On Winning and Losing


Richard W. Crockett


The danger of “losing” and the virtue of “winning” the war in Iraq is a campaign theme of John McCain. He speaks against “waving the white flag of surrender” in which McCain apparently envisions American soldiers and Marines crossing the Tigris or Euphrates rivers and throwing their weapons in a huge pile in front of Al-Qaeda fighters whose faces are wrapped in scarves and who are holding machine guns over the Americans, in the manner that the Germans surrendered to American soldiers on the Elbe river at Tangermunde in Germany in World War II? If he does not envision that scenario, he is being disingenuous.  In the phrase, “white flag of surrender,” he is using a symbolic portrayal that he does not believe, himself.  It is nothing less than misleading campaign rhetoric. So much for the “straight talk express.” The essence of this view is the fear of embarrassment that Al-Qaeda might claim that it defeated the United States, or that they could somehow claim a victory if the United States were to choose to leave, and which “defeat” McCain wants to associate with Senators Obama and Clinton. 


Regrettably, on the day that the body count of Americans has reached 4,000, this pitch resurrects the old choice between saving face and saving lives. In contending for this view McCain apparently believes that it is better to save face than to save lives.  Indeed, it demonstrates a callous willingness of John McCain and proponents of this view to allow someone else’s son or daughter to die in a cause that is not a legitimate American cause in order merely to save face.  It is not enough to conjure up a long countenance and through its stern expression, lament in pseudo-serious tone the loss of American lives and treasure.  It would be so embarrassing to be embarrassed, right?  I know, it is very difficult to acknowledge a stupid mistake, and Senator McCain, George Bush, Dick Cheney, and the Neo-cons were guilty of a stupid mistake, and all of them refuse steadfastly to admit that it was a stupid mistake. Others were also guilty of making a stupid mistake, many of them Democrats in Congress, including Hillary Clinton, but many of the Democrats have come to recognize the stupidity of their mistake, and have embraced a fresh view of the war. McCain, Bush and Cheney have not. Their apparent conclusion is that more of our sons and daughters should die in order to avoid a confession by McCain, Bush and Cheney that they made a stupid mistake.  In order to defend this irresponsible point of view they argue that these innocent American victims of their failed policy are somehow defending American Freedom.   I would rather see McCain, Bush and Cheney’s faces red than more young Americans dead. The war in Iraq has nothing to do with defending American freedom. 


Defining “losing” and “winning” involves the question of what is it that we are losing and winning?  If we “win,” do we somehow enhance our American freedom, or do we give up a measure of it in the name of national security, as has been the case under the Bush Administration’s first two terms through the excesses of their Justice Department. Do we “win” cheaper oil from Iraq’s abundant inventory? Or do we lose more in dollars shipped to the Middles East to offset the shortfall in the world market in part because Iraq’s oil production is down by one third and we are now facing the prospect of four dollar per gallon gasoline? Do we “win” the opportunity to “reconstruct” Iraq (to engage in the nation-building supposedly hated by George Bush) rather than to reconstruct American infrastructure, health care, education, social security, and the economy?  Do we win the opportunity to saddle our children and grandchildren with the costs of a war that wipes out their collective economic future?


And on losing, do we “lose” our status as international bully? Or more benignly put, do we lose our reputation as international “bull in the China shop”? Do we lose the need to go into “international rehab” to cleanse ourselves of our addiction to belligerency and arrogance?  As Jefferson prefaced his remarks in the Declaration of Independence, we might want to think of this “out of a decent respect to the opinions of mankind.”


The irony of this discussion is that the foreign policy choices before us have nothing to do with winning and losing.  Bush took us to war to topple Saddam Hussein. That has been done.  He didn’t want to “nation-build.” That has not been avoided. Anything beyond that is mission creep.  If one truly believes in the self-determination of peoples, it is time to come home and leave Iraq to the Iraqis.