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News Link • WAR: About that War

How an Empire Defines Victory


Seeing the end of the Gadhafi regime has somehow vindicated the war on Libya in many Americans’ minds, including some previously on the fence. This is a usual pattern: The U.S. goes to war, always with some lofty goal advertised, and the euphoria kicks in as soon as the regime is defeated.

It happened throughout the 1990s. The Gulf War, Somalia, and Kosovo all present examples of the American empire claiming mighty victory even as the problems in each region that were cited as reasons to go to war — a brutal tyranny, starvation and warlordism, and ethnic violence — persisted long after the U.S. “won” these wars.

It happened with the fall of the Taliban in October 2001. The Bush administration declared victory, the evil state was destroyed (or so we were told), and videos of little girls flying kites, signifying the defeat of fundamentalist theocracy in Afghanistan, saturated the press.

Yet here we are, 10 years later, and the U.S. is still fighting the Taliban. Somewhere along the way it was forgotten that the war wasn’t simply supposed to achieve the limited victory of October 2001 — it was supposed to destroy the safe havens for “terror,” liberalize the nation, and neutralize the threat to America by attacking the root cause. None of this happened, not in 2001, 2002, or any year since. Do Americans, most of whom now want to leave Afghanistan, remember how they felt about the great triumph 10 years ago? Apparently, the lessons haven’t completely set in.

It happened again in Iraq. The U.S. toppled Saddam’s regime in an impressive couple of days. Saddam’s statue fell. The Ba’athists were done for. Somehow it was considered a noteworthy achievement for the world’s hegemon, dropping thousands of bombs and spending billions of dollars, to be able to defeat a third-world state with a military one-hundredth the size of the hegemon’s own.

On May 1, 2003, Bush stood upon the USS Abraham Lincoln and declared: “Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.” He also reminded Americans of the victory in Afghanistan: “In the battle of Afghanistan, we destroyed the Taliban, many terrorists, and the camps where they trained.” He conceded that there was a lot of work left unfinished in both countries.


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