Claiming Victory in Iraq: Five Steps to Success

According to Sun Tzu, you cannot advance a position without completing the four-step cycle of listen, aim, move, claim. The most difficult step is often the final one, making a claim. To be successful, a claim has to be limited, make value clear, and get acceptance from others. The last part is the trickiest because it depends so heavily on what the others are looking for.

This bring us to the sad case of Iraq. While Al Qaeda sites publicly admit that they lost the war there, President Bush is either unwilling or able to transform our success on the ground into a successful claim. The problem is that President Bush has never learned how to take his claims to the public and leverage media rejection of those claims to his advantage. There has been a string of successes in Iraq: from the overthrow of Saddam Hussein to the discovery and dismantling of the nuclear proliferation program out of Pakistan to the isolation of Iran to the defeat of Al Qaeda's attempt to spark civil war to the most recent defeat of sectarian violence but Iraq remains a quagmire because none of these successful moves have been conveyed an accepted in successful claims. While Iraq will remain a troubled country in a troubled region, the idea that there has been no progress there comes from a failure in making claims.

Applying Sun Tzu's principles, to make a successful claim of victory in Iraq the next president needs to do five things: 1) make each claim of victory specific and limited, 2) make the value of the victory clear despite its limited nature, 3) include in the claim a prediction of its rejection by others, 4) give a clear explanation why others feel the need to reject any claim of success, and 5) insist that the claim is accepted especially by those who reject it by directly and specifically challenging them personally over and over to do so.