“Victory in War” Can Now Be Considered an Oxymoronic (?) Phrase


As he watched the last Republican “debate,” Senator and Democratic-hopeful Bernie Sanders tweeted “Can these guys talk about anything other than their desire to go to war?”

The simple answer is pretty clear. All the candidates in that debate who were given the chance (other than maybe Rand Paul and Ben Carson—both of whom are completely whacko on other issues) ramped up the beat of the war drums pounding in the background.  That’s a perfect message for a red-meat Republican audience.  It is as if Trump’s re-tread of Reagan’s slogan “Make America Great Again” gets loosely translated into “let’s go kick some ass and kill some folks, so other countries will respect us.”

All this rhetoric, when the candidates are just playing to the crowd, is revolting. When they actually believe that claptrap it is patently absurd and damned frightening.  It is like Boehner’s statement earlier this year, “If we’re going to authorize use of military force, the president should have all the tools necessary to win the fight that we’re in,”[emphasis added] (Statement by Speaker, US House of Representatives, John Boehner, February, 2015)

There is just one problem with this kind of talk. We have been killing people with real regularity since September 11, and we haven’t won.  Why?  Simple, true victory in “this fight,” whichever modern conflict you want to name, doesn’t exist.  Look at what we did to the Iraqi army. We then got open sectarian warfare. We now have former Iraqi generals leading ISIL.  If we get ISIL, then what pops up next? Does Boko Haram expand?  More lone wolves like those at Fort Hood and Dallas make it into the news? We take out much of the terror training infrastructure in Afghanistan, and we are still there a decade later while the Taliban kills Afghanis and Pakistanis on a weekly basis.

We have been here before, but we never seem to learn. During the early phase of LBJ’s torturous process in Vietnam, his mentor, Senator Richard Russell, told him it was a morass that would trap him.  Any light that LBJ thought we saw at the end of the tunnel was an oncoming locomotive. Russell told LBJ to find himself a Vietnamese leader who would take power and demand the USA leave the country. It was the only way we would get out with what the senator saw as the USA’s honor and image intact. Russell, a rock-ribbed conservative and racist, had advice those R presidential hopefuls now pounding the war drums on the debate stage and on the stump would do well to consider.

This is not WWII with the tanks rolling across the Elbe; there will be no solemn yet celebratory ceremony on a naval vessel (no matter what George W seemed to think) with top hats and signed agreements. Even with that level of triumph, in which we basically destroyed and took the surrender of two major military powers, we immediately fell into the Cold War and the nuclear arms race. We can add to that a tragic series of ill-conceived limited war activities in our own hemisphere and elsewhere (including Vietnam, Cuba, and Iraq).

True victory means we are safe from our defeated enemies, and our actions don’t put us in danger from some new foe that is a spin-off of that conflict.  It’s time we face the reality that true victoryobamamole_edited and safety in this world are chimeras, fanciful illusions.

We now live in a world of dynamic, violent conflict that will continue to flick across tribal, ethnic, economic, national, and religious cleavages throughout the world. International and terrorist violence in this day and age is a world-wide “whack a mole” game.  The “enemy” pops up one place; we knock them down; they or their friends immediately pop up someplace else, and on, and on, and on it goes.

Carly Fiorina wants tanks back on the Russian border and more missiles in NATO countries.  Does she honestly think that KGB thug Putin will be impressed? She really wants to start the Cold War over in the 21st century?  It was no great shakes in the last century, but we should now have great hopes for some minor saber rattling in this new century?

Also, to take a note from Rand Paul’s playbook, if Russia is such a serious threat to our European allies, then why don’t they put their tanks and sons in harm’s way? Rand Paul gets roundly hooted at by his opponents on the debate stage for voicing such ideas.  They say that every time the US “leads from behind” that disaster follows. The reality is that leading or even participating in ill-conceived military ventures is always a disaster.

All of this means that American foreign policy has to now go beyond our traditional concepts of war and victory.  We have to think very seriously and in very new ways about our decisions to engage in violent international conflicts.

We must also define our end points in these engagements in very different ways. There will be no USS Missouri moments in these “wars,” where some evil empire prostrates itself before American might.

I don’t really know how all of this should play out, but I do know that pre-historic approaches to, and mind-sets about, modern foreign policy and international violence, like those voiced by The Speaker and trumpeted by that set of R presidential hopefuls, will not serve us at all well.


  1. I completely agree. We live in a violent and unpredictable world. Anyone proposing a neo-Cold War strategy shows clearly that they are 25 years behind in their thinking, if it could even be called that.


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