America is regularly referred to as a superpower. But the truth is that this nation's record in military engagements since World War II is less than stellar. Blame it on the statesmen, or the military, or the public, it does not really matter. It is the end result that counts. America fought to a standoff in Korea and suffered a defeat in Vietnam before the military successes of the first Gulf War and (initially) in Afghanistan. Other uses of force have also produced a mixed record: positive outcomes in Grenada, Panama, and Kosovo, failures in Lebanon, Iran, and Somalia. To be a true super power, it is important to win wars. It is especially important not to demand defeat when victory might be possible.
James W. Ceaser is professor of politics at the University of Virginia and coauthor, most recently, of Red over Blue: The 2004 Elections and American Politics.