The Iraq Narrative

“Veni, vidi, vici.” That was Caesar’s narrative after his victory over Pharnaces II of Pontus in the Battle of Zela in Zile, a town in contemporary Turkey.

How will our narrative end at the conclusion of our engagement in Turkey’s neighbor, Iraq?

History gives us three different possibilities.

There is the marching band scenario. This is where our troops come home to marching bands and ticker-tape parades, like they did after World War II.

Korea offers another possibility. This is what happened after Ike called it quits during the Korean conflict, put our troops on the 38th parallel and signed a truce with the North Koreans.

And then there is Vietnam. We can call this the tail-between-the-legs strategy. That is what happened after the Congress cut off funding and our embassy was forced to flee as the communists marched into Saigon. We left like dogs with our tails stuck between our legs.

Nixon strove for peace with honor, but there was little honor in what happened in the fall of Vietnam.

Today, we have to start asking ourselves: How do we as a country want this Iraq engagement to end?

Can we have a marching band lead us out, with a bright, shiny new democracy left behind as a testament to American ingenuity? At this point, given the tribal nature of the Iraqi peoples, that seems rather unlikely.

But abandoning Iraq now, only to have it dissolve into tribal war between Sunni and Shiite terrorists, funded by state sponsors of terror like Iran, seems very risky to me.

And we are making some progress in Iraq. The violence is declining. It was the best month for American troops since March of 2006. And as Ned Parker of The Los Angeles Times points out today, “Iraq’s civilian body count in October was less than half that at its height in January, reflecting both the tactical successes of this year’s U.S. troop buildup and the lasting impact of waves of sectarian death squad killings, car bombing and neighborhood purges.”

In other words, Iraqis are as tired of the violence as we are, probably more so, and they are turning on the terrorists.

But this good news is no substitute for a compelling narrative.

And Washington’s leaders need to provide the American people with a better conclusion to this narrative.

Perhaps Eisenhower, whose presidency looks better and better the more historians examine it, give us the best example of how to leave a sticky situation with America’s dignity intact and its security affirmed.

But to get there, we need some good old-fashioned realpolitik. We need a Metternich, somebody with the gravitas, the know-how and the will to make the all the players want to play the game to get to the peace table.

"Veni, vidi, vici" worked for Caeser, but that was a long time ago. The Iraq narrative has to end somewhere between the conquering empire and complete humiliation. It has to end with our strategic interests intact and our security protected.