What Does Winning Mean in a Forever War?
What Does Winning Mean in a Forever War? by
When it comes to spending lives and treasure indefinitely we find we have no vital interest in whether these lands we occupy are ruled by monarchs, democrats, dictators or demagogues… If they don’t attack us, why do we not just leave them be?
When a Wall Street Journal editorial warned this week against any precipitous U.S. withdrawal that might imperil our gains in Afghanistan, an exasperated President Trump shot back:
“Could someone please explain to them that we have been there for 19 years. … and except at the beginning, we never really fought to win.”
Is that true? Did we “never really” fight to win during our 19-year war in Afghanistan, except when we first ousted the Taliban in 2001?
At one point in this longest American war against al-Qaida and the Taliban, Barack Obama surged 100,000 U.S. troops into Afghanistan.
The issue here is with the terminology.
In the forever wars of the Middle East, what does “winning” mean?
To those of us who grew up in the mid-20th century, victory was Gen. MacArthur standing on the deck of the battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay as top-hatted Japanese diplomats signed the articles of surrender.
Victory was unmistakable and irreversible.
Five years after V-J day, however, came Korea, a war that lasted three years and ended in deadlock, stalemate and a truce along the 38th parallel, where the North-South war had begun in June of 1950.
Vietnam also came to be called a “no-win war.”
Though U.S. troops never lost a major battle, and every provincial capital was in Saigon’s hands when we departed in 1973, the United States is said to have “lost the war” when the North Vietnamese army overran the South and Saigon in the spring of 1975.
That was a geostrategic defeat but not a military defeat.
America’s problem, in this century, lies in our concept of “winning.”
While U.S. military forces can crush any Middle East adversary, as we showed in Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, we have been unable to realize the fruits of the victories our armed forces produced.