Unhealthy Questions Redux

Perhaps the most timely example of a question that does not deserve an answer is “are we winning the war in Iraq?”

The question presupposes that we have a clearly defined enemy and objective. At least in Vietnam we had these things: the people from the North needed to be moved back up North. Success could be quantified by geographic gains, plus enemy body count estimates and defined targets destroyed. In Iraq we have a variety of ethnic groups chaotically striking at us and at each other with guerilla terrorism. You can’t fight an enemy you can’t see[1], so Iraq really isn’t a war per se.

This is where the Bush Administration’s deft abuse of language is coming back to haunt them. They’ve successfully manipulated most Americans into thinking that we’re in a war on Terror, but Terror is not an enemy. Terror is an abstract concept, so while they thought it would be a great way to scare up some cheap oil, take out a bad guy, and install a democracy, it turns out the War on Terror has gone so poorly that they have no way to answer the question of whether or not this war can be won.

So now Bush is stumbling on his words even more, because by the Iraq Study Group’s admission, the situation in Iraq is dire. He can no longer say that we’re “winning” this sham of a war, and I wonder how much longer he can stay in that position. Maybe he can successfully convince America, for whom he has set up a win-lose duality, that we can simultaneously not be winning, yet not be losing. To do that he’d have to leave the comfortable world of black and white that this administration has built its policy on, and that’s a tall order for Mr. “Fer us or agin us.”

1.) In the post-Cold War era, who would have thought that the remaining superpower could be undone by small enemy forces too small to detect? The War on Terror is roughly akin to trying to shoot bullets at a swarm of mosquitoes.