In This Review

The Meaning of Military Victory
The Meaning of Military Victory
By Robert Mandel
Lynne Rienner, 2006, 190 pp

Typically, the main reason for going to war is the conviction that without a war a situation will get much worse -- not that war will make anything better. But Mandel does not really consider the possibility that a theory of victory requires a theory of defeat (the word "defeat" does not even appear in the index). In examining the problems of defining victory since the end of the Cold War, he looks for the positive payoff (for example, that Afghanistan will become a stable democracy) rather than the negative relief (it will no longer serve as al Qaeda's international headquarters). On this basis, not surprisingly, the results of "victory" are generally disappointing. Another problem is that victory suggests an endpoint; in today's conflicts, Western forces may be just one armed faction in a prolonged power struggle -- and success may only be appreciated with hindsight. Mandel thus correctly insists that victory has to be judged by political rather than purely military criteria. He also has sensible things to say about the morality of winning and about how the conduct of war influences outcomes, especially in unconventional war.