A stable Iraqi state would constitute a strategic victory-and the only one still possible.
AMONG THE BITS OF LORE of the United States Senate is a story that dates back to before I arrived there in 1973 as a staffer to Sen. Robert Taft Jr. of Ohio.
A senator-from New York, perhaps-known for depending wholly on his staff while treating it with contempt, told his assistant for foreign policy, "I want to give a major speech on the Vietnam War tomorrow morning. Stay here all night and write it." With that, the senator headed out for a Capitol Hill reception rich with giant shrimp and large checks.
The staffer did as he was bidden, despite the fact that it was his anniversary, and his wife had made grand plans. The next morning, the senator found the text of the speech in his inbox. Snatching it eagerly, he proceeded directly to the floor of the Senate. His voice booming, he laid out a brilliant and incisive analysis of the war. At the bottom of the seventh page, he proclaimed, "I will now lay out my plan for winning the Vietnam War." Page eight began with the words, "Now you're on your own, you S.O.B. I quit."
At the risk of finding myself in the same situation, I offer my plan for winning in Iraq.
The starting point, despite the disastrous course of the war to date, is to realize that the only possibilities for victory lie at the strategic level, not the tactical level. In part this is because we have botched the tactical level beyond redemption. While the efforts of General Petraeus and the Marines in Anbar province to apply classic counter-insurgency doctrine and protect the population instead of brutalizing it are laudatory, they come too late.
In larger part, we cannot win at the tactical level because this kind of war is not additive. You cannot win at the strategic level simply by accumulating tactical successes, as our Second-Generation, firepower/attrition-oriented military automatically assumes. The strategic level follows its own logic, and strategic victory requires a sound strategy. When, as is currently the case, we have no strategy, this fact works against us. If, however, we adopt a prudent strategy, it can work for us. Because a higher level of war trumps a lower, we can yet redeem our many tactical failures at the strategic level. In other words, we can still win.
To devise a successful strategy, we must begin by defining what we mean by winning. The Bush administration, consistent with its record of military incompetence, continues to pursue the folly of maximalist objectives. It still defines victory as it did at the war's outset: an Iraq that is an American satellite, friendly to Israel, happy to provide the U.S. with a limitless supply of oil and vast military bases from which American forces can dominate the region. None of these objectives are now attainable. None were ever attainable, no matter what our troops did. And as long as those objectives define victory, we are doomed to defeat.
Fortunately, another objective, the one that actually matters most, may, with luck and skill, still be achieved. That objective-restoring a state in what is now the stateless region of Mesopotamia-must become our new definition of victory.
This definition is not arbitrary. On the contrary, it reflects a correct, Fourth-Generation understanding of the threat. The serious threat to America, in the Middle East and elsewhere, is not any state. Rather, it is posed by a growing congeries of non-state organizations, which we label "terrorists."
Non-state forces win when states are destroyed and are replaced by stateless regions. Even the long-term objective of al-Qaeda is not a state but a restored caliphate, a type of social organization that precedes the state by centuries. In the meantime, stateless chaos will serve very well, thank you.
And thank us they do because our initial invasion of Iraq and subsequent blunders, such as sending home the Iraqi army and civil service, destroyed the Iraqi state. …