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Exactly What are We "Winning" in Iraq?

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One of the many criticisms of Barack Obama and the Democrats coming from the McCain campaign and the Bush White House is that they refuse to acknowledge that we are now winning the war in Iraq as a result of The Surge.

The fact that the Republicans are spinning like crazy to push this message is far less surprising than the way the news media has generally accepted it as fact without asking a number of questions that seem to beg for answers. This is actually a continuation of the kid glove treatment that the media has given the Bush administration over the war for more than five years as the stated mission has changed often and dramatically with no acknowledgment of that fact and essentially no questions asked by reporters and pundits.

I'm talking about the "stated" mission. It has become increasingly clear in the last few days (if you can believe Pulitzer Prize winning author Ron Susskind's book) that the real reason for the Iraq war was that Bush and Cheney wanted to invade Iraq and get rid of Saddam Hussein from day one. All the reasons they gave relating to weapons of mass destruction and Saddam's collaboration with Al Qaeda were not just wrong -- they may well have been lies from the start.

But let's give Bush the benefit of the doubt and assume he was just wrong and not lying about the reasons for going to war. The original stated reason for invading Iraq was that Saddam had weapons that posed a real and imminent threat to the U.S. and that we had to take him out to protect ourselves.

So, we invaded Iraq and took him out at the cost of a few billion dollars and a very small number of American lives.

By early 2004, it became clear that all the reasons for the invasion were wrong and based on assumptions that proved to be untrue.

Rather than admit his mistakes, cut our losses and look for an exit strategy, Bush chose to pretend that he had been right all along. To pull off this charade, he was required to reframe the mission which seamlessly shifted dramatically. Instead of eliminating a grave threat, we were now "fighting the terrorists over there so we don't have to fight them here." Not only did no one in the media comment on the shift in mission, they also didn't point out that there were no terrorists in Iraq prior to our invasion -- at least not any that had anything to do with the Al Qaeda that attacked us on 9/11.

There was plenty of violence and bad stuff going on, but it was the result of the civil war that had broken out among various factions in Iraq who had hated each other for hundreds of years. The vacuum that had been created by our removal of Saddam and the total mismanagement of the aftermath had truly opened a Pandora's Box that our government hadn't anticipated and had no idea how to deal with. The biggest beneficiary of that vacuum was Iran which had seen its longtime enemy suddenly removed as an international force.

Fortunately for Bush, an organization calling itself Al Qaeda in Iraq emerged -- a group having no relationship to Osama Bin Ladin or the Al Qaeda that attacked us years earlier. It did give the White House the opportunity to confuse the American people by claiming that these were the same terrorists that had attacked us. This was of course a total lie but again, the news media helped spread the false impression rather than provide insight and guidance.

Over the next two years, the situation deteriorated into such a mess that many new missions and stated game plans (slogans du jour) bounced around constantly. First we were told that we must Stay the Course. When it became clear that our strategy was failing we were then told we needed to Adapt to Win -- another way of saying Change the Course. This complete about face took place so seamlessly and without comment that virtually no one noticed that our stated strategy had flipped 180 degrees.

Meanwhile, the new mission was now to Bring Democracy to the Middle East. Any rational criticism or suggestion that we should cut our losses and bring the troops home was labeled "surrender" and those who raised questions were branded as "cut and run" cowards who weren't real patriots. They were people who were willing to lose a war in order to win an election.

Finally Bush decided on The Surge -- sending in more American troops to cut back on the violence so the Iraqi government would have a chance to succeed. Now, more than a year later, violence levels are down. After five years of being totally wrong, Bush, McCain, and their base can finally say we are winning and give credit to the courage and wisdom they showed by pushing for The Surge.

Never mind the fact that the reduction in violence in the most violent part of Iraq -- Anbar Province -- began months before The Surge. Never mind the fact that virtually all of the additional troops were deployed in the area of Baghdad. Never mind that General David Petraeus recently told a Congressional committee that he "didn't know" if America was safer as a result of our involvement in Iraq. Never mind any of the facts. Bush and McCain had waited too long to claim any success in Iraq and they weren't going to allow the facts to deny them their moment of glory.

So here we are. We're winning. After our country has gone almost a trillion dollars in debt while Iraq has built an $80 billion surplus, suffered tens of thousands of dead and wounded, and lost our moral standing by becoming a nation that tortures and ignores the legal rights of our citizens and others, I guess I need some help trying to understand exactly what it is that we have won.