The Meaning of Victory: A Conversation with General Franks

By Franks, Tommy | The National Interest, November-December 2006 | Go to article overview

The Meaning of Victory: A Conversation with General Franks


Franks, Tommy, The National Interest


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 celebre 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-a-vis the protection of the people of the United States? …

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