Washington Sketch: McChrystal dances around ‘victory' in testimony to Congress

By Dana Milbank
Wednesday, December 9, 2009

"Victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the road may be."

-- Winston Churchill, 1940

"It could be similar to politics, where you defeat the other party in an election but you don't wipe them out."

-- Gen. Stanley McChrystal on Tuesday, explaining what it means to "defeat" the Taliban

Before arriving in Afghanistan on Tuesday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said he would tell U.S. soldiers there that "we are in this thing to win."

That formulation ( in addition to echoing Hillary Rodham Clinton's "I'm in to win" presidential campaign theme) was striking because it was very different from what Gates's top general in the Afghanistan war, Stanley McChrystal, was saying on the very same day. Where Gates was Churchillian, McChrystal, testifying before a pair of congressional committees, was a one-man army of qualifiers.

"If it's a war of necessity, then I would think, by definition, we have to win it," supposed Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.).

"I believe it's important that we be successful," McChrystal clarified.

Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) was still not clear. "We do intend to defeat the Taliban?"

"Sir, the military term, in fact, without parsing that too tightly, we -- we intend to prevent them from doing what they want to do," McChrystal replied.

Rep. John Kline (R-Minn.) asked for further clarification of the war aim: "Is that to win?"

"I believe it's to let the Afghan people win," the general hedged.


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