Sunday, March 23, 2008

History Lesson: What Constitutes "Victory" in War

Can America "win" in Iraq? As Frank Rich points out in today's NYT, those who argue that we are on our way to "victory" in Iraq, such as John McCain, never quite tell us what victory will look like. And today, according to the NYT, "At Least 51 Die in Attacks Across Iraq," including attacks on America's Green Zone. In light of such events, it is difficult to believe that victory, under any meaningful description, is at hand or lies ahead.

Let me offer a clear criterion of victory: the end of violent struggles between foreign troops and Iraqis. And let me offer these words from Sallust - who was a Roman senator and military officer under Caesar - in support of this sensible definition of victory:
It is always easy to begin fighting, but the man who starts may find it exceedingly hard to stop; for while anyone - even a coward - can open hostilities, only the victor can decide when they shall cease. (Sallust, The Jugurthine War, VIII, 83)
On this view, America is fighting a war in Iraq that cannot be won. The sooner our nation faces up to the impossibility of "victory," the sooner we can put an end to our losses, both human and financial.

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