It is easy to start a war by invading or dropping bombs, as the Japanese did on Pearl Harbor. Ending a war is more difficult. A country may choose to stop hostilities and retreat, but then the other side can claim victory. Perhaps the best way to end a war is to negotiate a peace treaty, but that can be difficult and have unintended results.
Although President Woodrow Wilson was a professor of political science and former president of Princeton University, he was not very successful in practical politics. He created his Fourteen Points statement of war aims without consulting our British and French allies. They felt left out when not consulted.
Then he went to Versailles to sign the treaty to end the First World War accompanied by several Democrats from Congress, yet no Republicans. The Republicans were angry at being excluded from the Versailles talks and helped reject the peace treaty. The U.S. signed a separate peace agreement with Germany but we never joined the League of Nations. Our failure to join helped destroy the League.
Without the U.S. as a member, the League failed to prevent the Japanese invasion of Manchuria and China, or to block any of the aggressions by Mussolini and Hitler, acts that led to World War II.
More recently, the Korean War began in 1950 when North Korea attacked South Korea and the U.S. and the United Nations engaged in a police action to drive the invaders back north. That war still has no peace treaty, just a cease-fire. Several attempts have been made to negotiate a peace treaty, but all have failed. That war is still legally ongoing.
The 10-year Vietnam War lost the support of many Americans. Efforts to end that war stretched over several years. We had to negotiate petty details such as the size or shape of the table around which the negotiators would sit. They sat at four separate tables, not a single table. Finally a peace agreement was signed in Paris in January 1973.
We withdrew our troops as promised, but nobody else did. Soon after we withdrew, fighting resumed and North Vietnam easily defeated South Vietnam which was no longer protected by American troops.
We tried to pretend we ended that war with our honor intact, but if the objective of the U.S. in joining the war was to protect South Vietnam from North Vietnam, we lost that war. North Vietnam gobbled up South Vietnam soon after we left.
President Barack Obama will have a difficult negotiating situation when he tries to end the 2« wars we are engaged in Iraq, Afghanistan and the border areas of Pakistan. I call the situation in Pakistan a half war because we are sending unmanned aircraft to bomb suspected al-Qaida and Taliban safe havens. Since that involves just the edge of Pakistan along its border with `Afghanistan and not all of Pakistan, I call it a half war.
In none of the three conflicts are we fighting local governments. Our targets are not the legally elected regimes. In none of these three countries are we trying to undertake a "regime change," as we did when we removed Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq.
Our enemies are simply loose groups of terrorists united only in two things: their hatred of the U.S. and their belief that Allah will reward them for fighting a holy war against the infidels, led by the U.S., that support Israel's continued existence. Apparently they think that the U.S. wants to protect corporate financial interests, not human rights.
Some of the terrorists (perhaps all of them) believe that local governmental officials in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan are mere puppets of the U.S., put into power and kept there by American military and financial support.
Without a peace treaty, our noncombat troops might be in Iraq indefinitely.
A peace treaty or less formal memorandum could result from three different negotiations for ending the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. These negotiations might involve the representatives of the U.S. and our allies, representatives of the local government and possibly representatives of al-Qaida or the Taliban, our real enemies. There would probably be great dispute as to who might represent al-Qaida and Taliban, if they were invited to participate.
After negotiations which could be long and contentious, whatever peace agreements that are finalized would have to be approved. But by whom? Al-Qaida and Taliban have no legislatures.
Tom Nichols is a retired college professor who lives in Gainesville. His column appears frequently and on gainesvilletimes.com.