Commentary Magazine


Contentions

Victory Is So Yesterday

Is this language befitting a wartime commander-in-chief?

President Obama has put securing Afghanistan near the top of his foreign policy agenda, but “victory” in the war-torn country isn’t necessarily the United States’ goal, he said Thursday in a TV interview.

“I’m always worried about using the word ‘victory,’ because, you know, it invokes this notion of Emperor Hirohito coming down and signing a surrender to MacArthur,” Obama told ABC News.

The enemy facing U.S. and Afghan forces isn’t so clearly defined, he explained.

“We’re not dealing with nation states at this point. We’re concerned with al Qaeda and the Taliban, al Qaeda’s allies,” he said. “So when you have a non-state actor, a shadowy operation like al Qaeda, our goal is to make sure they can’t attack the United States.”

So victory itself is now an outdated construct — like ideology or, heaven forbid, American exceptionalism. If the president thinks that asymmetric war precludes victory, then the U.S., in his estimation, is likely never to win a war again.

There is a reason that the word victory conjures up in Barack Obama’s mind the 64-year-old image of Hirohito and MacArthur: he has never acknowledged the much more recent American victory in Iraq. If he had not politicized and downplayed the U.S. accomplishments there, he would have a sterling example of an American triumph in asymmetric conditions. Instead, he inspires the headline (seen by friends and enemies alike) “Obama: ‘Victory’ Not Necessarily Goal in Afghanistan.” Isn’t that grand?

Moreover, this presidential deconstruction of the concept of victory comes at the very moment we are calling on young Americans and soldiers in allied nations to make the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan. For a man who said that the U.S. lost its momentum in the fight in Afghanistan under George W. Bush, undoing the notion of winning a few weeks into a renewed campaign seems like a strange step.