What, if anything, does it mean to “lose the peace”?

Yesterday, I posted a piece by Victor Davis Hanson about the prospects for post-war Iraq. I called my blog “Winning the Peace.” It occurs to me, though, that the notion of “winning a peace” may be pseudo-concept, as Rocket Man used to say. It is easy enough in nearly all cases to determine who has won a war. However, I do not know of any criteria for determining who has won a peace. No doubt, this is why liberals have recently embraced the phrase. They can’t deny that President Bush has won his two wars, and won them resoundingly. But liberals still can make the nebulous, unverifiable claim that he has lost, or will soon lose, the peace. Conservatives too may have some use for the phrase. They can praise the Department of Defense for winning wars, while blaming the State Department for losing the peace.
To the extent that commentators mean anything more profound when they talk of losing a peace, they probably mean that less good came out of the preceding war than might reasonably have been expected. Thus, World War I not only failed to make the world safe for democracy, it did not lead to lasting positive change in Germany, quite the contrary. World War II did lead to such change, but did not result in the liberation of Eastern Europe. The first Gulf War liberated Kuwait, but did not bring about regime change in Iraq. The war in Afghanistan did not rid that country of war lords. In each case, one can argue that we lost the peace or that we won it. Indeed, since all wars are followed by both good and bad developments, one can always argue both sides of the “did we win the peace” issue without much fear of being conclusively proven wrong. That’s why I think the notion is a pseudo-concept.
There is, perhaps, one lesson to be learned from discussing who won various instances of peace, however. In each of the examples mentioned above, if the peace was lost — if less good than expected came out of the war in question — it was probably due in large part to the way in which the war itself was conducted. In World War I, we didn’t crush the German military the way we did in World War II. In World War II, we lost the race to Eastern Europe. In the first Gulf War, we didn’t push on to Baghdad. In Afghanistan, we never sent in enough troops to exercise substantial influence outside of Kabul. From this, I conclude that we enhance our chances of “winning the peace” in Iraq to the extent that our military remains a major presence in Iraq and is not bashing about exerting itself. In other words, as in past instances, we can best accomplish our post-war objectives by doing that which many liberals claim will cause us to lose the peace.


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