At a minimum, success in Iraq must include the ousting of Saddam Hussein and the securing of Iraq’s weaponry. This is necessary to address our national security concerns, which most would agree were our primary reason for invading. Saddam has indeed been unseated, and, if we accept the conventional wisdom, his weapons are not a threat because he didn’t have them to begin with. I’m not convinced of this last point. Some WMD have been found, and my guess is that we will learn of more. In any case, Saddam has been captured and Iraq’s known weapons (and weapons programs) have been secured—so by this standard we have already achieved success.
This standard is too modest, however. Were another despot to rise in Saddam’s place, intent on building WMD, our national security would once again be threatened. In addition, we feel a moral imperative to help the Iraqi people leverage their freedom to a more promising future. And so our goal must be to help Iraq establish a stable, self-representative government. Such governments not only provide well for their citizenry, they tend to be less aggressive, more peaceful, and more willing to be responsible members of the international community.
This is our task, and let us be clear that it is a long-term one. Let us remember that it took seven years to achieve these goals in Germany and Japan after World War II. Let us recall that, in what is snidely referred to as his “mission accomplished” speech, President Bush spoke of the long path ahead:
[M]ajor combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.
And now our coalition is engaged in securing and reconstructing that country…
We have difficult work to do in Iraq. We're bringing order to parts of that country that remain dangerous… We are helping to rebuild Iraq where the dictator built palaces for himself instead of hospitals and schools.
And we will stand with the new leaders of Iraq as they establish a government of, by and for the Iraqi people.
The transition from dictatorship to democracy will take time, but it is worth every effort. Our coalition will stay until our work is done and then we will leave and we will leave behind a free Iraq.
We are five months into what is a 3-phase transition. Phase 1 was completed in July, with the passing of sovereignty to the Iraqi government. Phase 2 is to transform this interim government into a representative one. This process is under way. Some local elections have already taken place, and national elections are scheduled for January. This will undoubtedly be a difficult time and dangerous undertaking, but Prime Minister Allawi’s determination is encouraging.
Mr. President, we also discussed the importance of holding free and fair national and local elections this coming January, as planned. I know that some have speculated, even doubted, whether this date can be met, so let me be absolutely clear that elections will occur in Iraq on time in January, because Iraqis want election on time. In 15 out of 18 Iraqi provinces, the security situation is good for elections to be held tomorrow.
Here, Iraqis are getting on with their daily lives, hungry for the new political and economic freedoms they are enjoying. Although, this is not what you see in your media, it is a fact. The Iraqi elections may not be perfect; they may not be the best elections that Iraq will ever hold; they will undoubtedly be an excuse for violence from those who disparage and despise liberty, as we -- the first elections -- as were the first elections in Sierra Leone, South Africa and Indonesia. But they will take place, and they will be free and fair.
Successful elections will undoubtedly be an enormous milestone in building a free Iraq. What will remain is Phase 3, which will be the longest, and probably the most difficult, period of the transition: fostering stability. There will be a lot of very unhappy bad guys in the world once the elections have been completed. A free, democratic Iraq will continue to be a target for terrorism. The U.S. and Iraq’s new allies will need to provide support and training until Iraq security forces are strong enough to maintain control. This may take many years.
So, what would I consider success in Iraq? Well, if we see elections held in January, I'd call that progress. If we can look back a year later and that elected government is still in place, I'd call that remarkable progress. And if we can look back in five years, or ten, and see a free Iraq, then I think we can fairly say we succeeded in Iraq.
And I'm optimistic; I think our chances are excellect as long as we don't lose our will.
Update: Update: John Podheretz has similar thoughts.
Read the whole thing.
Are things worse in Iraq than they were, say, six months ago? If you measure solely by the number of attacks against U.S. and Iraqi targets, the answer is undoubtedly yes. The insurgency has demonstrated a terrifying capacity for organized terror.
Their capacity is dispiriting and depressing. And that's the point of it: It has no military value. The terrorists will not win a single head-to-head fight against the United States. Their purpose is to make us feel that the chaos will never end and therefore we should cut our losses and get out…
But if the security situation is worse than it was six months ago, the political situation is so dramatically improved that it's almost a miracle. In almost every respect, the transition to Iraqi sovereignty has gone better and has had greater success than anyone could have predicted half a year ago.