Without meaning to do so, Senator Harry Reid, leader of the Democrat majority in the US Senate, has pushed the debate over the war in Iraq away toward a new direction.
Senator Reid claims that the war is lost and that US has already been defeated.
By advancing that claim the senator has moved the debate away from the initial antiwar obsession with the legal and diplomatic controversies that preceded it. Reid is no longer interested in establishing the Bush administration's supposed guilt in manipulating intelligence data and ignoring the United Nations. Reid has distanced himself from such early
anti-war figures as Howard Dean and Michael Moore.
At the same time, Reid has parted way with other Democrat leaders, such as Senator Hillary Clinton who supported the war but now claims that its conduct has been disastrous. What they mean by implication is that a Democrat president would do better than George W Bush, and win the war.
Reid's new position, however, means that even a Democrat president would not be able to ensure American victory in Iraq. For him Iraq is irretrievably lost.
Some anti-war 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 the US as the loser, is required to name the winner.
And, this is what Reid cannot do.
The reason is that, whichever way one looks at the situation, the US and its Iraqi allies, that is to say the overwhelming majority of the people of Iraq, 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 has not been able to halt the process of democratization, marked by a string of elections, and 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 has failed to win any territory, and has lost the control it briefly exercised in such places as Fallujah and Samarra. More importantly, perhaps, 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 is left of he Baath Party has split into four warring factions with rival leaders in exile. ( One faction actually wants the Americans to stay in Iraq until Iraqis can defend themselves against Al Qaeda and he Khomeinists!)
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 in conjunction with its Syrian Sancho Panza, is the victor. If hat is the case, Reid shares the illusion peddled by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the firebrand President of the Islamic Republic.
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 the Islamic Republic reaps the fruits of what Reid is sowing in Washington.
But even then, it is highly unlikely that most Iraqis would acknowledge Ahmadinejad as winner and bow to his diktat. The Islamic Republic cannot act as victor solely because Harry Reid says so.
It is possible that Reid imagined that his analytical problems are over simply because he has identified the loser in this war. 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 is not 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, the sequencing of three wars.
The first war was about changing the status quo in Iraq. The US won by destroying Saddam Hussein's regime, ending Baghdad's stand-off with the United Nations, and establishing that Iraq was not pursuing the production and deployment of weapons of mass destruction.
Victory in that war was achieved by the summer of 2003 with the completion of the US-led investigation into Iraq's alleged WMD programs.
The second war was triggered by forces that wanted to prevent the US from creating a new status quo that favored its interests along with the interests of a majority of the Iraqi people. This second war also ended in victory for the US 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 the US out. The Bush administration understood this and responded with its so-called "surge" policy by dispatching additional troops to Baghdad.
Unlike the two previous wars in which anti-US forces pursued a variety of goals, their sole aim this time is to drive the Americans out. In that sense Al Qaeda, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and its agents in Iraq have forged an unofficial but no less objective alliance with residual Saddamites, criminal gangs, pan-Shiite chauvinists, and small but determined groups of Iraqis who fight out of genuine nationalistic but misguided motives.
Despite continued violence, the US and it Iraqi allies are winning this third war as well. 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 lots of people in Iraq. But they cannot translate those killings into political gain for themselves. 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.