With all the discussion of the official end to US combat operations in Iraq, a key point for critics and proponents of the war and the current President is whether we have really won. Indeed, approximately 50,000 American troops remain and Iraqi on Iraqi violence still occurs all too frequently. However, as the previous seven years of debate on this war has shown us, victory will not be absolute nor obvious, disappointing many Americans still conditioned to expect WWII or Cold War style total victory. Reading the news the last few days, it occured to me, the 21st century will be a century of us deciding what and when victory is.
This may seem like an obvious, if not trivial point, however in some ways it was a moment where one’s expectations are completely redefined. Clear cut victory in the future will be a rare exception regardless of what combination of state and non-state actors are involved. Above all, Americans have a long seated cultural preference for absolute victory. We have difficulty seeing the world in shades of gray and our history and values preclude us from generally accepting small wars with expressly limited goals. And yet, that’s exactly what we’ll now be faced with.
We’ve already won in Afghanistan as far as this author is concerned, the question is when a generally accepted definition of victory will be found and we can leave.