After writing off Iraq as a Vietnam-like lost cause before the troop surge, the Times has finally (and conveniently, with Barack Obama now president) come around to the idea that victory is in sight in Iraq. Too bad it will be an empty one. That's the thrust of Steven Lee Myers' Sunday Week in Review overview, "America's Scorecard in Iraq."
Myers actually used the V-word in the first sentence.
This is what victory in the war in Iraq was supposed to look like: Fifteen million Iraqis voting in free and fair (largely) elections, emerging from their polling stations with their purple-stained fingers in an atmosphere that was free (largely) of intimidation or violence.
So does the Times now think victory in Iraq is possible? Very recently (but pre-Obama) the paper found the concept ludicrous. From an October 9 editorial:
A September 27, 2008 editorial bizarrely chastised McCain for wanting to win in Iraq:
It was disturbing to see that Mr. McCain seems to have learned nothing from the disastrous war in Iraq. He talked about recent progress there, which is indisputable, and his support for the troop surge that has brought down violence. But Mr. McCain still was talking about winning, rather than how he was going to plan a necessary and responsible exit.
And a June 11, 2008 news story from the McCain-Obama presidential campaign put the word "victory" in quotation marks, as if it was a ludicrous concept:
Their differences on the economy are every bit as stark as the difference on the Iraq war, where Mr. Obama favors beginning to withdraw United States troops while Mr. McCain wants to keep them there until they achieve "victory."
The Times may acknowledge the prospect of victory now, but Myers' Week in Review story still questioned whether itwould add up to much:
When Iraq's regional elections were held last weekend, that was indeed the scene. What's more, when the results were announced, it became clear that parties promising security and national unity, led by Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki's bloc, had fared better than exclusively sectarian ones that until recently seemed bent on sundering the country.
The elections again raised hopes that a stable, democratic Iraq was emerging from the calamity of six years of war, an outcome that could hasten the departure of the remaining 140,000 American troops, as President Obama suggested in his congratulatory calls to Iraqi leaders.
But there are other measures of victory in Iraq, and so at this, yet another hinge in Iraq's tortured history, it seems a fair time to ask: Has the war enhanced American strategic interests in the troubled Middle East, as President Bush and the other champions of the war long argued would happen?
The answer really is no, or at least not yet.
The overthrow of Saddam Hussein, whatever the underlying motivation, certainly removed a potential threat to American interests, but a bird's-eye view as the sixth anniversary of the war approaches shows that the Middle East remains as troubling and turbulent as ever. Whatever gains Iraq has brought have to be measured alongside the costs, the casualties and the consequences to America's standing in the region.
For the Times, even when America wins (in Iraq), it loses.