"When a person says, 'Are we winning or losing?' I would say, this is like a cancer operation," Hunter, of California, said yesterday in an interview with a board of Monitor editors. "You don't know until five years after the operation. And if five years from now, after the Americans leave, we have a dictator who takes over Iraq who's worse than Saddam Hussein, if the cancer comes back, then you know it hasn't been successful."Of course, one could argue that there'd be no casualties if the war in Iraq hadn't been waged in the first place.
In the meantime, Hunter said, U.S. troops must continue training Iraqi troops and building a military that can support the country's free government. U.S. forces are in the second phase of the three-step pattern America has followed for 60 years in bringing freedom to other nations, he said.
"First, you stand up a free government," he said. "You then stand up a military apparatus capable of protecting that free government. And number three, the Americans leave. . . . And right now, we're in the second phase, which is by far the most difficult."
War is a clumsy process, he said, and many of those who criticize the actions of former secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld and President Bush are operating under the assumption that casualties could have been avoided if different decisions had been made. "The falsehood is that somehow they could have done it better and that somehow war could be conducted more painlessly and more effortlessly and with less collateral damage," Hunter said. "I reject the idea that there's a smooth road that could have been taken and that because things haven't been smooth, there have been these major mistakes."
Hunter also outlined his plan for moving through the war's current phase. By his estimation, 20,000 Iraqi troops have been trained and are now stationed in the more peaceful provinces of the nation. He recently recommended that the president move those troops into Baghdad and the surrounding areas. The Iraqi troops need combat experience, Hunter said, and a sense of unit cohesion. It would also be beneficial to have people who speak the language in those urban areas, he said.
Hunter was noncommittal on the question of sending more U.S. troops to Iraq.