At the height of our sweaty summer, a few commentators began to venture the thesis that the United States has lost the war in Iraq. Writing in the New Yorker Hendrik Hertzberg recently concluded that we've rolled "snake eyes" in the big Iraq gamble. Most famously, Thomas Friedman, in uncharacteristically caustic tones, finally gave up on the Iraq war, calling for a few face-saving measures before we pull out the troops.
Going into the fall, the question seems to be: are we winning, or have we already lost? The first issue we need to address, as John Lehman points out in an op-ed piece tellingly entitled "We're Not Winning This War," is determining which war we're talking about. He writes, "The Bush administration continues to muddle a national understanding of the conflict we are in by calling it the "war on terror," then countering, "This not a war against terror any more than World War II was a war against kamikazes." This is a standard complaint, but this time it's coming from the Secretary of the Navy under Reagan and a member of the 9/11 Commission. Lehman can't be shrugged off as an appeaser.
Lehman shows his conservative loyalty by giving the Bush administration a few kudos: "The Bush administration deserves much credit for the fact that, despite determined efforts to carry them out, there have been no successful Islamist attacks within the United States since Sept. 11, 2001." This is a highly debatable conclusion--no one can say for sure why we haven't been attacked--and the 9/11 Commission's report card gives the Bush administration dismal grades on most subjects, including and especially securing our ports and chemical plants.
However, Lehman goes on to say that we're losing the war on all three fronts: the home front, the operational front and the strategic-political front. Despite Rumsfeld's assurance to the contrary, "our ability to deter enemies around the world is disintegrating." Threats are pressing on from everywhere; Iran is laughing at us, North Korea celebrates the Fourth of July by shooting off missiles, and China is building up its navy to fill in the gap left by our declining naval power in the Pacific.
In coolly dispassionate tones, Lehman concludes, "In reviewing progress on the three fronts of this war, even the most sanguine optimist cannot yet conclude that we are winning or that we can win without some significant changes of policy." This is a telling closing statement, since changing policy in regard to the war on terror and the war in Iraq is not something we can expect from this administration.
On the home front--the only front that any of us really care about--we will appear to be winning the war against the Islamic fanatics until one awful day we suddenly won't be.