John McCain, of all people, should know that to make a claim, as he did recently, that America is winning the war in Iraq is disingenuous in the extreme. There is no doubt at all that conventional warfare, with battlefield deployment of forces and conventional tactics, will be won by the combatant with the overwhelming force. This is how the Allies won the first Gulf war and how they so easily defeated Saddam Hussein’s military. But that is not the type of war that the US is now fighting. The Vietcong knew that there was no way that they could defeat America in open battlefield warfare – so they took to the jungle and pursued classic guerrilla tactics – and they won in the end. In Iraq there is no need for the forces of opposition to America to deplete their numbers by fighting battles that they cannot win. So in classic guerrilla style they are almost certainly retreating to their home bases scattered over thousands of square miles of empty terrain to await their moment. The Iraqi government knows this full well – which is why they are so anxious to keep American forces deployed as long as possible – with the sweetener of oil revenue flow to American and European oil companies on offer.

When he takes office President Obama will no doubt be briefed about the profit and loss account of the Iraq war. On the debit side will be the billions of dollars and the thousands of lost lives – not to mention the loss of American prestige around the world. On the credit side will be the promise of the flow of rich streams of income from oil revenues – richer than ever, of course, with the oil price at unprecedentedly high levels. Will Obama shrug his shoulders and say that America needs secure supplies of oil and if the price to pay is a open-ended commitment to troop deployment from the US in Iraq then so be it? Or will he turn down the offer and pull the forces away knowing that this will probably lead to the rapid fall of Iraq’s precarious regime – and to oil revenues going not to ExxonMobil or Shell, but to the Iraqi people.

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