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Zero-Sum War

From lefty activist David Sirota today's Denver Post PoliticsWest site, and the Gang of Four Blog:

I will say, John, that I do think what's telling/frightening about your outlook is your assertion that winning automatically means "somebody else loses." That's called zero-sum thinking - the exact kind of thinking that got us into this mess in the first place. We are in the middle of a civil war in Iraq - it's hard to frame the quagmire (not my words - Dick Cheney's) in the conventional terms of us "winning" and someone else "losing" because frankly, I don't hope that the Iraqis lose (while you might). I do, however, think us getting out of Iraq will hurt Osama bin Laden's cause because it's no secret that he's been using the Iraq War as a huge recruiting tool for Al Qaeda.

Oh yeah, when I originally answered your question about Iraq I forgot to add that I also think us "winning" means fewer American men and women coming home in body bags or with arms and legs blown off.

This argument doesn't just border on the incoherent. It's taken up residency and is applying for an H1-B.

What he's trying to say, in his own, hyper-partisan sort of way, is that while territorial war is zero-sum, and the results of elections may be zero-sum, the result of the political process is not zero-sum, and that the war in Iraq is now essentially an exercise in Iraqi civil politics.

He then does the not-so-subtle switcheroo when he talks about us winning and "the Iraqis" losing. But in a civil war, it's perfectly ok if some Iraqis lose in order for the rest of the Iraqis to win. That's what's happened in Baquaba and Anbar. I would characterize the al-Qaeda-affiliated Iraqis (and their foreign leadership) as most definitive "losers." I would characterize Iraqi civilians who no longer have to worry about their lungs being ripped out for smoking as, "winners." (Unless Baghdad civil government imposes a single-payer health care system, then they'll be "losers," too.)

I would say that the Iraqis living near Baqubah were losers, until we arrived and helped the Iraqi Army turn them into winners. If we help to stabilize the place and give ordinary Iraqis a role in their own political life, then both we and (most) Iraqis will be "winners," and al-Qaeda will be losers.

As for Iraq as a recruitment tool for bin Laden, even if this assertion were true, it wouldn't be true where it mattered - Iraq. The fact is that the al-Qaeda-in-Iraq leadership is foreign, sent in by Syria on one border and allowed in by Saudi Arabia on another. This is because al-Qaeda has made itself so unpopular it can't get Iraqis to lead it, it can't even persuade Iraqis to fight for it. (Blackmail and coecion don't count as, "persuasion.") So if legions are flocking to bin Laden because of our involvement in Iraq, it's news to the Iraqis.

As for his history lesson, I suppose he's technically right. The only reason that Germany was able to fight itself to the brink of world domination twice in 25 years was that it had stopped fighting itself. But I think if you go back to the 1000s and 1100s, you'll find plenty of Franks fighting Germans and Franks fighting Anglo-Saxons and Anglo Normans.

I should point out that the group blog membership is balanced between left and right, so that's why this isn't a post about media bias.

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