In all the antiwar demonstration and prowar patriotism of the day, one question is seldom asked: What if we lose? "Lose" is a relative term in this case. After all, we lost the Vietnam War, but only in the sense that our goal of reunifying a democratic Vietnam, or maintaining an independent South Vietnam, was not met. In body count, we scored a decisive victory. Sure, we lost tens of thousands of troops, but the North Vietnamese Army and Vietcong lost hundreds of thousands more.
Certainly it can be argued that I'm proposing this question way too early. Hostilities in Vietnam lasted for more than twenty years, with significant American commitment for at least ten. But even our own Vice President has declared that the war in Iraq is to be an accelerated war. "Weeks, not months," he said. Perhaps accelerated judgment of the progress of an accelerated war is not out of line.
So, what if we lose? By lose, I mean fail to take and secure Baghdad and other primary targets throughout the country. Or discover that peaceful occupation of Iraq is an untenable endeavor even in the short term? Presently, whether motivated by intimidation or nationalism, grassroots resistance is stiff across Iraq; and we've yet to do any ground-based fighting in the capital city itself. The community of Arabic nations continues to condemn U.S. actions in the region and, unofficially, non-Iraqi Arabs are committing themselves to expelling us from the region. What will happen if a coalition of Arabic nations forms and jumps on an opportunity to exploit U.S. military weakness? What if, instead of merely fighting Iraq, we are suddenly fighting two or three other militarized Arabic nations?
There are other ways we can lose. For example, significantly decreasing our concern for civilian casualties. If in order to realize our goal of controlling Iraq, U.S. forces cause the deaths of hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of noncombatants, our international reputation, already marred, may collapse. The U.S. will be perceived as a military behemoth willing to sacrifice untold numbers of civilian lives to achieve military dominance. We will become a threat to international peace.