Victory or defeat" is, in fact, a false strategic choice. In using this formulation, the president would have the American people believe that their only options are either "hang in and win" or "quit and lose." But the real, practical choice is this: "persist but not win" or "desist but not lose."
Victory, as defined by the administration and its supporters — i.e., a stable and secular democracy in a unified Iraqi state, with the insurgency crushed by the American military assisted by a disciplined, U.S.-trained Iraqi national army — is unlikely. The U.S. force required to achieve it would have to be significantly larger than the present one, and the Iraqi support for a U.S.-led counterinsurgency would have to be more motivated. The current U.S. forces (soon to be reduced) are not large enough to crush the anti-American insurgency or stop the sectarian Sunni-Shiite strife. Both problems continue to percolate under an inconclusive but increasingly hated foreign occupation.
Moreover, neither the Shiites nor the Kurds are likely to subordinate their specific interests to a unified Iraq with a genuine, single national army. As the haggling over the new government has already shown, the two dominant forces in Iraq — the religious Shiite alliance and the separatist Kurds — share a common interest in preventing a restoration of Sunni domination, with each determined to retain a separate military capacity for asserting its own specific interests, largely at the cost of the Sunnis. A truly national army in that context is a delusion. Continuing doggedly to seek "a victory" in that fashion dooms America to rising costs in blood and money, not to mention the intensifying Muslim hostility and massive erosion of America's international legitimacy, credibility and moral reputation.
My response is that Brzezinski minimizes the importance of the fledgling Iraqi political establishment. There is a force for cohesion that does operate in opposition to the valid forces (religious and tehnic) that he identifies, and that is the self-interest of those who have invested in the political process in Baghdad, which judging from the vast spread of political parties and enthusiastic, exuberant campaigning, has developed an infrastructure all its own.
Will that be enough? We certainly hope so - but it would be utmost foolishness to dismiss Brzezinski's argument out of hand. After all, there are real seeds of separatism, and civil war, being sown in Iraq. I have not yet seen the Administration even acknowledge the infiltration of the Iraqi military with ethnic loyalists, and the resulting potential for the Iraqi Army itself to serve as an agent for strife:
Kurdish leaders have inserted more than 10,000 of their militia members into Iraqi army divisions in northern Iraq to lay the groundwork to swarm south, seize the oil-rich city of Kirkuk and possibly half of Mosul, Iraq's third-largest city, and secure the borders of an independent Kurdistan.
Five days of interviews with Kurdish leaders and troops in the region suggest that U.S. plans to bring unity to Iraq before withdrawing American troops by training and equipping a national army aren't gaining traction. Instead, some troops who are formally under U.S. and Iraqi national command are preparing to protect territory and ethnic and religious interests in the event of Iraq's fragmentation, which many of them think is inevitable.
The soldiers said that while they wore Iraqi army uniforms they still considered themselves members of the Peshmerga — the Kurdish militia — and were awaiting orders from Kurdish leaders to break ranks. Many said they wouldn't hesitate to kill their Iraqi army comrades, especially Arabs, if a fight for an independent Kurdistan erupted.
''It doesn't matter if we have to fight the Arabs in our own battalion,'' said Gabriel Mohammed, a Kurdish soldier in the Iraqi army who was escorting a Knight Ridder reporter through Kirkuk. ``Kirkuk will be ours.''
If the sole purpose of our remaining in Iraq is to prevent civil war, then we have already failed. We must address these issues head on, and openly, and call upon the Administration to do the same, or concede the game to those of Brzezinski's persuasion.