In counter-insurgency, things are more blurred. Some say you are winning if the insurgents take on asymmetric techniques – road-side bombings, assassinations, suicide bombings. Others argue that counter-insurgency has no “victory”, only containment.
Perhaps you win so long as domestic opposition to a war (a normal, perhaps even constant, phenomenon nowadays) does not translate into effective political action i.e. street violence, civil disobedience or just the rout of war-making governments. If people care enough about an issue they will act, as in Iceland and Latvia, where governments have fallen after their economic blunders.
I am thinking about this en route to Kabul, after having been given a full day’s worth of briefings at NATO headquarters about the Afghan mission. Everyone is hopeful that the coming US troop surge will make a difference. But what kind of difference will be possible? When I left Kabul after having lived there in late 2005 there was a feeling among some people that we were reaching a tipping point. It turned out we were. But rather than one which heralded a new period of progress it turned out to be the opposite; a point of rapid decline. I am now going back to see for myself what the situation is and what can be done to improve things. I’ll report back to you on what I find.