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Define Victory, Define Loss

Ben Smith writes at Politico:

Former Sen. Fred Thompson today intensified his party's criticism of President Obama's long deliberation over policy in Afghanistan, announcing that Obama's delay signals that "the war has been lost" and that nothing the president now does will "make any difference."

"It really doesn't matter how President Obama divides the Afghan baby, how he splits the difference between McChrystal and Biden. Because the war has been lost," Thompson said on his radio show today.  "I say this because of one sad and simple fact. The president does not have the will and determination to do what's necessary to win it. His heart's not in it, and never has been. The Taliban knows it. Al Qaeda knows it. Our allies know it. And the American people know it.

"Our enemies are now emboldened and our friends are discouraged. We cannot prevail if the American people are not willing to make the sacrifices necessary for an extended effort. The case has not been made to them to justify this effort. The case can only be made by the president. This president is unable or unwilling to make that case," Thompson said.

Thompson's words seem to lay the groundwork for Republican opposition to further American engagement in Afghanistan, cast here as halfhearted.

"Take your time, Mr. President," Thompson said. Unless you have a total change of heart and mind, it really doesn't make any difference."

The problem for the Republicans was laid by President Bush, who did not clearly define either the enemy or the goals of our war effort. Therefore, any effective Republican response to Obama must also include a repudiation of Bush whose idea of warfare was simply to throw the military at the problem. The Republicans will paint themselves into a corner if their strategy is simply to keep throwing more troops into an untenable situation, with no clear definition of victory.

The question is, is "stablity" in Afghanistan and Iraq really in America's best interest? As Hugh Fitzgerald has argued for years, a low level conflict in Iraq between Sunni and Shia and among the different ethnic groups, Kurds and Arabs, is not necessarily a bad thing from a Western point of view. Neither is tribal conflict in Afghanistan necessarily inimical to American interests. We have to give up the idea that either of these states will ever be America's long-term allies. Different groups will use us to their advantage, like the Shi'a have used us in Iraq, and Karzai's faction has used us in Afghanistan, but we need to take a step back and re-evaluate our interests. We should not require our troops to sacrifice themselves for their interests. That way madness lies.