Huffpost Politics

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

James Heffernan Headshot

At Last -- The Commander Guy Explains What He Means by Success in Iraq

Posted: Updated:

"Success is not, no violence. There are parts of our own country that have got a certain level of violence to it. But success is a level of violence where the people feel comfortable about living their daily lives. And that's what we're trying to achieve."
--President George W. Bush speaking to the Associated General Contractors of America, May 2, 2007

Here it is, folks. What we've all been waiting for. Positively Churchillian in the elegance and cogency of its phrasing, it's the official definition of success in our war against the enemies of democracy in Iraq.

Up to now, the president has repeatedly told us that failure is not an option. But without some idea of what he means by success, we might suspect that this war could go on forever. Now we know exactly what must happen to end it.

All the Iraqis have to do is achieve a level of violence that makes them feel comfortable. And we can show them how.

In this country, we've already learned to feel comfortable with about thirty thousand gun deaths a year (See We've also learned to live with spikes in gun violence, such as in Baltimore, where six people were killed last weekend, raising the year's body count for that city up to 93 so far, five more than it was last year at this time. Gun deaths are also up in Philadelphia, where bullets took 406 lives last year, 26 more than the year before. Now and then we're shocked by killing sprees, such as those at Columbine and Virginia Tech, but once the media run out of steam on these stories, most of us forget about them and move on with our lives in a country where the right to bear arms is more precious than life itself.

As we train the Iraqis to take charge of their civil war, all of our own long experience with guns and violence (including our very own civil war) should be invaluable. On the one hand, it's depressing to find that civilian deaths in Iraq during the fourth year of the war there (from 20 March '06 to 16 March '07) hit the record level of 26,540, averaging 74 per day, almost 12,000 higher than the year before. (See On the other hand, the Iraqi death toll for the past year is thousands FEWER than the number killed by guns right here at home in 2004, when we averaged 81 per day. Even if we count just homicidal gun deaths for that year, we still shot better than the Iraqis during about the same period (20 March '04-19 March 05). While they killed 11,312, we killed 11,624--over 300 more.

So there's a benchmark for all to see -- a figure to shoot for. If we can get the Iraq body count back down to what it was two years ago, we've got our victory. Alternatively, if we can raise our own body count this year, as the good citizens of Baltimore are trying so valiantly to do, we can raise the bar for Iraqis as well. We can teach them how a great American democracy learns to live with ever-rising levels of violence.

Of course nitpickers may quibble with my math. As to compared with a nation of three hundred million, a country of twenty-five million that loses even ten thousand civilians a year is losing a far higher proportion of its population than we ever do. But that's beside the point so eloquently made by the president. "Success," he wisely says, "is not, no violence." In other words, success IS violence, and the only thing the Iraqis have to learn is how to live with it comfortably. "And that," in the president's immortal words, "is what we're trying to achieve."

Can anyone now doubt that victory is at hand?