Scorecard for the War

This opinion piece was published in the Houston Chronicle on Wednesday. It is by Thomas L. Friedman, a three-time Pulitzer Prize winner, working for The New York Times. He has been working on a documentary entitled “Searching for the Roots of 9/11” for The New York Times and the Discovery Channel. It will be broadcast April 1 on the Discovery Times Channel at 8, Eastern time.

Scorecard for the War


I was in a restaurant at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport on Sunday, and it had an NCAA basketball game playing on the TV at one end of the bar and the Iraq war on the other. Most people were watching the basketball game — probably because it’s so much easier to keep score. How will we know if we are winning in Iraq? Here are six things I am watching for:

(1) Have we occupied Baghdad — without leveling the whole city? This war is not being fought simply to disarm the regime of Saddam Hussein. It is being fought to replace that regime with a decent, accountable Iraqi government. That is the real prize here, because only such a government can stabilize Iraq and ensure that another Saddam-like general does not emerge. That can’t even begin to happen until the capital has been taken by U.S. and British forces.

(2) Have we killed, captured or expelled Saddam? President Bush keeps saying that this war is not against one man. Nonsense. We have been chasing one man in Iraq for 12 years, and it is essential that he be eliminated because until and unless he is, Iraqis will never express what they really think and feel. Indeed, average Iraqis will not even know what they really feel until the dictator who has run their lives with an iron fist for more than 30 years is removed and they are certain that he is not coming back. (Do not rule out, even now, an Arab-brokered deal for Saddam to leave peacefully.)

(3) Have we been able to explain why some Iraqi forces are putting up such a fierce fight? Are these the most elite, pampered Special Republican Guard units, who have benefited most from Saddam’s rule and are therefore willing to fight to preserve it? Or are these primarily Sunni Muslim units, terrified that with the fall of Saddam the long reign of the Sunnis of Iraq will end and they will be replaced by the Shiite majority? Or is this happening because even Iraqis who detest Saddam love their homeland and hate the idea of a U.S. occupation — and these Iraqis are ready to resist a foreign occupier, even one that claims to be a liberator? Knowing the answer is critical for how we reconstruct Iraq. It is not at all unusual for Arabs to detest both their own dictator and a foreign occupier. (See encyclopedia for Israel, invasion of Lebanon, 1982.)

(4) Have we won this war and preserved the territorial integrity of Iraq? We can’t rebuild Iraq if we can’t hold it together. Both the Kurds and the Turks would like to bite off part of northern Iraq. The Bush team claims to be committed to preserving Iraq’s unity, in which case it had better tell both the Turks and the Kurds: “Which part of `no’ don’t you understand? You Turks are not coming in, and you Kurds are not breaking away.”

(5) Has an authentic Iraqi liberal nationalist emerged from the U.S. occupation to lead the country? Some pundits are already nominating their favorite Iraqi opposition figures to be Iraq’s next leader. My gut tells me the only person who is going to be able to rule Iraq effectively is someone who has lived through Saddam’s reign, not sat it out in London or Washington, and who is ready to say no to both tyranny and foreign control in Iraq. But even if he is an Iraqi exile, the next leader of Iraq has to emerge through some sort of consensual process from within Iraq. If the Bush team intends to force Iraq’s next leader to quickly embrace Israel, if it intends to impose someone who has been dining with Richard Perle, such a leader will never take root.

(6) Is the Iraqi state that emerges from this war accepted as legitimate by Iraq’s Arab and Muslim neighbors? That is very important, both for the viability of whatever Iraqi leadership follows Saddam, and for the liberalizing effect it may have on others in the neighborhood. In the absence of any U.N. endorsement for this war, the successor regime to Saddam will have to legitimize itself by becoming something that Arabs and Muslims will point to and say, “We don’t like how this was done, but we have to admit America helped build something better in our neighborhood.” This outcome is crucial.

If you see these things happening, you’ll know that the political ends for which this war was launched are being achieved. If you don’t, you’ll know we’re lost in a sandstorm.

I might add other items or break them out differently, but these are my comments on Mr. Friedman’s list:

  1. I have about a 85% confidence we can occupy Bagdad. I’d add we need to do it without so many casualties that the American populace is sickened to the war.
  2. I’m 99.9% that we can manage to take car of Saddam.
  3. I think we should be able to determine the causes of the opposition, If we bother to (75% chance). The important thing will be documenting it without being hyperbolic in our statement of the issues. For example, though there were some uniformed soldiers taken today wearing tunics over their uniforms (which they instantly revealed after instantly surrendering… to a wounded american) we need to stop trying to represent irregular militia activity as anything other than the guerrilla activity it is. This is war, they’re the underdog. Of course they’ll be using extreme measures. (And we should have acknowledged as much before we began.)
  4. I think we’ll keep Iraq intact (assuming war less than 10 weeks). Rumsfeld is ready to be a hardass to both the Kurds and the Turks, and we don’t have to be nice to the Turks about it now that they disallowed use of their border. The landing in the north today, opening the northern front, will go a long way toward that.
  5. I’m only 40% confident we can manage to find a good leader. I agree an Iraqi who has stayed in-country throughout would be ideal. Are there any University Professors left? I would add that the US needs to get out of the position of occupier as soon as possible and letting the UN, France, Russia, et al in to help and run things is the best way to get all our old friends off the I Hate America bandwagon.
  6. That the new government is accepted by its neighbors is my dream. It might help this whole pang in my gut from invading Iraq go away. I really have very little hope that this will happen, and I’d love to be wrong. The Bush administration has shown great weakness of late in the diplomacy department and I think it will take extremely strong and subtle efforts. I’m hopeful that if we let our old allies get involved, they can perhaps pick up the ball where we drop it. Or even lead. (This would have the unfortunate consequence of lessening the US as a diplomatic solution provider, for which we’ll be needed in the Palestine/Israel effort.)

All that stated, I don’t have any strategic of tactical issues with what the military has done so far. One week in, there are a lot of armchair quarterbacks, a side effect of the Insta-News, no doubt. Yes, there are things we would like to have happened differently, but that’s not how it works. War is Hell. Not Choreography.

It will be interesting, later, to come back and compare my thoughts and the author’s thoughts on the coming actions to what actually occured.