Rolling Victory for Rolling War

The administration has come up with an answer to my recent question “How will we know when we’ve won?” The answer is “rolling victory”, an arbitrary “now’s a good time” sort of solution. As explained by the Washington Post,

The concept of a “rolling” victory contemplates a time — not yet determined — when U.S. forces control significant territory and have eliminated a critical mass of Iraqi resistance. U.S. military commanders would establish a base of operations, perhaps outside Baghdad, and assert that a new era has begun.

For those playing the home game, this is pretty much how we won the last Gulf War, and it’s also how Saddam Hussein could claim he won the last Gulf War.

Rolling victory has a lot of things in its favor. You don’t actually have to win to win, so if, for instance, you have forces in Afghanistan that are being killed even as I write this and have managed to uproot al Qaeda camps only temporarily while also failing to prevent the massive resurgance of the heroin trade, you can still say you’ve won. The rest–what were once primary objectives–is just “mopping up”. Another benefit is that rolling victory can keep on rolling, to Syria, Iran, Yemen, wherever evil dwells in the hearts and minds of men.

Amid some controversy, the US is preparing to unveil the new Iraqi government tomorrow. In the rolling victory sense, we’ve won. (Yay.) Baghdad, of course, is still in enemy hands, but that’s relegated to “mopping up”. Hussein is nowhere to be found, and may be long gone. Who would care? It’s just victory, after all.

The name “rolling victory” may be new, but the idea isn’t. Anyone who has had the “America’s never lost a war” argument with someone who firmly believes that America won in Vietnam knows that “victory” is a pretty subjective game. How did we “win” in Vietnam? Simply by engaging the enemy for a long time, by holding the enemy at a standstill. Granted, the moment we declared victory and left, South Vietnam feel to the North. The current war in Iraq is likewise more about the show of force than about any likely objectives. A NY Times article published today, entitled “Viewing the War as a Lesson to the World”, suggests that this war is more a demonstration of the potential of American might than a drive towards particular political objectives. “For a year now, the president and many in his team have privately described the confrontation with Saddam Hussein as something of a demonstration conflict, an experiment in forcible disarmament.”

The debate over Rumsfeld’s “war on the cheap”–sparked by his insistence on a small, perhaps too-small, ground force, and massive aerial bombardment–makes more sense in these terms. A quick and effortless war, especially against a difficult enemy like Saddam’s Iraq, would show the world that not only can we defeat any opposition, but that it’s easy for us, a “cakewalk”. Even if we can’t get rid of the Bad Guys, even if we can’t win the “hearts and minds” of the enemy, we can just roll in, set up shop, and start governing. Resistance is futile.

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