Destination? Non-Victory

July was the worst month for U.S. casualties in Afghanistan — not just in 2009, but since the war began nearly eight years ago. Keep this awful truth in mind as you read the following observation on that war from our nation’s Commander-in-Chief:

“I’m always worried about using the word ‘victory,’ because, you know, it invokes this notion of Emperor Hirohito coming down and signing a surrender to MacArthur,” Obama told ABC News.

Obama (echoing Bush) wants you to scale back your expectations: He’s saying, “Don’t expect us to break the enemy’s will and compel it to surrender à la Japan in WWII.” Whatever else America may be doing in Afghanistan, the goal is not to achieve anything like a genuine victory: i.e., the defeat of the Islamist enemy.

But why? Why might Obama and many other people hold this view?

Two salient reasons come to mind:

1). Since 9/11 the Bush administration failed properly to define the enemy in the war. For a while it was “radical Islamists”; then “Islamofascists” for a week or so; “evil-doers” was in use for a while. The view that has stuck is that the enemy is Al Qaeda and the Taliban, a “shadowy,” “non-state actor” (as Obama puts it). The conclusion that people draw: there’s no enemy nation (à la Japan in WWII) for us to defeat, only scattered “terrorists.” This conclusion is false and enormously destructive of our security.

2). The Bush administration went to war, but it was a turn-the-other-cheek “compassionate” war, badly defined and lacking a clear objective (it should have been victory). The conclusion many have drawn: war was a disaster (look at Iraq! look at Afghanistan!), so forget war — it cannot be the answer. This conclusion is false, and it contributes to the debasing of our concept of what “victory” is, and how it can be achieved.

These two conclusions are part of the insidious legacy of the Bush administration’s policy. And they’re compounded by Obama’s submissive, appeasing foreign policy. Consider what that means in practice: America sends its youth to die on battlefields — in a war that our leaders regard as unwinnable.

Must it be so? Could we triumph over the enemy? I believe victory is within our grasp — improbable as that may seem today.

To achieve a genuine victory requires a fundamental rethinking of how we got here. For a start, we’d have to define the enemy accurately, and then consider how to defeat it. That’s a view I’ve advocated in some of my articles over the last few years. But there’s a lot to say on this issue, and I plan to write on it in future posts.

The fact that America’s response to 9/11 has gone horribly wrong — and that we can, and must, defeat the enemy — was part of the motivation for the book project that I’m now wrapping up. The book, which I edited and contributed chapters to, is titled: Winning the Unwinnable War: America’s Self-Crippled Response to Islamic Totalitarianism. Apropos of Obama’s statement, quoted at the opening of this post, you may be interested to read the final chapter of the book. In it I describe a positive plan for how we could achieve a genuine victory — a victory on the model of World War II. The book is set to come out early this fall.