Way back in January 2007, your humble correspondent made his (in)famous RedState debut with a lengthy essay comparing the contemporary situation in Iraq with the one that our forebears faced on the Pacific island of Guadalcanal in 1942-1943.
That essay ended with the following flourish:
Guadalcanal had been a longer and murkier affair; it was clear that the Japanese had lost, but the extent of the victory wasn’t known.
It was only after the war, when the Japanese naval archives were read, that it became clear that for Japan, Guadalcanal was not – as it seemed at the time – a modest setback. The archives revealed that Guadalcanal was – both tangibly and psychologically – a catastrophic defeat for Japan. The Japanese high command had made a grave error in deciding to contest Guadalcanal, and the resulting defeat was therefore cataclysmic.
How cataclysmic was this defeat for Japan? To judge that, we can turn to the 1957 memoirs of Saburo Sakai, a veteran Japanese fighter ace and the highest-scoring Japanese pilot to survive the war. Ironically, Sakai had been put in the air from Rabaul on August 7, 1943, to escort Japanese bombers hastily sent on a mission to try to attack the American forces landing at Guadalcanal. During the air battles that developed, Sakai was horridly wounded, but somehow managed to remain conscious and fly his badly-damaged plane back to Rabaul. Now blind in one eye, Sakai was sent back to Japan, where he became a flight-trainer and staff officer. In his new position, Sakai was cleared to see the secret internal reports about what had really happened at Midway and Guadalcanal. While he was astounded at the extent of the defeat at Midway, it was Guadalcanal that stunned him – as it was obviously the greatest catastrophe for Japan. As Sakai himself wrote,
Several days after my arrival at Toyohashi, [Commander] Nakajima wordlessly showed me the report of our withdrawal from Guadalcanal on February 7, 1943, exactly six months after the Americans had landed. The radios blared of strategic withdrawals, of tightening our defense lines, but the secret reports revealed a staggering defeat and appalling losses.
Two full divisions of Army troops were gone, annihilated by the savagely fighting enemy. The Navy had lost the equivalent of an entire peacetime fleet. Rusting in the mud off Guadalcanal were the blasted hulks of no less than two battleships, one aircraft carrier, five cruisers, twelve destroyers, eight submarines, hundreds upon hundreds of fighters and bombers, not to mention the crack fighter pilots and all the bomber crews.
What had happened to us?
What had happened was that the Japanese high command had made the mistake of throwing everything they had at a distant outpost of limited strategic significance. They had also fatally underestimated both the capability and the tenacity of their American adversaries, who persevered beyond expectation and inflicted a crushing and irreversible defeat on Imperial Japan.
So let’s think of Iraq as Guadalcanal. The enemy shouldn’t have chosen to fight there, but they did. They chose to turn Iraq into a major battlefield – not us. We still can – and should – win. When we win, we will probably all – like the Americans after Guadalcanal – breath a sigh of relief that somehow it all ended up turning out okay.
But for our enemies, defeat in Iraq will be for them what defeat at Guadalcanal was for Imperial Japan – crushing, catastrophic, and cataclysmic. That is the “upside potential.” Those are the consequences of victory. And these alone are reason enough to push on boldly.
Keep in mind this it is not enough to defeat this enemy. It’s not even enough that it be obvious to everyone that they have been beaten. It is critical that they know that they have been beaten.
So how will we define victory? That’s simple.
Victory will be when the enemy is beaten.
When they know it.
And – because they are loquacious and florid, and will be writing letters similar to what Saburo Sakai wrote in his memoirs – when they say so.
For what it's worth, that last notion has indeed been happening. The latest manifestation of it turned up today:
The U.S. military has intercepted a letter in which senior Al Qaeda operatives reveal their fury over militants' failure to keep up with the campaign against U.S.-led forces in Iraq, U.S. General David Perkins told FOX News Wednesday.
The letter blasts Al Qaeda in Iraq for failing to maintain communication and for poorly-planned attacks. Al Qaeda leaders also slam operatives for sending fighters into battle alone, without direction.
Al-Zawahiri also criticizes them for posting videos online using archive footage of violent attacks, yet presenting them as new evidence of their success.
The United States military said Al Qaeda in Iraq responded to the criticism with claims of being financially cut off, and unable to recruit capable new members.
A question often asked "back then" was, "What will victory look like?"
The answer is that it's seen in letters like these....