I'll finish this discussion about war aims with a brief note about levels or types of victory. After the Korean War, people bitterly disagreed over whether the conclusion--a return to the status quo ante--was in fact a victory. Limited war for limited objectives certainly seemed like a distastefully odd concept for a nation that had, a few years earlier, won a total victory over Germany, Italy, and Japan. Over time, however, as feelings grew less raw, and as the shape of the Cold War balance of power took a clear shape, the Korean War did in fact look more like a victory--at least, the best outcome we could have hoped for, given the circumstances. Unless we used nuclear weapons, the military stalemate would not be broken. Crossing the nuclear threshold, however, not only posed an enormous moral risk, but at the coldest practical level, could easily have shattered our alliances, created worldwide hatred of the United States, and possibly led to a nuclear confrontation with the Soviet Union. In hindsight, we can still argue how great or trivial these risks might have been, but clearly, for decision-makers at the time, they were not worth taking.
So the victory in Korea may not have been total, but it was certainly acceptable. South Korea recovered and grew prosperous. North Korea was contained.
Victory, therefore, can take three shapes:
(1) Risk elimination. Military action removes the source of the threat--the Nazi regime, the Confederacy, etc.--completely.
(2) Political success. The war ends with the political objectives achieved, without having to eradicate the enemy altogether. Most wars have ended this way, including he first Gulf War. Our success at containing Iraqi expansionism--ousting the Iraqis from Kuwait, crippling their army, and eliminating the Iraqi WMD arsenal and programs--was more than enough reason to declare victory.
(3) Revenge. This type of victory may surprise you to see in this list, but it's a legitimate measure of success. Frequently, military action doesn't need to eliminate the enemy, nor does it have to change the map of the world. Instead, it simply has to satisfy the need to hurt someone who has hurt you. I'm not arguing that this type of victory is moral, practical, or by any measure a good idea. I'm just saying that, in the real world, not the world of military theory, this is often the outcome that the people involved will say is satisfactory. (For a good discussion of the impulse for revenge as the basis of justice and one type of social cohesion, I recommend reading Emile Durkheim's The Division of Labor in Society.)
Let's take both the target of our war--terrorists, terrorism, and terror--and the types of victory I sketched above and put them together:
Somewhere in this table is your definition of victory. Pick one--but choose wisely. Be prepared to ask yourself some hard questions about what the United States needs to do to win, according to your definition of victory. And be clear in your mind about what you've chosen, since as we discussed earlier, fuzzy war aims usually lead to disastrous outcomes.