Victor Davis Hanson makes a point worth addressing:
Obama warns against “open-ended wars,” as if they are almost animate things. But wars end, not when they reach a rational, previously agreed-upon expiration date, but usually when tough, specific wartime choices are made that lead to victory or end in defeat. One party must decide – for good or bad reasons – that it doesn’t want to fight to win, or simply doesn’t believe it has the resources for victory. To say that “open-ended wars” are undesirable is a banality that offers no guidance for these real-life choices. A better truism is that America should not fight wars it does not intend to win.
He’s right that there’s banality in saying, “No To Open-Ended Wars.” But the trouble is we’ve spent nine years embracing open-wars. Since 9/11, there has been no functional definition of what constitutes an end to the overarching framework of fighting al-Qaeda. When do we know when we’re done? Similarly, we don’t have rigorous frameworks in place for knowing when we’ve achieved minimal, medium or maximum American goals in either Iraq or Afghanistan, and those are much easier to articulate (or declare, if you want to be cynical) than in the struggle against al-Qaeda. Sometimes opinion leaders expand the concept of the struggle against al-Qaeda to include Hamas or Hezbollah or Iran or the Palestinians or “radical Islam” or, in the case of the opponents of Park51, Islam itself. And there’s most certainly no endpoint for when such a creeping clash of civilizations ends, unless one civilization dies off. During the Bush administration — and increasingly, effectively, now during the Obama administration — the metric of success was to… keep fighting, the very definition of an open-ended war.
Call it banality to reject such a thing, but sometimes strategy has to begin with rather basic concepts. The question is whether it will expand from them into something useful or prove unable to synthesize the unappetizing choices it confronts into something that actually advances the national interest.
He’s right that America shouldn’t fight wars it doesn’t intend to win. But when has America ever undertaken a war it didn’t intend to win? The reality is that America too often engages in wars it doesn’t know how to win. Those are the real cases to avoid.