Is This Victory?

Is This Victory?

Mini Teaser: Defining what constitutes victory in Iraq is the number one question in American politics. Washington needs to go beyond offering bumper-sticker cliches to provide workable yardsticks for measuring success. Some thoughts on the matter.

by Author(s): Tommy FranksStephen BiddlePeter Charles ChoharisJohn M. Owen IVDaniel PipesGary RosenDov S. Zakheim

The Meaning of Victory: A Conversation with General Franks

How should victory be defined?

What constitutes victory? I think that is a fundamental question, and it is good for each of us in this country to ask ourselves that from time to time.

When we try to decide whether or not we've been victorious, we have to think, for just a second, what the term "victory" means. Victory means the accomplishment of objectives and goals that we had in mind when we initially became involved in a particular conflict. It's also instructive if we ask how we understood victory-what the objectives had been-in the past when our country became involved in one fight or another. In some cases victory has been defined as the removal of a particular threat, either to ourselves or to our friends. But we also find that in almost every case we became involved in wars in order to gain security, either for ourselves or for friends; that at the end of the conflict, as a result of treaty, or pact, or alliance, this security was guaranteed. Security for friends-meaning both allied countries as well as for pro-American forces within a given country-has also inevitably become a part of the objective of victory. That is how we establish the metrics of defining victory.

There are always secondary objectives. The opening and securing of lines of communication are sometimes components in defining what constitutes victory. Sometimes there are economic benefits. Sometimes victory is said to have been achieved when a particular country has been introduced (or reintroduced) into the community of nations, as happened with Germany and Japan after World War II. This may entail the establishment of the rule of law and some form of representative government. And at least in one man's opinion, mine, components of politics on the ground in a particular country-internationally and certainly here at home-will always factor into our definition of victory.

And these secondary objectives also help set the bar for what it means to attain victory, establishing what victory will mean at a particular time. And if there is disagreement with what secondary objectives should constitute the standard for victory, and we want to establish a different set of metrics, then we can look from time to time and ask ourselves how we are doing in terms of coming to victory.

In Iraq, has too much emphasis been placed on achievement of secondary objectives or preferences as the benchmark for victory? After all, the primary objective-the removal of a hostile regime-has been achieved.

I think a lot has to do with the public perception, which in any great period of consternation will be determined in a large part by the media. Now, one can just go about bashing the media, and I think the American people believe from time to time that the media is responsible for the difficulty. However, in my mind, this is not so, and we should not allow ourselves to believe it. But when we have run into a particularly difficult time, and Iraq at this point represents a particularly difficult time, then we as Americans sit back and watch to see, "Well, how are we doing?" And if, for whatever reason, the media happens to pick up on a secondary objective as the cause célèbre and as the overall objective, and begins to simply report and fill American households with a lack of progress in achieving that objective, then pretty soon that becomes the measurement of success.

Now, without a doubt, there has always been this desire to create within Afghanistan and within Iraq conditions where the people in those countries have a representative form of government, and where this government is integrated into the international community of nations. This is a worthy goal. But we have to ask ourselves, "What was it that moved us into Afghanistan in the first place? And what moved us into Iraq in the first place?" The answer is clear: to ensure the security of the people of the United States of America.

So the first question we need to ask, then, is not whether Afghanistan and Iraq are flourishing democracies, but, since 9/11, how are we doing vis-à-vis the protection of the people of the United States? And, with that as the primary objective, it seems to me that we are doing well. Now, in terms of secondary objectives, we continue to get the impression from the media that the overall objective of going into Afghanistan was to give it a pure, clean and representative form of government. That is desirable, but it is secondary to the primary goal. And the same thing could be said about Iraq.

To what extent, then, is success or failure on these secondary objectives America's responsibility?

That question reminds me of two questions that I have been asked a number of times. The two came out of operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, and interestingly they were the same question and they were just a year-and-a-half or two years apart. Here are the questions: "Will Afghanistan make it?" and, "Will Iraq make it?" And what I have answered consistently for several years is, "I don't know whether Afghanistan will make it or not. And I don't know whether Iraq will make it or not." But I do know, in terms of the secondary objectives, both Afghanistan and Iraq now have what they have not had in quite some time-that is, they have a chance to make it.

Again, let's be clear: Military operations in both of those countries were designed primarily for the purpose of increasing the security of the United States by removing safe havens for terrorists. But once we have achieved that, we need to keep it that way-to prevent both these countries from once again become sanctuaries for terrorism-and that's the secondary objective. And to keep it that way means encouraging the evolution within Afghanistan and Iraq of representative forms of government where the Afghan and Iraqi peoples can see the advantages of Coca-Cola, Levis, McDonald's and apple pie. And the "keep it that way" part is what is really being questioned right now. And at some point, success depends on the indigenous people-in this case the people of Afghanistan and Iraq. The trick is to decide how long it is necessary to keep one's hand on the bicycle seat in either case so that our secondary desire of "keeping it that way" can remain intact. That's the trick.

But we must avoid the blind alley of thinking that the only thing that matters, in Iraq, is the establishment of democracy at all costs. The imperative is to remove a sanctuary for those that George Bush calls the "evil-doers" before they can plot the next attack on the United States of America.

What are your thoughts on how warfare is evolving and our ability to cope with the next generation of conflicts?

One of my favorite American philosophers is Yogi Berra. Yogi says that, "Prediction is extremely difficult, especially when it has to do with the future." So I establish the Yogi comment to say I'm not precisely sure what the future will hold. This is why in this country we will continue to spend large sums of money in order to buy a hedge against the next Battle of Kursk-warfare conducted in the open field, with massed armies of infantry, armor and artillery. But at the same time, if we use the recent past-the previous two decades-as a precursor of the future, then we will certainly see a move towards decentralized warfare involving small forces and with much more sporadic rather than continuous behavior on the battlefield. That type of conflict has resembled a baseball game, you know, with consistent periods of boredom spiked by incredible adrenaline rushes.

Anytime the nature of warfare in a given period of time changes, it is necessary for the forces aggregated on the battlefield to change. The kinds of forces that we need to handle the problems that we see right now must be extremely agile, extremely flexible, and they must be forces that have as much to do with the management of media as they have to do with the management of infantry and riflemen on the battlefield. And by management of media, I do not mean manipulation of media, but understanding of media, recognition of the fact that media in this millennium is a factor of warfare that is neither good nor bad, but it is a factor that affects the battlefield nonetheless. As these forces have evolved from World War II, they have become agile, flexible and, in many cases, much lighter than we have seen, but in any case still very lethal, very well trained, very light and very responsive. That is what we see today, and our success on future battlefields-as we perceive political objectives on those battlefields-will be determined in large part by how well we have adapted to circumstances that exist today. Who knows what they will be in the future? But I think we'll all have a pretty sure idea if we stop and think about what it looks like today. One needs civil affairs forces because there are political realities on the ground. One needs engineers; one needs light infantry forces. Despite our hedge, it does seem that we will need fewer artillery and armor forces.

Essay Types: Essay