Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The logic of war

In reading John McCain's op-ed column that was rejected by the New York Times, I was struck by this paragraph:
I am also dismayed that [Obama] never talks about winning the war -- only of ending it. But if we don't win the war, our enemies will. A triumph for the terrorists would be a disaster for us. That is something I will not allow to happen as president.
That's the nub of it. It is one thing to oppose war before the shooting starts. Once the war begins, however, the only choices are victory or defeat -- glory or dishonor.

The possibility of defeat is among the reasons why war should be avoided if possible. I am reminded of Nicias, the Athenian general who argued against undertaking the fateful Sicilian expedition in the Pelopponesian War but who, once the decision was made to undertake the expedition, insisted that it be made with all available force. Athens could afford the expedition, but could not afford defeat.

John McCain has indicated his disdain of Bush's jocular "f--- Saddam, we're taking him out" attitude -- an attitude he says the president manifested a year before the invasion. But McCain has steadfastly insisted that, if we were going to fight in Iraq, we make the fight full-strength. Fight to win, or don't fight at all.

Obama considers defeat an acceptable outcome; McCain doesn't. This is the real difference.

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