14 February 2010


I just came across this little piece by Victor Davis Hanson, and it made me remember all the reasons I usually stay off of the National Review website.

For those with a better sense of self-preservation, the basic idea of the piece is that VDH is upset that Barack Obama doesn't believe in "victory". VDH even quotes Obama, but somehow gets the context and idea wrong. Obama says that he is afraid that "victory" comes with connotations of a formal surrender process and an end to hostilities.

His response to prove that victory is still a real idea weaves together platitudes about the unchanging nature of war, a highly questionable readings of US military actions since WWII, and an idea he puts forward for how to define victory.

The thing that jumped out at me is that the very definition of victory that VDH puts forward validates the President's own dislike of the term. His conditions are extremely amorphous with no sense of finality to them.

"The first condition of victory: Due to offensive operations in the Middle East and defensive measures at home, it would become almost impossible for an individual or small cadre to pull off another 9/11."

This was true the day we marched into Afghanistan and routed the Taliban. It is an extremely low bar to cross, but also one that is impossible to be certain of and could very easily be reversed after "victory" has been declared.

Second condition: Middle East governments would no longer wish to aid and abet Islamic terrorists. They would fear both international ostracism in matters of trade and global intercourse and the unpredictability of the United States, which sometimes might conclude that a Damascus or a Tehran was as responsible as the terrorists who magically camped on their soil.

Here we see further problems. How can one of the victory conditions for a war depend on noncombatant governments? Or must we now include Syria and Iran as enemies to be defeated? These are two governments that we could (possibly) bring to heel through the use of violence, but both are just as likely to collapse like Iraq and leave us with a bigger mess.

Third: Radical Islam would become less successful at channeling Middle Eastern discontents into anti-Western terrorism.

And here we get to why VDH's conception of "victory" bears no more resemblance to reality or even a historical version of the concept. How do we measure this? How do we ensure it remains the case after victory is declared? And how do we predicate our "victory" on the psychology and choices of a billion people, almost all of whom are non-combatants? (Also, notice the phrasing: "less successful." That is not a victory condition; it's a hope without a metric.)

In the end, he ends up proving what he seeks to negate. This is not "victory", as defined by anyone else in the world. This is a hope for an outcome that doesn't suck. And I think even the President will get behind trying to get an outcome that doesn't suck.

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