As we start a new war, have we learned from our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Summary: As we start a new war, will we remember the lessons of our last wars? Most importantly, will we continue to run like hamsters on the wheel? We kill our foes, and nearby citizens. As infidel foreign invaders, the locals consider our actions illegitimate. The insurgents gain support and members. So we ratchet up our effort.  Oddly, we’ve known this for over a decade but repeat our actions.

Albert Einstein
He’s sad about our inability to learn from experience


“Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results.”

— A warming from Albert Einstein.

By Alcoholics Anonymous, people who know about dysfunctionality.


(1)  Quotes from those who learned from our wars

These are but a few of the many warnings about our mad tactics. I suspect there are many more stamped SECRET in DoD’s files.

John Kerry, 2 August 2004. This reads differently a decade later, since the Obama administration has continued most of these policies:

“The policies of this administration, I believe and others believe very deeply, have resulted in an increase of animosity and anger focused on the United States of America. The people who are training terror are using our actions as a means of recruitment.”

Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States”, National Intelligence Estimate (NIE 2006-02R), April 2006

We assess that the Iraq jihad is shaping a new generation of terrorist leaders and operatives; perceived jihadist success there would inspire more fighters to continue the struggle elsewhere. The Iraq conflict has become the “cause celebre” for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of US involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating supporters for the global jihadist movement.

… The jihadists replay images of Muslim civilians under attack by the West to justify their actions to Muslim audiences.

Guantanamo’s Shadow“, The Atlantic, 1 October 2007 — “The Atlantic recently asked a group of foreign policy authorities about the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba”

“The Guantanamo system has hurt the U.S. and our fight against Al Qaeda. We have abandoned the moral high ground and, through our actions, have become one of the principle recruiting agents for Islamic extremism.”

“Our strongest asset internationally was our reputation and credibility on human rights. We have squandered that.”

“Hurt, on balance, because it has severely damaged our moral case in the world, which we have to have in order to rally support for combating Al Qaeda.”

“Both in the obvious public relations way, worldwide, and quite directly, in showing Al Qaeda that we can very easily and quickly be seduced into wild overreactions. That is just what Osama Bin Laden hoped. Since it worked so well, he has an incentive to repeat.”

“It has done enormous damage to our reputation and soft power.”


Learn from mistakes

‘Top Secret America’: A look at the military’s Joint Special Operations Command“, Washington Post, 2 September 2011

Even before the Army’s Abu Ghraib prison photos began circulating in 2004, a confidential report warned that some JSOC interrogators were assaulting prisoners and hiding them in secret facilities. JSOC troops also detained mothers, wives and daughters when the men in a house they were looking for were not at home. The report warned these detentions and other massive sweep operations were counterproductive to winning Iraqi support.

(2) America’s trinity of warfare

Modern armed forces, of both developed and undeveloped nations, tend to rely on a trinity of operational methods.  None of these are new of course (almost nothing is new in war, it’s all a matter of combinations and emphasis).

  1. Popular front militia
  2. Massive firepower on civilians
  3. Sweep and destroy missions

Since WW2 armies rediscover these 3 methods, dressing them up in the fancy terminology befitting “radical” innovations.  The repeated failure of these methods doesn’t discourage repeated confident use. Our greatest failure is our failure to learn.

(3)  Conclusions

We can do better. Our prosperity, perhaps our survival, depends on learning from our experiences in the long war.

(4)  For More Information

(a)  Posts about the American trinity of warfare:

  1. Three blind men examine the Iraq Elephant, 6 February 2008
  2. Winning hearts and mind with artillery fire, 26 May 2008
  3. Another example of winning hearts & minds with artillery, 29 May 2008
  4. The Trinity of modern war at work in Afghanistan (more evidence that amnesia is a required to be an American geopol expert), 12 July 2009
  5. About our operations in Kandahar – all that’s old is new again, 20 October 2010

(b)  Posts about learning:

  1. COIN, another example of our difficulty learning from history or experience, 7 December 2011
  2. Remembering is the first step to learning. Living in the now is ignorance., 29 October 2013
  3. Time to ask about lessons learned from our wars, a last opportunity to gain something from them, 30 October 2013
  4. Expanding the size and scope of our Special Operations Forces, an alternative to learning from our failed wars, 3 November 2013
  5. A note from the time of WWI, lessons from The Great War for us fighting the Long War, 23 January 2014



6 thoughts on “As we start a new war, have we learned from our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan?”

  1. With the disappearance of the Soviet Union in 1991, America’s military/prison/police/surveillance/torture complex experienced an existential crisis caused by the prospect of sudden and catastrophic loss of funding. Since 1991, America’s entire foreign policy has been devoted to creating new substitute enemies to replace the former Soviet Union as credible threats to the U.S.

    Our foreign policy since 1991 has been extremely successful. Our leaders have successfully traversed the OODA loop required to disenfranchise and destroy our middle class while maintaining funding for the U.S. military and enriching themselves and perpetuating a state of economic and social inequality unexampled since the time of the pharaohs.

    As the U.S. economy continues to decline and the American middle continues to erode, it becomes increasingly important to maintain a constant state of national war emergency in order both to distract the serfs (formerly known as the middle class) from their ever-worsening situation, and to justify the continuing impoverishment and disenfranchisement of the former middle class in the name of National (capital N) Security (capital S). As American society transforms from a democracy into a rigidly hierarchical oligarchy operating under undeclared martial law “for the duration of the emergency” (which is ongoing, and perpetual, and never-ending), the lessons American leaders have learned from traversing their oligarchic OODA loop will become increasingly important, and the evidence suggests they have learned those lessons well. As the effortless destruction of the Occupy movement shows and the impotence of American anti-war demonstrations shows.

    The war, therefore if we judge it by the standards of previous wars, is merely an imposture. It is like the battles between certain ruminant animals whose horns are incapable of hurting one another. But though it is unreal it is not meaningless. It eats up the surplus of consumable goods, and it helps to preserve the special mental atmosphere that the hierarchical society needs. War, it will be seen, is now a purely internal affair. In the past, the ruling groups of all countries, although they might recognize their common interest and therefore limit the destructiveness of war, did fight against one another, and the victor always plundered the vanquished. In our own day they are not fighting against one another at all. The war is waged by each ruling group against its own subjects, and the object of the war is not to make or prevent conquests of territory, but to keep the structure of society intact. The very word “war,” therefore, has become misleading. It would probably be accurate to say that by becoming continuous war has ceased to exist. — George Orwell, 1984

  2. PNAC Plan continues in Obama Admin. This is what Libya and and Syria are about. And after Syria, they plan to go after Iran.
    See Wesley Clark discussion:

  3. See also:
    Now here comes the guy in the picture, very likely taken in the CIA run “secret office” Ben Hubbard visited:

    “The international position has to be to fight all kinds of terrorism, both ISIS and the regime,” said Sheikh Tawfiq Shahabuddin, the head of the Nureddin Zengi Movement. “You can’t treat only one part of the disease.”
    This Salafi nutjob is paid by the CIA. That he is no “moderate” is not only obvious from his outer appearance but also from the name he has chosen for his movement, Nureddin Zengi:

    Nūr ad-Dīn Abū al-Qāsim Maḥmūd ibn ʿImād ad-Dīn Zangī (February 1118 – 15 May 1174), also known as Nur al-Din (from Arabic: نور الدين‎, “Light of the Faith”) or Nur ed-Din, was a member of the Turkic Zengid dynasty which ruled the Syrian province of the Seljuk Empire. He reigned from 1146 to 1174.

    In 1146, Nur ad-Din massacred the entire Christian population of [Edessa] and destroyed its fortifications,[1] in punishment for assisting Joscelin in this attempt. Although according to Thomas Asbridge, the women and children of Edessa were enslaved. He secured his hold on Antioch after crushing Raymond of Poitiers at the Battle of Inab in 1149, even presenting to the caliph, Raymond’s severed head and arms.
    That, dear U.S. taxpayer, is the cause the CIA finances with your money.
    CIA Anti-Syria Program Finances Wahhabi Headchoppers

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