We have won our war with Saddam Hussein’s government in Iraq. That’s who we declared it against and we won it.
We have won the peace after that war insofar as Iraq’s post-Saddam political arrangements are broadly democratic and not exclusively sectarian based. The authoritarians of the region do not like this and it is a good sign.
The objections to Iraq at this point seem to be that we have not had an outbreak of unicorns and free beer in the region and different countries who are badly ruled have not immediately seen the error of their ways. By that standard, the US did not win WW II because Stalin and Mao did not turn into just rulers and were also not overthrown.
We have budgeted for a certain size foreign policy mouth, that is a certain capacity to take on major problems and solve them. We have fully engaged said mouth and are chewing in our usual mix of brilliance and incompetence. It is our enemies’ strategy to induce us to over-extend ourselves and thus fail on all fronts. We should not go a bridge too far.
It is in our best interest regarding Iran that it be a full member of the civilized community of nations, that it fully exploit its energy resources and its geographic position to transit central asian energy resources to world markets. This is orthogonal to the issue of Iran being a nuclear power. Russia’s interest is to have Iran a pariah, forcing central asian energy flows to go through it. The PRC’s interest is also for Iran not to have central asian energy transit flows. Our major beef with Iran is that its internal stability currently depends on it being a pariah. Too much global connectivity leads to regime change and the mullahs know it. They will threaten and do any sort of thing to maintain tensions sufficient for them to continue to rule. Add nuclear weapons to this mix and you have a danger to the US because, for historical reasons, we are convenient scapegoat number one.
So let us not adopt the intellectual framework of our enemies. Our strategic task as americans and allies is to conceive of how to limit our reach to go no further than our grasp. So far we haven’t made this mistake. That’s what victory looks like for a military hegemon.