state control of all economic activity coupled with a totalitarian suppression of free expression for decade after decade had caused a complete ossification of Soviet society. But as fatally flawed as the Soviet Union was, to think that they would not have made a horribly formidable enemy even at such a late hour is revisionist nonsense. The two human dinosaurs that immediately proceeded Gorbachev in office, Yuri Andropov and Constantine Chernenko, had no intention of going down without a fight. Had such a fight been triggered by the early, and to Soviet eyes, very ominous saber rattling by the Reagan administration, any proclamation of a resulting American victory would have been a malevolent impossibility as there wouldn't have been enough of either side left standing to proclaim anything at all.

It was left to Mr. Gorbachev to grasp this realization and, to his everlasting credit, he choose another path. Gorbachev had been severely chastened by the deaths of several dozen protesters in the then-Soviet Republic of Latvia a few weeks earlier. He knew that the carnage in East Germany, or any of the other satellite nations, would far exceed that toll if push came to shove. When he informed the hard line Chancellor of East Germany, Erich Honeker, that the Red Army would not leave their barracks in the event of an uprising of the East German people, Mr. Honecker knew he was powerless without such support and soon thereafter Mr. Reagan got his heretofore unimaginable wish, and the wall came tumbling down.

Unfortunately we have no one of such wisdom and vision as exhibited by Gorbachev on the opposing side in Iraq, with the possible exception of Shiite Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. (Had this gentlemen chosen to throw his full support behind the spring uprising led by the far more radical and aggressive Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, the situation in Iraq would have very quickly devolved into a level of mayhem and anarchy that would have made the current mess pleasant by comparison.) Because of this, the United States and it allies are faced with the daunting task of fighting an enemy that shows absolutely no intention of accepting their fate.

Mr Bush would love nothing more than to make a big show of the scheduled handover of "sovereignty" to the newly formed Iraqi government on June 30. His heart would race with unabashed joy if he could show the world how right he was in his grand undertaking. Unfortunately for him, the last time he got all dressed up, threw a big party and declared victory in Iraq was about five thousand American dead and wounded ago.

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