How do we know we’re done?

I’ve become confused about some pretty basic facts concerning the “War in Iraq”. And I’m concerned I might not be the only one. Who are the parties to this war? Who is the enemy? Perhaps most importantly, to paraphrase Colin Powell, how do we know when we’re done?

I know that whatever we’re doing in the Middle East has mutated from whatever we thought we were doing there in the first place, and I know there has been lots of talk about what we’d like in the middle east, but the word “war” has a specific meaning, and I think the question is important enough to be considered.

In 1992, Colin Powell wrote an article in “Foreign Affairs,” and some of what he wrote became known as the “Powell Doctrine.” The Powell Doctrine sets up some pretty good things to think about before deciding to go to war. Bush, et al, never pretended to have any interest in Powell’s article (or in Secretary or State Powell himself, come to think of it), but maybe we’d be better off if they did.

One of the questions posed by Powell was this: “Do we have a clear attainable objective?”.

When I was in the USN I worked with and for officers who had experience in Viet Nam. Powell’s concern about a clear objective resonated with them and was echoed in management. Suddenly, proposals for projects and initiatives had to meet this test. The question came up at nearly every meeting. “If we do this, how do we know when we’re done?” It’s a question that wasn’t answered before our involvement in Viet Nam, and a question that’s often ignored in legislation.

We never had a real objective in Iraq. The issues about weapons of mass destruction, Iraq’s phantom nuclear program, and connections with the 9/11 terrorists have long been debunked. We did have a goal of taking down Saddam Hussein. Hussein was a terror to Iraqis and other groups, and his removal, in and of itself, and targeting his removal was a worthy goal. But it’s a goal that’s been accomplished, and the devastation we’ve brought to Iraq has tarnished that victory. But my questions remain: Who are the parties to this war? Who, exactly, are we fighting? How do we know when we’re done?

Powell famously provided another, less formal rule: “You break it, you own it.” But we haven’t been very good to Iraq. With thousands of Iraqi dead, much of the countries’ professional class taking flight, and years of broken infrastructure, the Iraqi’s themselves want us to go. Our military isn’t fighting an enemy. Their trying to clear Baghdad’s neighborhoods of the civil war that has flowed into the city. Clearing up Baghdad! What benefit do we bring the rest of the country?

Iraqis shouldn’t be left to fend for themselves after the devastation the country has experienced. But military troops don’t fix infrastructure. They can’t keep the countries’ various groups from trying to destroy each other. Perhaps we should admit that we’re done, at least done with the war. Maybe it’s time to work with other countries and with the UN to pick up the pieces of the Middle East and perhaps create an diplomatic environment that will be better than we started. Who is the enemy? Perhaps we should consider the possibility that we are.

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