Critics of Iraq know not victory

What is victory in Iraq?

This question seems to be a recurring theme in the national debate. Few of those criticizing involvement in Iraq actually define what victory would consist of, much less articulate a coherent way to get there.

I suggest an answer through an equation: “Victory = Ax – By + Cz +/- …”

This leaves the more complex question, however, of what are the elements of victory (x,y,z) and how relatively important are they (A,B,C).

The most discussed element of victory (x) was preventing Saddam from passing weapons of mass destruction to terrorists. Historically we might say this was weighted at anywhere from 40 percent to 80 percent of the reason why many supported the 2002 war into Iraq.

We all remember the testimony by Colin Powell showing pictures of the Iraqi storage facilities for WMDs. In hindsight it might be reassuring that we confirmed Saddam had few such weapons, but today (x) is far less persuasive and has been the subject of much of the ongoing Democratic Party rhetoric. If (x) is the extent of victory, then, having confirmed Saddam had few if any WMDs, we can pack up and bring all our soldiers home.

A second variable (y) is that few U.S. resources, whether lives or tax dollars, are lost. The interaction between this and variable (x) might explain why there is such disagreement over Iraq. Someone who valued “having a clear exit plan” at 60 percent and removing a bio-chemical terrorist threat at 40 percent would have voted against invading Iraq in 2002.

Someone who is willing to sacrifice 10,000 U.S. military personnel to fight the terrorists in their homeland is obviously opposed to someone like Cindy Sheehan who believes not even one U.S. soldier should die to free Iraq. For “Sheehanites” victory is immediate withdrawal. Unfortunately, the conversation between people holding these opposing positions often dissolves into hyperbole and name-calling, and by my observations it is the “Cindy Sheehans” doing most of the name-calling.

A third variable (z) is that Iraq does not become a training ground for terrorists to export to the U.S.

Originally this might have been only weighted at 10 percent, but now it appears to be the major goal of the Bush administration. An expanded version of prevention is for Iraq to become strong enough to ensure its own security against terrorists acting inside Iraq, training and exporting terror to the world. If this is a new rationale, however, then the past losses of variable (y) are “sunk costs.” Business people usually do not consider sunk costs in making future business decisions. For example, if a division of a corporation lost $10 million in the past but has the probability of producing $1 million in the future, the business will continue the division because the past losses are there whether or not one continues with the future program.

Likewise, military personnel losses and spent money are lost and neither going forward in Iraq, nor stopping will bring back the approximately 3,400 who have died. If one values variable (z) and is willing to sacrifice 1,000 U.S. soldiers to achieve it, then that person will support the ongoing effort in Iraq. If a person is not willing to suffer one more American casualty, then that person will demand an immediate withdrawal no matter what the consequences after the U.S. withdrawals.

Other variables exist according to the values of diverse members of society. Some might be appalled by Saddam’s mass executions and therefore support the ongoing presence in Iraq for a humanitarian purpose. Others might argue that the U.S. involvement in Iraq is necessary to stop or slow down Iran on its path towards expanding their international terrorist efforts. Still others are allegedly for the war because they make money out of it. Some might have additional reasons not to stay in Iraq such as:

? The military is ill-prepared.

? The military is needed elsewhere and cannot do two things at the same time.

? The military cannot operate without violating enemy combatants’ civil rights.

? The ever popular “I hate Bush so I hate the war he supports.”

The point I am making is that people have different “definitions” of victory; and therefore, much of the discussion about “Victory in Iraq” is useless. The “futility of the marketplace” is the label used by Lord George Gordon Byron (1788 – 1824) to describe this same phenomenon of people failing to communicate because of different assumptions underlying their word meanings. Any individual’s definition of “Victory in Iraq” is comprised of what they think is important (the xyz’s) and how relatively important it is (the ABCs). This leaves the door open to thousands of different definitions of “Victory in Iraq.” Awareness of this semantic complexity is the pathway to meaningful debate.

For example, if I argue for ongoing involvement in Iraq for the humanitarian purposes such as 10 million Kurds and Sunnis escaping mass assassinations, then the “Cindy Sheehans” of the world are in error when they call me a murderer on the basis of my willingness to sacrifice an additional 2,000 U.S. soldiers, airmen, sailors, Marines or coasties plus 36,000 “innocent” Iraqis every year. Rather than name calling, the discussion should rather be whether the 36,000 “innocent” Iraqis would be 3.6 million if we were not there. We should discuss the potential value of giving one American life to save hundreds-of-thousands of Iraqis, or we should discuss how many U.S. citizens are protected at home for every sacrifice in Iraq.

And rather than the “Murthas” and “Kerrys” calling our soldiers, airmen, sailors, Marines or coasties “murderers” and “terrorists who break in children’s bedrooms at night,” we should consider whether they are motivated by love as was Sgt. Alvin York. The story allegedly goes that the great World War I hero of the 82nd All American Division was asked his thoughts as he single-handedly killed 28 enemy soldiers and captured 132 of the German machine gun battalion. York responded that he was motivated by love for the people he was protecting.

People are unique, their values are complex, and name calling with hyperbole makes misunderstanding worse. If I argue to continue efforts in Iraq it might not be because I am one of the “stupid soldiers” Kerry speaks of, but because I put higher value on prevention of international terrorism together with humanitarian goals of using the military to protect the weak and vulnerable.

• Mark Beatty is a combat veteran of Desert Storm (1990) and Operation Enduring Freedom (2001). His other articles and links to his other activities can be found at He is a resident of Kaneohe.


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