Over at Think Progress, Matthew Yglesias recounts a Twitter exchange regarding the meaning of “victory” in Iraq and Afghanistan, putting “victory” in sneer quotes in the title. Near the end of his essay, he says:

A big part of what Bush & Petraeus did around the time of the surge was pivot off their political adversaries to successfully redefine “victory” as what Bush would have called “defeat” back in 2005, while portraying that scale-down of objectives as an act of stubborn defiance.

Now, I know that this has become the Conventional Wisdom and has been thoroughly embedded in Teh Narrative™, but it’s not only wrong, it’s bullshit.

One of the consistent lines of thought regarding all foreign affairs, especially as to peoples and nations who oppose us, is the notion of root causes, the basic motivators for hostility or attacks. For Leftoids, the root causes are always the same — poverty resulting from American Imperialism, oppression, and disdain for the aspirations of poor brown people — and the proper way to address the root causes and eliminate the hostility is always the same — Embrace Diversity™, recognize the inherent worth of all peoples everywhere, and send huge piles of money (no, bigger, bigger, still not enough, send more). This has the advantage of being simple, straightforward, and universally applicable. The Leftoid need not think further about the matter.

The Leftoid view is binary: there’s us (and our fellow Westerners, sometimes), and there’s Oppressed Brown People©, with the latter group being homogeneously united in the single motive of Resistance to Oppression™. For those of us who do think about the matter, the situation becomes more complex. There are many peoples in the world; there are many sets of aspirations and desires; and often enough various factions of Oppressed Brown People© are opposed to the aspirations and desires of other factions. Different peoples respond differently to different sorts of pressure, be the pressure force or blandishment, and a nuanced approach to “root causes” would take those factors into account.

“Bush’s War” was and remains such a nuanced approach to root causes, which he and his advisors (and I) see as being quite different from the simplistic version cited by the Left. In that view the relevant root cause was Saddam Hussein’s oppression of the Iraqi people and his vainglorious self-aggradizement, and the proper redress of that root cause was to remove Saddam and help the Iraqi people set up a regime that drew “…its just powers from the consent of the governed.” That was the goal of the invasion and subsequent unpleasantness, it remained the goal throughout Bush’s term of office, and for the men and women still fighting there it remains the goal, although the Current Administration appears to have either lost sight of it or never appreciated it in the first place — like our friend Matthew.

Neither Bush, General Petraeus, nor any of the top figures ever “defined victory in Iraq down” or “redefine[d] ‘victory’ as what Bush would have called ‘defeat’ back in 2005”. What they did do was to reiterate the original goal; the only “down definition” is from the definition forced upon him by the Left and the Media, who consistently and vociferously asserted that the goal was Imperialistic — “it’s all about oil!” “Bush wants to be Emperor of the World!” “Got to keep brown people down!” “Profits for Halliburton!”. The real goals of the war, which remained and remain constant, are indeed “defined down” from that standard.

There were Pollyannas — I shamefacedly confess to having been one of them, at least to some extent — who thought the aim of the war would be accomplished with relative ease. I was never one who expected that the grateful people of Iraq would greet the invaders with hugs and rose petals, but I did originally think the Iraqis would get their act together faster than they did. I, and Bush, reckoned without the profound disruption of Iraqi society caused by Saddam’s regime and the reaction to it, especially as mediated by the Islamic Brotherhood and allied groups. The deliberate policy of the Hussein regime of isolating groups of Iraqis from one another — divide and conquer — fostered the allegiance of some of the groups with both indigenous and outside groups whose goals were more self-aggrandizement than the welfare of the Iraqi people, and the resulting splintering of Iraqi society made it well-nigh impossible for Iraqis to unite sufficiently to manage their affairs.

“The Surge” was not a change in policy or goals. To the contrary, it was an opportunistic move to take advantage of a break in the previously-monolithic wall blocking the goal. When the tribes of western Iraq, previously the fiercest in opposition to the invaders, began to realize that success lay in cooperation with other Iraqis and that the damned Americans would go home when they got their waterfowl orthagonalized, it was a long-anticipated (and long-delayed) opportunity to move in the direction that had been intended all along, and the Administration and the forces under its direction seized the moment. The rest of it — replacing the field commander, shaking up the “provisional Government”, et cetera, was handwaving designed to divert the attention of a hostile and ignorant Press. Worked, too — witness Yglesias’s adherence to Teh Narrative. The downside was that it allowed the Left’s intentionally erroneous conception of the goals and intentions of the war to be embedded in the Conventional Wisdom.

There were other goals of the war, notably displacing Saddam from his position as a flag, an inspiration for those with ambitions to oppose the damned Americans, but the main goal has remained constant since the beginning of planning: To address the “root causes” of Iraqi distress by removing the irritant that caused them, and helping them build a Government that responded to their needs and wishes. The only “defining victory down” has been in the minds of the Left, who are obliged by events to modify their original, simplistic, and hostile versions of the definition.