What Does Winning Look Like?

Jinny and I were out in B.C. this weekend visiting her family. It was her grandparents’ 60th anniversary, very cool. While I was there I saw the cover of a recent Maclean’s magazine with the title “What Are We Dying For?” I didn’t get a chance to read the article (busy weekend) and I don’t have a subscription (thus no link to the article either), but I’m pretty sure that I know the general tenor of the question. The picture over which the title was laid was of a coffin being carried out of a military transport with a Canadian flag draped over it. My guess is that this article was asking the same questions that I hear friends and family and people in supermarkets asking…why are we involved in a shooting war on the other side of the world and is our presence there accomplishing anything positive at all? Before I go any farther let me just say that I have absolutely no answers to these questions, or to any questions that have to do with these questions.

Winding down this evening I was watching TBTVSAT and came across a short exchange with some powerful words. The character Leo McGarry (played by the late John Spencer), the Chief of Staff in President Bartlett’s White House, was discussing the problem of western involvement in the Middle East. Though the immediate context of the conversation had to do with events surrounding Sorkin’s fictional country of Qumar, the basic principles certainly apply to the real world. McGarry asks whether the only way that the conflict between the West and the Middle East will end is with “the American flag flying over Mecca?” In the same conversation he says that he “doesn’t know what winning looks like anymore.”

What does winning look like? Is it found in total withdrawal from the region or in total commitment to military action? The first option would, I think at least, be the most likely way of ensuring that western nations (Europe, Canada, the US, etc.) would cease to be targets for jihadists. It would also, however, mean leaving allies like Israel to their fate, to say nothing of millions of people still living under the oppressive thumb of religious dictatorships (I’m thinking particularly of women in countries like Iran). The problem with the second option is, obviously, its imperialist tendencies. If modern history has taught us anything it is that telling people how to be better people at the point of a gun doesn’t work very well (and is more than a little bit arrogant). So what does winning look like? I haven’t got the faintest idea. But I have one question to ask about that question.

Is “winning” the right metaphor?

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