Monday, June 28, 2010

Define "Victory".

There's an article on Huffington Post about how House Democrats are withholding several billion dollars from our efforts in Afghanistan, citing rampant corruption. Really, guys? You're just now figuring that out? I haven't attended a single Congressional hearing, and I could have told you that.

But I have a better idea, fellas. What do you say we withhold all funding for our wars until we define what winning means?

It's a simple question, but I'm afraid the answers haven't been simple, and what's worse is they haven't been consistent. Here's a little tip: if you're going to lie, and if you want to make it believable, do not change your story. Cops know they've got someone guilty of something if their answers to simple questions are elusive or inconsistent. I wonder what the cops would do with the people who marketed these wars to the American people.

First, we were going over there because Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Then, it turns out they didn't. Then it was to remove Saddam Hussein from power. So we did that, established a democratically elected government, and still we stayed for years. Towards the end, it was said that our presence was providing a stabilizing element in an environment that was deeply unstable. This, of course, ignored the fact that we were the main reason for all that instability in the first place.

In World War II, we had clear enemies - the Germans and the Japanese. they did us a great service by wearing uniforms and flying flags. They really helped minimize the chance we would accidentally shoot some sad sack civilians. All we had to hear was "Heil Hitler", or see the Japanese rising sun, and we were allowed to open fire. And in the case of Japan, we would accept nothing but the unconditional surrender. We were hardasses. Even when they did surrender, they came aboard the U.S.S. Missouri, General Percival refused to shake General Yamashita's hand.

In this "War on Terror", we have no such luxuries. Our enemies do not fly flags, they do not salute, they do not wear uniforms. There is no grand organization, not in any formal sense. Mapping the heirarchy of the terrorists of the world is like trying to herd cats. People in the Middle East do not need a general, a formal declaration of war, or a base camp to hate and kill us.

As such, it is difficult to know when we're finished. There's a story about Japanese soldiers who were on remote islands in the Pacific when the Japanese surrendered. No one told them, and months after it was all over, they were still there, ready to blast any Americans who showed up. Our war is a little like that. There is no central command. If we killed Osama bin Laden, or even if we got him to sign an unconditional surrender, there would be people hell-bent on killing Americans who wouldn't let that deter them.

Which brings me back to our efforts in Afghanistan. Given that there doesn't seem to be any real leader - not one to sign a surrender, anyway - it makes you wonder how we'll know when to declare victory and go home. Given that this is officially the longest we've ever been at war with any country, perhaps now would be a good time to establish some benchmarks. One of two things is going to happen here. Either we'll win or we'll lose. And if we don't have any clear ways to define "victory", we are doomed to defeat. We do not have an endless supply of money, soldiers, or patience. We need to be able to say why we're there, what we want to accomplish while we're there, and how we'll know for certain when we've accomplished that.