If they don't know you won, did you?

The wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, and elsewhere challenge the traditional conception of "victory." What is victory when capturing the capital does not cause the population to succumb to your wishes, assuming of course there's a central government to topple? This isn't an issue in "traditional" conflicts, like World War I and II and even, to many, the Cold War. Or is it?

Nick Cull just returned from a trip to Russia to discuss public diplomacy at a Russian international relations university that "graduates 80% of Russian diplomats." Not surprisingly, they talked about the end of the Cold War:

It became obvious that these students had not spent much time thinking about external determinants for the political changes of the late 1980s and early 1990s. For them the Soviet Union collapsed for its own internal reasons, unconnected to its foreign policy, defense, and rearmament decisions. When I pushed the case - mentioned that Americans believe they won the Cold War and merely debate which of their policy decisions provided the "winning blow" - they were surprised. They simply do not see the story in terms of America's victory or Russia's defeat. The model adopted by these students was more that the Soviet Union attempted to create an ideal system, entered into competition with the United States, the system failed, and the Soviet Union stepped back from the competition - rather like a tennis player bowing out with a stomach cramp. Their model clearly left the path open for Russia to return to the competition and resume play, but this was not their intent. They seemed genuinely worried by talk of a return to a Cold War and asked with some anxiety about the likely foreign policy of America's next president. This mutual gap in perception is significant. Americans might do well to ask how victorious they really were if the defeated party does not acknowledge the loss.

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