What Does it Mean to Win?

Are we winning the war in Iraq? That was the question a cheeky reporter asked General Richard Myers after the latter told the press that the Iraqi insurgency is carrying out the same number of attacks—50 to 60 a day—as it was a year ago. Donald Rumsfeld decided to field the question, remarking:

The United States and the coalition forces, in my personal view, will not be the thing that will defeat the insurgency. So therefore, winning or losing is not the issue for ‘we,’ in my view, in the traditional, conventional context of using the word ‘winning’ and ‘losing’ in a war. The people that are going to defeat that insurgency are going to be the Iraqis.

What’s that? Shades of grey? Subtleties? Complexities? Who knew that Rumsfeld had it in him? Myers was quick to qualify this refreshingly candid outburst: “I think we are winning, okay? I think we’re definitely winning. I think we’ve been winning for some time.” Rather than kick Rumsfeld for this chink in his absolutist armor, we should welcome the honesty in his comment. In fact, it raises the most important question facing our troops in Iraq—which is that if “we” aren’t the ones who are going to defeat the insurgents, when (and how) are we going to go home and leave it to the Iraqis? Essentially, what does “winning” mean in this new, unconventional context we’re in? Damn that Myers for his intervention. We could have been getting somewhere…