On Winning

Sunday, November 3, 2013

How can you win a war when you can’t define what winning means?

I’ve been reading Losing Small Wars, and, recently, a thread on a web forum where people, many of them British military, were arguing about the British Army in Afghanistan and how they should stay there until they win, etc.

The problem is that no-one has ever been able to explain what ‘winning’ there would mean, in any sense that could actually be achieved.

In the Falklands, it was easy: throw out the Argentinian military and return the islands to British control. In the first Gulf War, throw the Iraqi forces out of Kuwait and return it to the Kuwaiti government.

Even the initial invasion of Afghanistan made sense: capture or kill bin Laden, and kick al Qaeda’s ass. But they let bin Laden get away, yet they still couldn’t manage to leave. Rather than withdraw most troops and send in Special Forces to hunt down the remnants of al Qaeda, they switched to ‘nation building’.

Every suggested definition of winning since seems to pretty much come down to turning Afghanistan into Surrey, which makes about as much sense as trying to turn Surrey into Afghanistan. Given the British government’s attempts over the last couple of decades to turn Britain into an Islamic state, the latter might actually happen, but first you’d have to get rid of those annoying British people in Surrey who don’t much like Sharia law. Similarly, turning Afghanistan into Surrey would be possible, but only by getting rid of those annoying Afghans who don’t want to be Western liberals. I guess the ideal solution would be to do a swap, with the Afghans moving to Surrey and the Surreyans moving to Afghanistan; then everyone could be happy.

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