Iraq: What Price ‘Victory’?

The cry is going up to get us out of Iraq, and just as surely – and loudly – the counter-cry is also rising: don’t “cut and run!” The neoconservatives’ big guns are being wheeled out, with David Brooks and Max Boot – pontificating from the pages of the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times, respectively – firing up a bi-coastal barrage. When the smoke clears, the neocon message boils down to this: Who are you going to believe – the U.S. government or your lying eyes?

In what has to be the understatement of the year, if not the past decade, Brooks avers “Victory is clearly not imminent.” That could be because defeat is staring us in the face, what with record casualties, rising costs, and an all-out civil war on the horizon. Oh, but we can’t be sure we’re really losing, because “there are times in the course of war when the outcome is simply unknowable.” You know, like Washington at Valley Forge. Why, we’d all be speaking… uh, English, if the “defeatists” of that time had had their way.

This is just another variation of the Rumsfeldian argument advanced in the secretary of defense’s famous Oct. 16, 2003, memo:

“Today, we lack metrics to know if we are winning or losing the global war on terror. Are we capturing, killing, or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training, and deploying against us?”

Today the metrics are beginning to come in, and it doesn’t look good:

“A new classified assessment by the Central Intelligence Agency says Iraq may prove to be an even more effective training ground for Islamic extremists than Afghanistan was in al-Qaeda’s early days, because it is serving as a real-world laboratory for urban combat.

“The assessment, completed last month and circulated among government agencies, was described in recent days by several congressional and intelligence officials. The officials said it made clear that the war was likely to produce a dangerous legacy by dispersing to other countries Iraqi and foreign combatants more adept and better organized than they were before the conflict.”

Iraqi rebels are graduating from the George W. Bush School of Advanced Insurgency with graduate degrees in kidnapping, assassination, and car bombing. They blossom in the fertile battlefields of Iraq like little dandelions, and then spread their offspring throughout the region, seeding the entire Middle East – and beyond – with terror.

Remember that Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda network were the spawn of the Afghan anti-Soviet insurgency: the training, the networks, and the ideology were all created under the auspices of the U.S. and in the name of anti-Communism. Today, the Americans are still the catalyst, albeit on the other side of the equation: in the name of yet another global crusade, we are providing a training ground for the terrorists of tomorrow.

The scary part: they’re headed westward. Brooks and Boot are telling us to be patient, that we can’t really know yet if we’ve won or lost, but in any case, no matter what the ultimate outcome of the Third Iraq War, we are buying trouble for ourselves further down the line. As the BBC reports on the contents of the CIA assessment, the insurgents, having acquired a whole new set of skills, will morph into a transnational threat, just like Al Qaeda did:

“The threat may grow when the Iraq insurgency ends and fighters disperse. Militants could pose problems in their countries of origin, such as Saudi Arabia and Jordan, but the report says countries further afield, including the U.S. and the UK, could also be at risk.”

We’re fighting them in Tikrit so we don’t have to fight them in Toledo. How many times have we heard that, or some variation of it? The truth is, however, that we’re creating a finishing school for terrorists in Iraq. Don’t be surprised when, one day, these debutantes give us a display of their talents that makes 9/11 look like a kindergarten party. The gathering threat of terrorism on the home front is precisely the great danger of pushing on to “victory.” It will be a Pyrrhic victory indeed, just as hollow as George W. Bush’s initial declaration that “major combat operations in Iraq have ended.”

Like heck they did.

As the battle-hardened veterans of the Iraq war gather in the shadows, piercing our pathetically porous borders and seeping into the multicultural fabric of American society, your tax dollars will have paid for their training. The sheer irony of it could prove lethal. As new 9/11s confirm the CIA’s warning – will it be New York again, San Francisco, Chicago, or some suburban mall? – a renewed American militarism will be unleashed to wreak havoc on the world. So the cycle of new wars and new provocations continues unabated, and the future is a vista of mass murder and retaliation as far as the eye can see. Like some giant death machine, pumping and expelling its poisonous breath, breathing in human lives and spitting out fire.

That murderous contraption, as libertarians are well aware, is the State: fueled by looted wealth and the illusions of its citizens, it runs over lives and crushes all that dare stand in its way. Yet it needs constant infusions of legitimacy as it wreaks havoc and devastation, and that is the role of the War Party and its intellectual spokesmen, laptop bombardiers of the Brooks-Boots persuasion. Even as the blowback from an ill-conceived and morally baseless war hits us full in the face, they urge us to soldier on: that’s what they get paid for, and these days they’re really earning every dime. While the rebels are exacting a huge toll on the nascent Iraqi government and the American casualty rate is on the rise, General Boot informs us that the insurgents are really “weak.” After all, they have no Mao, no Ho Chi Minh, no “unifying ideology.”

Yet the insurgents don’t need any of these things, they don’t even need to win a single pitched battle: all they have to do is keep their opponents off balance and avoid losing, while picking up political support from anti-occupation groups in the general population. The Iraqi security forces are thoroughly infiltrated, and that’s because there is a “unifying ideology” that transcends religious and political divisions, not limited to the insurgent ranks, and that is opposition to a foreign presence.

“It’s just wrong to seek withdrawal now,” writes Brooks, “when the outcome of the war is unknowable and when the consequences of defeat are so vast.” The consequences of “victory,” however, would be worse. Contra Boot, the insurgents have clearly fought us to a standstill, but we could still “win” in Iraq – by committing an act of genocide. We could wipe the Sunni population off the face of the earth, systematically and deliberately, and be done with the insurgency forever. Just as we could have nuked North Vietnam, as some of the more frenetic wing nuts suggested back then, and declared “victory” over a pile of radioactive bones. The question is: what new horrors would rise out of that holocaust, what ghosts would return to haunt us – and exact their revenge?

Ignore the polls, forget the casualties, and pretend the Iraqi government is even worth fighting for (although incapable of fighting for itself): we’re really winning, says Boot. Brooks doesn’t go that far, but instead tries a more subtle approach: guilt. Would George Washington have taken a poll? The problem is that General Washington was fighting an invader: in this case, we are the invaders. Advantage: insurgents. All they have to do is wait it out, just like Washington and his ragtag army did, until the British – uh, er, I mean the Americans and their British sidekicks – get tired and go away.

Let us pray they don’t have to wait long. This war was conceived in deception and is being prosecuted on the strength of pure vanity: we are told that we mustn’t lose our “prestige,” even as it leaks slowly and inevitably away, like air being let out of a punctured balloon. Puffed up with insufferable hubris, the neocons lied us into this war – and now they are trying to say we have no right to turn back. The same pied pipers who lured us into this unwinnable conflict are now telling us we have an “obligation” to press on, like a lemming is obliged to go over a cliff.

No thanks. Out now is the only rational alternative, because nothing short of that will end the insurgency. We are the cause of the rebellion that is wrecking Iraq and threatens to wreak destruction throughout the region and the world. It will end only when we leave. We can’t “win,” at this point, but what we can do is snatch thousands of lives from the jaws of our impending defeat – if we have the courage to cut our losses while we can. A mistake, once made, can rarely be undone: but we can ameliorate the consequences. The neocons are saying we can’t afford the price of defeat. What worries me is the cost of “victory.”

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].