Cross posted from Iraq Insider
I just finished reading six famous lectures George Kennan delivered at the University of Chicago in 1951. The lectures were published as American Diplomacy, 1900-1950.
In the peroration of his sixth and final lecture, Kennan stopped to consider the nature of military victory in the modern world. Kennan writes:
It was asserted not long ago by a prominent American [Gen. Douglas MacArthur] that “war’s very object is victory” and that “in war there can be no substitute for victory.” Perhaps the confusion here lies is what is meant by the term “victory.” Perhaps the term is actually misplaced. Perhaps there can be such a thing as “victory” in a battle, whereas in war there can only be the achievement or nonachievement of your objectives. In the old days, wartime objectives were generally limited and practical ones, and it was common to measure the success of your military operations by the extent to which they brought you closer to your objectives. But where your objectives are moral and ideological ones and run to changing the attitudes and the traditions of an entire people or the personality of a regime, then victory is probably something not to be achieved entirely by military means or indeed in any short space of time at all; and perhaps that is the source of our confusion.
Sheds some light on the flaws of the Bush administration’s mission in Iraq, no?
Contrast Kennan’s measured, realistic view with that espoused by John McCain this past Sunday:
Because of the sacrifices and perseverance of all the troops — active-duty, Guard, and Reserve — victory in Iraq is finally in sight…Even in retrospect, [Obama] would choose the path of retreat and failure for America over the path of success and victory…In short, both candidates in this election pledge to end this war and bring our troops home. The great difference is that I intend to win it first.
When McCain tried to pass off this type of blather as fit for the op-ed pages of the New York Times, the Times editor told his campaign to try again. McCain needed, in a revised draft, to “articulate, in concrete terms, how Senator McCain defines victory in Iraq [and] lay out a clear plan for achieving victory,” wrote Times editor David Shipley.
In the foreign policy debate this Friday, I hope McCain will explain what he means by “victory” in Iraq. Does he see victory in Iraq, as I suspect, in “moral and ideological” terms, much to the chagrin of thinkers like Kennan?