of peace without victory, grammatically speaking at least, is
victory without peace, which is what the United States ended up
with after President Bush declared, to his eventual discomfort,
"Mission accomplished" after he landed on the U.S.S.
Abraham Lincoln in May 2003. This concept has proven to be as
unsatisfactory as President Wilson's ill-fated hope.
In a set
of speeches and in television appearances, the president and members
of his administration now are having a second try at defining
exactly what victory means in Iraq. It is a difficult assignment
in any war, but it is particularly perplexing in this particularly
is it that the whole undertaking has set off a national debate
about what victory is, what it might look like and what its implications
might be. This is a linguistic and legal challenge that has proven
to be politically explosive and, in many cases, personally emotional.
That is because
the war's end is very likely to be far different from its beginning.
It started crisply enough, on March 19, 2003, when missile and
bombing strikes were directed at Baghdad and other targets. No
one I know can define what the end might be.
not like World War II when Germany and Japan surrendered and new
regimes take over," says U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, a Republican
from suburban Pittsburgh, who just returned from an inspection
of war zones in Iraq. "Who's going to surrender? That's what
makes this whole thing so tough to define."
earlier conflicts may have been more difficult to end -- World
War II comes to mind -- but their end was less difficult to imagine.
Beginning with the Casablanca conference in January 1943, the
Allies were committed to what Franklin Delano Roosevelt called
the "unconditional surrender" of Germany and Japan,
and never mind that the man standing beside him, Winston Churchill,
had not signed onto the concept, which the president said "popped
into my mind" as he was speaking.
for FDR's commitment to unconditional surrender, of course, came
from one of his presidential predecessors, Ulysses S. Grant, who,
while a brigadier general directing the February 1862 attack on
Fort Donelson in Tennessee, refused to accept anything less from
his Confederate opponents. Stubborn and steadfast, Grant sent
them a message: "No terms except unconditional and immediate
surrender can be accepted." It earned him the nickname Unconditional
Surrender Grant, and it brought to an end a 19th-century tradition
of negotiating peace terms roughly congenial to all parties.
later, wary that the sinews holding together the Triple Entente
were not particularly strong, the British, French and Russians
signed a declaration on the fourth day of World War I, pledging
"not to conclude peace separately during the present war."
That seemed like a pretty smart arrangement, given the geographical
breadth of the field of conflict and the diversity of language,
political philosophy and industrial sophistication among the allies.
No one, however, anticipated that the war would go so badly, that
the conflict would go on so long, that the Russian tsar himself
would be gone in three years, that the Bolsheviks would eventually
take control of the former Russian empire, and that members of
the new communist regime would betray allies they didn't seek
and didn't want and negotiate a separate peace at Brest-Litovsk
in March 1918.
in a different world and a different war, and it may be the very
kind of war we have repeatedly in the 21st century, so different
is it from any of those of the 20th century. In its effort to
clarify matters, the administration actually prepared a national
strategy document (you can get it on the Web at www.whitehouse.gov),
but the problem with it is the problem with the war in Iraq itself:
It works better in a conversation about philosophy than it does
in the theater of war.
is clear, and only the churlish among the president's critics
will find fault with it: "We will help the Iraqi people build
a new Iraq with a constitutional, representative government that
respects civil rights and has security forces sufficient to maintain
order and keep Iraq from becoming a safe haven for terrorists."
So far so good.
But the administration
defines success in three stages: short-term, medium-term and longer-term.
Forget for a minute the last two. The short-term goal is daunting
enough: "Iraq is making steady progress in fighting terrorists,
meeting political milestones, building democratic institutions
and standing up security forces." If this document applied
to what we now know about the late colonial, Revolutionary and
early Republic phases of our own country's history, we would devote
to this project the entire period 1775-89. To those 14 years,
when the nation was built in a land six weeks' ship travel from
the power centers of the world, add the complexities and complications
brought on by instant worldwide computer, cell phone and television
communications, and the dangers posed by hijacked airliners and
nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.
a hard road ahead, and though the administration made a brave
attempt at defining victory, the very difficulty of the task (and
the bulkiness of the answer) only underscores how elusive victory
It may seem
a facile solution simply to say that we ought to abandon the word
victory and seek something a little more modest, but perhaps that
is a useful start. This is a war unlike any other, and it requires
a language, and a conclusion, unlike any other. The officials
and officers conducting the war in Iraq may need more soldiers,
they may need more weaponry, they may need more patience, but
the first thing they may need may be on your bookshelf. It's a