‘Return on Success’ Something Less than ‘Victory’?

Speaking of reading too much into a word, LAT’s Doyle McManus spots a strategic shift in a linguistic choice:

For more than four years since the invasion of Iraq, President Bush most often has defined his objective there with a single, stirring word: “Victory.”

“Victory in Iraq is vital for the United States of America,” he told cadets at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in May. “Victory in this struggle will require more patience, more courage and more sacrifice,” he warned National Guardsmen in West Virginia in July.

But this week, the word “victory” disappeared from the president’s lexicon. It was replaced by a slightly more ambiguous goal: “Success.”

“The success of a free Iraq is critical to the security of the United States,” Bush said Thursday evening in his brief televised address from the Oval Office. “Now, because of the measure of success we are seeing in Iraq, we can begin seeing troops come home,” he said.

Bush’s description of his war aims reflected two hard realities about his position on Iraq. First, a large majority of the American public does not believe “victory” is possible. Dozens of opinion polls have found that fewer than 40% of voters think the war can be won. Second, the men who are running the war — Army Gen. David H. Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker — made it clear this week that their immediate goals were more limited than “victory.”

Where the United States once hoped for a peaceful, united Iraq governed by a Western-style parliament, Petraeus and Crocker described more modest goals: reducing sectarian violence, avoiding all-out civil war and encouraging self-rule with a strong role for tribal sheiks who are not elected. “I cannot guarantee success in Iraq,” Crocker said in hearings before Congress. “The challenges. . . are immense.”

Petraeus shied away from even using the word “success.” When a senator asked whether the United States had “a realistic chance to be successful” in Iraq, the general carefully replied: “I believe we have a realistic chance of achieving our objectives.”

From a military perspective, “achieving our objectives” equals “success” which equals “victory.” The terms are interchangeable. Indeed, one could argue that we achieved “victory” when Saddam’s government was toppled or, surely, when a new government was democratically elected. We’re not anywhere close, though, to “achieving our objectives.”

There’s little doubt that we’re defining “success” in a much different way than the grandiose neocon visions of the spring of 2003. Nobody figures on surfing the wave of democracy that was going to be cascading through the region. But the idea that a slight rhetorical shift is signaling that is just silly.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. John Cole says:

    You are probably right. The folks who brought us the “axis of evil” in the “war on terror” which became the “global struggle against violent extremism” before going back to being the “war on terror” would never rely on cheap parlor tricks like rhetorical strategies.

  2. legion says:

    I know it’s been said a million times, especially about this administration, but if they took even a tiny fraction of the resources & effort they use on coming up with PR spin to make a problem look better, and spent it on actually trying to make things better, Bush really would be seen by history as our greatest president ever, instead of the opposite.

  3. Wayne says:

    The terrorist, MSM and Democrats conduct PR campaigns on the war. For the President to not engage them in this area would be foolish and would make the military task more difficult. If anything, I think Bush doesn’t engage them rigorously enough in the PR war.

    The President may try to finesse his message some but at least what he says is more truthful then what the Terrorists, MSM and Democrats say.

  4. Michael says:

    If anything, I think Bush doesn’t engage them rigorously enough in the PR war.

    Becase if there’s one thing this war needs, it’s more politicizing.

  5. Triumph says:

    The differences about Bush’s deployment “success” and “victory” point out mainly that he has absolutely no clue of what our objectives are for the war.

    Of course, given the fact that he horribly mis-interpreted (to be charitable) the perceived “threat” of Iraq in the first place shouldn’t make this a surprise.

    His speech last night shows how clearly out of touch he is with reality. For chrissakes, he went on about there are “soldiers from 36 nations” in Iraq as some sort of evidence that this is a multilateral effort. When he says idiotic things like that, it makes you wonder if he has hit the booze again.

  6. Wayne says:

    Michael
    As many have said, we must win in the political field as well as the military field. Clearly we are winning in the military field. The political field here at home is as important as the political field in Iraq. Surely you don’t suggest that we should disregard the political fields.

    Triumph

    “Soldiers from 36 nations” pretty much defines it as a multilateral effort. Now you can redefine it. However whichever way you redefine it will most likely change what has been considered a multilateral effort in the past including many of Clintons past endeavors. Exception of course is the liberal definition that if Bush is involve then it is all negative.

  7. Triumph says:

    “Soldiers from 36 nations” pretty much defines it as a multilateral effort. Now you can redefine it.

    The problem is that he likely made up the number. If you could point to where these troops are from and how many there are, I would appreciate it.

  8. Michael says:

    Wayne, Bush trying to win the political war in Iraq by attacking Democrats in America makes as much sense as Hitler invading Russia to defeat Britain.

  9. Wayne says:

    Triump
    You are the one that claim that “”soldiers from 36 nations” in Iraq as some sort of evidence that this is a multilateral effort.” You didn’t question if it was true but that it didn’t constitute a multilateral effort. How can you claim that Bush is out of touch with reality when you do not know the facts?

    Michael

    Hitler needed the oil fields in Russia to help continue his war machine but that is another subject.

    As for attacking Democrats, a wartime President has always had to battle discontent at home as well as keeping up moral at home which influence moral overseas. I was talking about political battle in both Iraq and America. It used to be said that politics stops at the water edge. The reason for that is if it doesn’t it hurts our military and political efforts overseas. The Democrats no longer adhere by that rule and have hurt our efforts overseas. If need be, I can explain this further.

  10. Wayne says:

    Michael

    One more thing, if you want me to explain how Hitler invading Russia “could have” help in defeating Britain, let me know. Fortunately it was a gamble by Hitler that didn’t work out. Of course some argue that he had to take that gamble to have any chance of winning.

  11. Michael says:

    Hitler needed the oil fields in Russia to help continue his war machine but that is another subject.

    Yes, that’s the reason, so simple and concise, I wonder why nobody realized it before.

    if you want me to explain how Hitler invading Russia “could have” help in defeating Britain, let me know

    Oh this ought to be good, let me get some popcorn….

    Of course some argue that he had to take that gamble to have any chance of winning.

    If by “some” you mean “very few and those that are ill informed”, then you may be right. But that’s not generally how I use the word.

    As for attacking Democrats, a wartime President has always had to battle discontent at home as well as keeping up moral at home which influence moral overseas. I was talking about political battle in both Iraq and America.

    I see you buy into the whole “Democrats are the enemies of America” line, and feel that the President really does need to fight them. Others of us see oversight as the proper role of congress, and questioning as the proper role of the people.

    It used to be said that politics stops at the water edge. The reason for that is if it doesn’t it hurts our military and political efforts overseas. The Democrats no longer adhere by that rule and have hurt our efforts overseas.

    Yes, only the Democrats are taking their politics overseas. Tell me how many Democrats have gone overseas and spoken against the President’s policies, and then how many times the President has gone overseas and spoken against the Democrat’s policies.

    If need be, I can explain this further.

    I doubt it.

  12. Wayne says:

    If you want to say that the Democrats being discontents during wartime make them the enemies of America that is your opinion. I just stated that all wartime Presidents and leaders had to deal with discontents at home.

    The President going overseas for political reasons is his job not the Congress.

    The lack of fuel and other resources which Russia had and Germany didn’t, hurt Hitler’s war machine greatly. Some of those resources include minerals, food, population, and seaports. Germany also had a major concern with having a large aggressive military on it’s eastern front and Russia’s military was getting bigger by the day and had the resources to continue getting bigger.

    As for “some”, I meant almost everyone who studied WWII that has any sense of military strategy. There are always those few nutcases or ignorant ones that would argue differently.

    Democrat undermining the President overseas hurt the President and military efforts in many ways. One the world doesn’t think the U.S. is speaking in one voice and anything the U.S. says can’t be held as the truth. Examples of this are Iran and Syria. Both gave in and cooperated some after we went into Iraq. Then they listen to the discontent from within the U.S. and figure the U.S. doesn’t have a backbone to take on another conflict. Now they are supporting the insurgents.

    The post is getting to long. There have been many articles how not speaking with one voice overseas hurts Foreign policies efforts.

  13. Michael says:

    If you want to say that the Democrats being discontents during wartime make them the enemies of America that is your opinion. I just stated that all wartime Presidents and leaders had to deal with discontents at home.

    No, that was your opinion that the President must “battle” discontent like he “battles” terrorists. I think that discontent is something that should be avoided and alleviated, not fought against. Trying to force people to stop being discontent while not removing the source of their discontent is part of what started this whole war of terror in the first place.

    The President going overseas for political reasons is his job not the Congress.

    No, the President goes overseas for diplomatic reasons, as does Congress. The President should no more be reprimanding Congress while overseas than Congress should be reprimanding the President while overseas. I believe, and I welcome you to prove me wrong, that the President has done this more than Congress.

    The lack of fuel and other resources which Russia had and Germany didn’t, hurt Hitler’s war machine greatly. Some of those resources include minerals, food, population, and seaports. Germany also had a major concern with having a large aggressive military on it’s eastern front and Russia’s military was getting bigger by the day and had the resources to continue getting bigger.

    Certainly Germany needed the oil, but it could have waited. Food was the end-goal of Hitler’s future eastern agenda, but it wasn’t a scarcity that required the invasion. As for seaports, Germany already had access to the Baltic sea, English channel, Atlantic ocean, Mediterranean sea and the Black sea. The Red Army had also been severely cut by recent purges, so it was not in fact getting bigger.

    the world doesn’t think the U.S. is speaking in one voice

    The U.S isn’t speaking in one voice, and very rarely in it’s history has ever done so. Nobody overseas was ever naive enough to think that the U.S. didn’t have internal politics. The problem now is that some (you) think that the single voice the U.S. speaks with should be saying what the President wants to say, regardless of the will of Congress or the people.

    Examples of this are Iran and Syria. Both gave in and cooperated some after we went into Iraq. Then they listen to the discontent from within the U.S. and figure the U.S. doesn’t have a backbone to take on another conflict. Now they are supporting the insurgents.

    Both Iran and Syria knew from the beginning that the U.S. was getting in over it’s head. Iran cooperated in the beginning because it worked to their advantage, the U.S. removed a powerful enemy of theirs while allowing them to take the stage as the savior of the middle east, instead of as an aggressor, which would have been the case if Iran had to over-throw Saddam. Iran was supporting insurgencies in Iraq before the U.S. even arrived on the scene.

  14. Wayne says:

    I glad you agree Germany needed the oil. How long could Germany have waited? It severely hurt many of its operations. As for the build up, read the following website. There are more out there.

    http://ihr.org/jhr/v18/v18n3p40_Michaels.html

    Right, Syria and Iran turn over terrorist at the beginning because they knew U.S. was in over its head.

    As for responsibilities of the branches, read the following.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U.S._President

    I would agree that other governments know that the U.S. has internal politics. However they have in the past known that the U.S. foreign policy is one and the effort is one. I have disagreed with commanders in the past. Never less once the decision is made, I did all I can to carry out their decisions.

    http://www.usatoday.com/news/opinion/columnist/benedetto/2005-11-18-benedetto_x.htm

  15. Michael says:

    I glad you agree Germany needed the oil. How long could Germany have waited? It severely hurt many of its operations. As for the build up, read the following website. There are more out there.

    Germany would not have needed the oil for another couple of years, they also had other options for obtaining it. I don’t disagree that Germany would have had to fight Russia, both sides knew that from the beginning. The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was nothing more than agreement to delay the inevitable until western Europe and the Americas were out of the fight. The Red Army was in no condition to fight Germany, they could barely take on Finland. None of that, however, challenges my initial claim that attacking Russia was not going to help Germany defeat Britain.

    You’ll forgive me if I take Benedetto’s commentary with a bag or two of salt. My favorite line was this:

    Thus, Americans had to watch their president defend his policies while standing on foreign soil.

    Meaning that because of Democrats opposing the President at home (before the water’s edge), the President had to oppose them while abroad (beyond the water’s edge). And Benedetto sees this as the Democrats taking politics beyond the shoreline. Or taking the fact that former President Clinton told students in Dubai that he disagreed with the war as meaning that the Democrats in congress were doing the same. Again, I challenge you or anyone else to find more examples of Democrats in Congress taking politics beyond the water’s edge than the President has.