President Obama didn’t cast much light on the war in Afghanistan in his press conference today, but it was interesting to note how uncomfortable he was when asked whether America’s goal there was “victory.”
Obama said his goal was “success,” not “victory.” According to the president, success could be defined by stopping more al-Qaeda terror attacks on the United States and the creation of an Afghan government that could defend itself. But “victory” doesn’t interest him. He says we’re in a position to radically draw down our forces in Afghanistan because of our “success” there. The problem is that by settling for an outcome in which the Taliban is still in the field and undefeated, Obama’s withdrawal policy is setting up the possibility all of the achievements U.S. troops have made since the surge began in 2009 could be lost.
The president seems to think talking about “victory” is macho posturing his administration is too mature to engage in. But the allure of “victory” has nothing to do with chest beating and everything to do with ensuring your opponents do not recover from setbacks and ultimately prevail. Victory means the enemy can no longer effectively fight, let alone win.
The president seems to want to simultaneously get credit for opposing further fighting in Afghanistan while also taking credit for “success” there. Perhaps Obama thinks if defeat happens after U.S. troops withdraw, it won’t go on his permanent record. The problem is the only alternative to “victory” is eventual defeat.