By any objective standard, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are abysmal failures.
To avoid similar disasters in the future, we have to to learn from history. For such historical guidance, I would turn to Nothing Less Than Victory: Decisive Wars and the Lessons of History by the late, great historian John David Lewis.
In Nothing Less Than Victory, John Lewis studies six major historical conflicts, from the Greco-Persian Wars to World War II, to discover the conditions of complete, conclusive and lasting military victories. Or, in other words: the *military* means to achieve a real and lasting peace.
Lewis argues that it's necessary, but not sufficient, to merely destroy the enemy's *ability* to wage wars. Not if your end is a long and lasting peace. No, to achieve peace you will also have to break the enemy's *will* to wage wars. You have to make the enemy realize that their cause is hopeless, false and immoral. You have to make the enemy feel the pain of defeat. You have to, mercilessly, crush the enemy.
You must make them pay and suffer to such an extent that they are willing to question and reject their most fundamental ideas and values. Only then they will be ready to realize that their cause was not only hopeless but also false and immoral.
What it means more specifically will vary from case to case, and John Lewis offers more than enough historical examples to illustrate and prove his point. But, in essence, it amounts to discrediting the ideas and values, i.e., the philosophy that is justifying and inspiring the enemy to initiate wars in the first place.
Consider, for instance, how the US made Japan accept an *unconditional surrender* in World War II by dropping two atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki:
Unconditional surrender demanded that the underlying causes of the war be eliminated. And it worked: The causes were eliminated, and there has been no hint of aggression from Japan since.
The deepest reason for the success of the victory—and the need for unconditional surrender—is philosophical, and relates to the mental connections formed by the Japanese. They formed deep integrations about the nature of the world and their place in it. The "Emperor," the "Nation," the "national essence," the "Yamato race"--these were monolithic abstractions that loomed over the Japanese like gods. The Americans set out to smash those integrations and to replace them with new ideas and norms of conduct. Breaking the power of the emperor as an "incarnate deity" in the minds of the Japanese was vital to lifting the veil of evasion that had subordinated the minds of the Japanese to authority. To return the Japanese to cognitive contact with reality required an end to the emperor's wish as the source and standard of morality, and an end to a religious myth as the core curriculum in the schools.
The result would be a reorientation of the minds of the Japanese, as their existing concepts were smashed and rebuilt...
The firebombings of Japan were the start of this educational process—they concretized the idea of war and made it impossible to claim that there was goodness in such horror. The bombings smashed the false integrations on which the Japanese had been raised. This allowed them to re-integrate the concept "war" into its essentials: blood, smoke, rubble, fear, scars, screaming death. War was now a horror to be rejected, not an ideal to be sought...
The victory brought the Japanese back to cognitive contact with reality. It broke the connections between sacrifice and glory, death and honor, the emperor’s wish and goodness. The effects of this reached deeply into their moral outlook and led them to redefine their basic values.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were sold to the American people as wars in self-defense. They were, in fact, anything but: they were self-sacrificial "humanitarian" efforts of "nation-building", where American soldiers had to fight under altruistic rules of engagement. Basically, American soldiers had to avoid hurting the "innocent" civilians, by paying with their own lives. "Democracy", i.e., giving the enemy the vote, not victory, was the real goal in Afghanistan and Iraq. (For details read "The 'Forward Strategy' for Failure" by Yaron Brook and Elan Journo and "'Just War Theory' vs. American Self-Defense" by Yaron Brook and Alex Epstein.)
Many Americans now believe that wars in self-defense are self-defeating. It is, therefore, no wonder that most Americans are now discouraged and demoralized by the very thought of another war. It is also no wonder that most Americans now believe that the only alternative is either another horrible failure such as Iraq, or "diplomacy", i.e., appeasement. But is this conclusion justified? No.
Granted, it may today seem inconceivable that we will ever win the ongoing war against Islamic totalitarianism. Especially after suffering through failures such as the Iraq war. But it is, in fact, *not* too late to teach Iran the same lesson.
Indeed, Lewis observes that although some conflicts went on for years, sometimes even decades, and were riddled with massive losses, setbacks and failures, it was still possible for a nation to restore its morale, reaffirm its moral conviction that it is in the right and, finally, recognize that it is never too late to demand nothing less than victory. This realization -- that victory is, despite everything, still possible -- was a real boost for *my* morale. This is, for me, probably the most valuable lesson in Nothing Less Than Victory. For this, I am eternally thankful to the late John Lewis.
Nothing Less Than Victory is a great book. I would recommend it to everyone who is interested in the history of wars and the morality of wars, since it offers an unique historical and moral case for achieving real peace through war. I would also recommend it, even if you happen to be more interested in the present and the future, instead of the past, because it will offer you the historical frame of reference, necessary to properly evaluate the conflicts confronting us today and tomorrow.