April 26, 2007 -- WITHOUT meaning to do so, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has pushed the debate on Iraq in a new direction.
Reid claims that the war is lost and that the United States has already been defeated.
By advancing the claim, Reid has moved the debate away from the initial antiwar obsession with the legal and diplomatic controversies that preceded it.
At the same time, Reid has parted ways with Democratic leaders such as Sen. Hillary Clinton, who supported the war but who now claims that its conduct has been disastrous. What they mean, by implication, is that a Democratic president would do better than George W. Bush and win the war.
Reid's new position, however, means that even a Democratic president wouldn't be able to ensure a U.S. victory in Iraq. For him, Iraq is irretrievably lost.
Some antiwar analysts have praised Reid for what they term "his clarity of perception." A closer examination, however, would show that Reid might have added to the confusion that has plagued his party over the issue from the start.
Because all wars have winners and losers, Reid, having identified America as the loser, is required to name the winner. This Reid cannot do.
The reason is that, whichever way one looks at the situation, America and its Iraqi allies remain the only objective victors in this war.
Reid cannot name al Qaeda as the winner, because the terror organization has failed to achieve any of its objectives. It hasn't been able to halt the process of democratization, marked by a string of elections, and it has failed to destroy the still fragile institutions created in the post-Saddam era. Al Qaeda is also suffering from increasing failure to attract new recruits, while coming under pressure from Iraqi Sunni Arab tribes, especially west of the Euphrates.
In military terms, al Qaeda hasn't won any territory and has lost the control it briefly exercised in such places as Fallujah and Samarra. More important, al Qaeda has failed to develop a political program, focusing instead on its campaign of mindless terror.
What about the remnants of the Saddamite regime? Can Reid name them as victors? Hardly. What's left of the Baath Party has split into four warring factions with rival leaders in exile.
The remnants of the Republican Guards have also split. Some have joined Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army, now the Loch Ness monster of Iraqi politics. Others have set up crime syndicates and/or death squads with no discernible political ambitions.
Reid may believe that Iran, either alone or with its Syrian Sancho Panza, is the victor. If that's the case, Reid shares the illusion peddled by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Convinced that the Americans will run away, mostly thanks to political maneuvers by Reid and his friends, Ahmadinejad has gone on the offensive in Iraq and throughout the region. By heightening his profile, he wants to make sure that Iran reaps the fruits of what Reid is sowing in Washington.
But even then, it's unlikely that most Iraqis would acknowledge Ahmadinejad as winner and bow to his diktat. The Islamic Republic cannot act as victor solely because Reid says so.
It's possible that Reid imagined that his analytical problems are over simply because he has identified the war's loser. The truth is that his troubles are only beginning. He must tell Americans to whom they wish their army to surrender in Iraq.
That Reid is desperately trying to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory isn't surprising. His party requires an American defeat in Iraq in order to win the congressional and presidential elections next year.
What is generically known as "the war" is, in fact, three wars.
The first war was about changing the status quo in Iraq. America won by destroying Saddam's regime, ending Baghdad's stand-off with the United Nations and establishing that Iraq was not pursuing weapons of mass destruction. Victory in that war was achieved in 2003 with the completion of the U.S.-led investigation into Iraq's alleged WMD programs.
The second war was triggered by forces that wanted to prevent America from creating a new status quo that favored its interests along with the interests of a majority of Iraqis. This second war also ended in victory for America and its allies with the holding of free elections and, eventually, the emergence of a democratic Iraqi government in 2006.
The third and current war started toward the end of last year when the disparate forces fighting against the democratic government found a new point of convergence in a quest for driving America out. The Bush administration understood this and responded with its "surge" policy by dispatching more troops to Baghdad.
Unlike the two previous wars in which anti-American forces pursued a variety of goals, their sole aim this time is to drive the Americans out. In that sense, al Qaeda and other Islamist agents in Iraq have forged an unofficial alliance with residual Saddamites, criminal gangs, pan-Shiite chauvinists and small groups of Iraqis who fight out of genuine nationalistic but misguided motives.
Despite continued violence, America and its Iraqi allies are winning this third war, too. Their enemies are like the man in a casino who wins a heap of tokens at the roulette table, but is told at the cashier that those cannot be exchanged for real money.
The terrorists, the insurgents, the criminal gangs and the chauvinists of all ilk are still killing many people. But they cannot translate those killings into political gains. Their constituencies are shrinking, and the pockets of territory where they hide are becoming increasingly exposed. They certainly cannot drive the Americans out. No power on earth can. Unless, of course, Harry Reid does it for them.
Iranian-born journalist Amir Taheri is based in Europe.