The Wrong Measure of Success in Iraq

Posted: October 1, 2008 in Uncategorized
Tags: , ,

Ann Scott Tyson at The Washington Post reports this morning that,

“Violence in Iraq dropped further during the summer although security gains remain ‘reversible and uneven,’ with the main threats coming from Iranian-backed militias and the Shiite-led Iraqi government’s slow integration of volunteer Sunni fighters, according to a Pentagon report released yesterday…Potential is growing, moreover, for politically driven violence as ethnic, tribal and religious groups vie for influence in advance of provincial elections planned in coming months…”

This story continues the “drop in violence = success in Iraq” theme, which, as I pointed out earlier, is flawed and amoral. A drop in violence due to ethnic cleansing is not success.  For more on this, see Gary Kamiya’s story on, and Robert Dreyfuss’ article in The Nation (hint: the “Awakening” may end and a new Russian-backed insurgency may be on its way).

“Success in Iraq” is a bromide. It means nothing because, for the most part, users of the phrase intend for it to remain undefined for political purposes. If leaders get pinned down on what “success” means, they become accountable for providing policies to get there. Regardless, the debate on Iraq has fixated on success, with the result being that we let ourselves get dragged into debates about expediency and utility, but the question of faithfulness gets left out in the cold. To borrow from Mother Teresa, our business as Christians is fidelity; God’s business is success. The primary concern of Christians in and with regard to Iraq should be to remain faithful to the teachings and example of Christ.

The U.S. military can nuke a city in Iraq and put out a press release the next day that says “Success in Iraq: 100% Drop in Violence in City.”  By the measure used in Tyson’s story and in the U.S. talking points, they’d be absolutely accurate. The problem is with the measure of success — numbers of non-state-sanctioned violent attacks on day X compared to day Y — outside outside of any other context.

The real indicator of “success” for Christians, though, should not be a myopic trend line, but rather, “How successful have we been in Iraq in our attempt to apply Christ’s words and example in our relations with Iraqis?”

  1. Stuperb says:

    “To borrow from Mother Teresa, our business as Christians is fidelity; God’s business is success.”

    That’s a really interesting thought. It’s true that our foreign policy is based in realism and is highly ends-based, giving little regard to the means with which we accomplish our goals.

    Of course, every person or entity (regardless of his/her/i religion) should give weighty consideration to deontology, but how do you reconcile a secular government action with the need for Christians to attempt to follow the words of Christ? Especially in a war which our government feebly tries to insist isn’t an ideological clash of religions?

    I think you have some really interesting thoughts, and I’m really curious how you handle these conflicts.


  2. dcrowe says:

    “Especially in a war which our government feebly tries to insist isn’t an ideological clash of religions?”

    There’s the rub. I believe Christ was crystal clear on the subject of violence. Scholar John L. MacKenzie has gone so far as to say that if we cannot say that Jesus taught and embodied nonviolence, then we know absolutely nothing about him with certainty. To put a fine point on it: the Christians involved in the war need to put their guns down and learn to love their enemies so much that they would be willing to die rather than harm them.

    There are very effective methods of combating evil that fit within that restraint on the use of violence. For example, see Gene Sharp’s work: Christians should throw themselves into the use and adaptation of these kinds of methods with the same energy with which we are now killing people with high-tech weaponry. But, again, to me, effectiveness is not the point. If The Way is truly God’s way, what is necessary and efficacious for truly good outcomes will never be different from what is faithful to Christ’s teachings. This will, of course, require a good deal of adjustment on our way of judging outcomes.

    Does that help clarify my thoughts at all?

  3. Stuperb says:

    Sure it does!

    You’re talking about individual actions, versus government policies, with regards to means/ends analysis. Gotcha.

    Not only would putting down the guns and loving their enemy be the right way to behave personally – and turn the job of success back over to God – but it will likely have a good outcome as well down the road, since currently we’re (rightly) seen as aggressive and hateful and producing more enemies by the day.


  4. […] true peace in Iraq, rather than the desolation of a graveyard created by U.S. policies — the kingdom of the world’s version of “success” in Iraq. Published […]

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