When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro. - Hunter S. Thompson

20 December 2006

"We're not winning and we're not losing"

Defense Secretary Robert Gates, when asked, "Are we winning the war in Iraq," answered simply, "No."

Well, there's a new accredited soundbite in town, courtesy of General Peter Pace: "We're not winning, and we're not losing." The ubiquitous new talking point, now on the lips of everyone in the Bush administration, including W himself, strikes the ear at first as a polite fiction, a gloss on Gates's answer, a way of saying "OK, yes, we're losing," without coming right out and saying it.

However, I am allowing myself to hope that there might be some actual depth and thought behind this position and the way that it's being articulated.

If Iraq is a zero-sum game, then we are either winning or losing, simple as that; it might be possible that we can't tell which just at the moment, but it is *not* possible that there is not a winner and a loser, ultimately.

If Iraq is *not* zero-sum, however--and this is a subtle and important point that may signal a real shift in thinking in the Bush administration--it is entirely possible to conceive of outcomes that do not involve "winning" or "losing" outright, and thus "not winning, not losing" becomes not only logically possible but possibly desirable. It may signal a readiness to start thinking about and articulating a realistic definition of "victory" in Iraq.

Just thinking out loud on a couple of cups of coffee.

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