WITH U.S. TROOPS approaching the outskirts of Baghdad, even amid heavy fighting, Americans should begin asking themselves this question: How will we know when we've won?
It sounds like a smart-aleck question, but the definition of victory will determine how it's achieved, in the first place, and go a long way toward laying out the shape of the future - not only for Iraqis but for American relations throughout the Middle East.
Here are just a few possible ways to decide when the fateful moment has arrived.
When Saddam Hussein:
(a) Is forced to flee his capital.
(b) Is found dead.
When coalition forces control:
(a) Half the country.
(b) Two-thirds of the country, including the major highways.
(c) Every bit of the country.
When the people of a city like Basra:
(a) Receive desperately needed water and other supplies.
(b) Re-establish a normal working economy.
When Iraqi military commanders:
(a) Have all returned peaceably to their homes.
(b) Have all been thrown into jail.
When American and British troops:
(a) Find large secret caches of biological and chemical weapons.
(b) Find at least some stores of biological and chemical weapons.
(c) Decide they can't find any biological or chemical weapons.
(a) Are nowhere to be found in Iraq.
(b) Are confined to the mountains of northwestern Iraq.
When the oil:
(a) Starts flowing.
(b) Stops burning.
When an American general:
(a) Assumes administrative command of the country.
(b) Turns authority over to a newly constituted and democratic government.
When American soldiers:
(a) Achieve complete freedom of movement within Iraq.
(b) Come home.
Not one of these is an idle choice. Picking the right answers is going to involve some very tough decision-making. Even after the bulk of the fighting is over, a complicated mixture of chaos and hostility and genuine need is sure to remain.
It is already clear that Iraqis, as a nation, are not rejoicing in their liberation. The armed forces are not folding up neatly, but unraveling, raggedly.
Nothing will be simple.
There won't be a surrender moment. There won't be a capitulation signed on the deck of a battleship. Americans need to start thinking right now about where they will draw the line. They need to look at the future of Iraq, and then decide: What's good enough?