Changing the Course


Richard W. Crockett


Much of the discussion over the war in Iraq is focused upon “changing the course,” which for some of us means getting out of Iraq altogether.  For others it means revision of our “strategy” into a course of action that will allow us to leave Iraq “respectably” or even “successfully,” or as I wrote the other day with “saving face.”  But the discussion framed in this way loads the debate in favor of a protracted stay in Iraq.  It fails to acknowledge a distinction in usage between strategy and tactics.  Usually the term “strategy” is reserved for longer term planning whereas the term “tactics” is reserved for the means of getting there. 


If one is interested in seeing a shorter-term solution to the war in Iraq, the debate will have to be less about strategy and more about tactics, and it doesn’t really need a public discussion.  The military is better able to figure out the tactical means of exit, once they are given the order.  Understanding this will allow us to focus upon the policy choice without predetermining an outcome in favor of the protracted spilling of American blood.  Further, it will make clear the futility of engaging in discussions over “strategy,” when those should have occurred in relation to previously well-defined goals, which we neglected to create prior to the invasion of Iraq, nor make clear, beyond knocking over Saddam Hussein’s regime.  The lack of planning for a protracted conflict and for the need for “nation building” which followed our invasion makes it impossible successfully to place an ad hoc patch on our lack of clear goals, or upon any strategy, which will repair the failed outcome of the war.   Colin Powell foresaw the risk to this mistaken policy in the planning stages, although as a “good soldier,” he later became complicit in it.  Many Americans foresaw the potential for failure, also, and now a clear majority of Americans more clearly understand it. 


We now are living with the consequences of our inept preparation and with the attendant folly of trying to do war planning after the fact.  We need to get out in a manner consistent with the way we went in, and consistent with our initial goals—regime change.  We got rid of Saddam Hussein, now let us be done with it. 


The solution to the Iraq problem for the Bush Administration and their desire to save face, is not in the denial of the existence of a civil war in Iraq.  True, denying that it is a civil war is a way of denying an American foreign policy failure.  However, the solution lies in acknowledgement that this conflict is a civil war, and that as such it is a matter that the Iraqis must settle themselves.  It is often said that the Iraqis “must stand up as we stand down.”  The Iraqis are standing up as they understand it—they are fighting and dying every day.  They just do not have a common vision for Iraq, nor do they share a common vision with us.


If the war in Iraq is recognized as a civil war, then we cannot “lose” it.   How can we “lose” another nation’s civil war?  To put the best face upon it, we have removed a ruthless dictator; we have assisted in the development of democratic institutions, and it is now theirs to decide.  If in making that decision the Iraqis should determine to reject those institutions, then they have done what is sometimes called self-determination of peoples.