One school of thought, attributed to Karl Von Clausewitz, approaches war as a series of rational calculations. He rejects the notion that war is initiated, prosecuted, or terminated as a result of emotional whims; quite the contrary he sets forth a detailed framework by which relevant actors either do or ought to consider at each stage. In effect, he establishes a type of cost-benefit analysis attached to a political object. This cost-benefit analysis he has stated thusly:
war is not an act of senseless passion but is controlled by its political object, the value of this object must determine the sacrifices to be made for it in magnitude and duration. Once the expenditure of efforts exceeds the value of the political object, the object must be renounced and peace must follow (Von Clausewitz, 1873).
This short statement contains a number of relevant factors relevant to the conduct and termination of a war. First, the political object must be clearly defined or it may become very challenging to engage in any type of cost-benefit analysis. ...
The American leadership could have determined the sacrifices, financially and in terms of lives lost, by determining the magnitude and duration of the military operation required to eliminate such weapons of mass destruction. A problem, however, has obviously arisen and the question is how does America extricate itself from its armed conflict in Iraq.
A careful analysis based on Von Clausewitz would suggest that America's problems in terminating the war can be traced to the "political object" language; more precisely, there have been many suggestions that the American leadership was deceptive in presenting the elimination of weapons of mass destruction as the primary or sole political object. Other political objects, such as the control of Iraq's oil and the spreading of liberal democratic institutions throughout the Middle East, have also been mentioned as political objects. This changes the equation proposed by Von Clausewitz tremendously. If one were to assume, for instance, that control of Iraq's oil or democratic institution building were primary political objects then the duration of the war and the magnitude would be far greater. The duration would be greater because the possession of oil fields would seem to be a perpetual goal until some viable source of energy is developed and the building of democratic institutions in nations created on apposite principles would generate problems of political legitimacy and armed opposition. Such examples, premised on deceptive or changing political objects, goes a long way towards explaining why some nations find it so difficult to bring a war to an end.
In addition, there is the issue of weight; more specifically, Von