Is The U.S. Finally Winning The War In Iraq?

Iraqi police commandos stand guard at Baghdad's airport road on July 5. i i

Iraqi police commandos stand guard following the groundbreaking ceremony of the Baghdad airport road improvement project on July 5. The airport road was once one of the most dangerous in Baghdad, but violence started to ebb following a U.S. troop surge. Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images
Iraqi police commandos stand guard at Baghdad's airport road on July 5.

Iraqi police commandos stand guard following the groundbreaking ceremony of the Baghdad airport road improvement project on July 5. The airport road was once one of the most dangerous in Baghdad, but violence started to ebb following a U.S. troop surge.

Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP/Getty Images

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Nearly everyone agrees that the surge — or some confluence of events — has improved security in Iraq. But the idea that the United States is winning the war is debatable. And that's precisely the issue that a quartet of interested parties took on recently in New York City: They argued the proposition "America Is Finally Winning the War in Iraq."

Part of the ongoing Intelligence Squared U.S. series, the debate was held at the Rockefeller University in New York. The series, modeled after a program begun in London in 2002, pits experts on either side of an issue against each other in an Oxford-style debate.

Built into the process is a chance for the audience to vote on the motion before and after the debate. (Spoiler alert: At the onset of the Oct. 7 debate, 20 percent were for the motion, "America Is Finally Winning the War in Iraq," and 54 percent against. After the event, 36 percent believed that the U.S. is winning the Iraq war and 53 percent did not.)

The very idea raises certain questions, Intelligence Squared U.S. Chairman Robert Rosenkranz pointed out at the beginning of the evening. For instance: What does it mean to be "winning" the war in Iraq? At a minimum, Rosenkranz said, when the U.S. leaves the country there cannot be sectarian violence or a civil war. In the wake of the war, Iraq must have a "reasonably decent society, a reasonably representative government" for the U.S. to declare success.

For strategic reasons, to "win" also would be to ensure that Iraq is friendly toward the U.S. — for our national interest in energy and military staging possibilities. And there would be strategic regional considerations to take into account. "We'd like to be able to manage Kurdish aspirations without doing violence to our ongoing relationship with Turkey," Rosenkranz said. And "we'd like to be able to manage Shia aspirations without handing Iran even more influence in the region than it already has."

The debate was moderated by John Donvan, a correspondent for ABC News. Here are some highlights:

FOR THE MOTION

Jack Keane
Kevin Wick / Longview Photography

Jack Keane, a retired four-star U.S. Army general who was in favor of the surge, reassured the audience that it has worked. "The mainstream Sunni insurgents who started the war have capitulated. They have surrendered," he said.

Furthermore, the Sunnis are joining the political process "and that is a dramatic turnaround and that's how insurgency — either insurgencies end when they walk away and leave the field of battle or they come into the political process. The al-Qaida have been operationally defeated. They no longer threaten the legitimacy of the regime. They cannot mount a sustained campaign to do that."

Shia extremism has also had a major setback, Keane said, "supported by the Iranians, and as time appears to be playing out for us, it appears that it's going to be a major defeat as well." A sense of political enthusiasm and reconciliation is widespread in Iraq, Keane said. More than 500 political parties are participating in the fledgling democracy. The result is all-around success.


Frederick Kagan
Kevin Wick / Longview Photography

Frederick Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute — often hailed as designer of the surge — pointed out as evidence of the U.S. winning the war that "a tremendous portion of the fighting that was done over the past 18 months was done by Iraqis, including the 100,000 Iraqi security forces that came on line, in a year, trained in contact with the enemy, marched directly into the fight against the enemy, both Sunni and Shia, and defeated the enemy across the board with American assistance, of course. It was a remarkable thing."

He also heralded Iraq's elections law that recently passed. The reconstituted Iraq, he said, will be a rival to Saudi Arabia. "A rival in oil," Kagan said, "and also a threat to Saudi Arabia because Iraq will be a democracy. And Iraq will pose a challenge to authoritarian regimes around the region, and Iraq will be aligned with the United States."


AGAINST THE MOTION

Charles Ferguson
Kevin Wick / Longview Photography

Charles Ferguson, founder of Vermeer Technologies (which he sold to Microsoft) and maker of the documentary film No End in Sight: The American Occupation of Iraq, argued that the war in Iraq is a catastrophe and that the damage in the country cannot be repaired quickly with a surge of military involvement. "The infrastructure of the country remains destroyed," he said. "By most indicators, it remains below prewar levels, in matters such as water supply, sewage treatment, electricity, power generation."

He said, "The country is enormously traumatized. It went from being 55 or 60 percent Shia to now probably 80 percent Shia because the refugees are overwhelmingly Sunni. And a population and a government increasingly dominated, already thoroughly dominated by rather extremist, fundamentalist Islamic parties and beliefs. It's difficult to believe, but Iraq — still with the violence down 75 percent — Iraq is still a more dangerous place and a more hostile place, and a worse place for most people, than it was under Saddam Hussein."


Malcolm Rifkind
Kevin Wick / Longview Photography

Sir Malcolm Rifkind, a Conservative Party member of Parliament and former foreign secretary and defense secretary of the United Kingdom, argued, "We know that by the admission of President Bush, at least 30,000 Iraqis have lost their lives, and indeed the Iraqi government say over 100,000 Iraqis have lost their lives in the last five years. We know that 4 million Iraqis have become refugees, half of them fleeing to other countries. Forty percent of the Iraqi middle class no longer live in Iraq, and as a consequence, the job of rebuilding Iraq is going to be immeasurably more difficult. And we know also that the coalition forces, mainly American, have lost over 4,000 lives."

He added that "as a consequence of the loss of U.S. authority — of the loss of leadership that the United States in particular has experienced as a result of the Iraq war — the United States has found it incredibly more difficult to get agreement either in the Security Council or in the international community to take the kind of steps against Iran that would be necessary in order to encourage it to desist from its nuclear ambitions."


The Intelligence Squared U.S. series is produced in New York City by The Rosenkranz Foundation.

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