Why the West loses so many wars, and how we can learn to win.

Summary: As the western nations begin a new round of interventions against insurgencies in the Middle East, let’s look at the record of such conflicts since WWII. They teach a simple lesson that if widely recognized could change our future. The leaders of our national defense institutions do not want to see it, so we probably will not either. Failure to learn is among the most worst of our weaknesses, able to offset the power of even a great nation. This essay was cross-posted at Martin van Creveld’s website.

Fake Churchill about success
Among the dumbest advice ever. Churchill didn’t say it.

Our wars since WWII

The local fighter is therefore often an accidental guerrilla — fighting us because we are in his space, not because he wishes to invade ours. He follows folk-ways of tribal warfare that are mediated by traditional cultural norms, values, and perceptual lenses; he is engaged (from his point of view) in “resistance” rather than “insurgency” and fights principally to be left alone.

— David Kilcullen in The Accidental Guerrilla (2011).

Most of the West’s wars since WWII have been fight insurgencies in foreign lands. Although an ancient form of conflict, the odds shifted when Mao brought insurgency war to maturity after WWII. Not until the late 1950’s did many realize that war had evolved again, and labels were given it. The most common are Low Intensity Conflict (LIC), 4th generation war (4GW), non-trinitarian warfare.

It took more decades more for the West to understand what they faced. Martin van Creveld saw it early. If we listened we could have avoided our failed occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq. See this from The Transformation of War: The Most Radical Reinterpretation of Armed Conflict Since Clausewitz (1990). He begins by looking at modern military machines, the expensive pride and joy of many nations large and small.

“One would expect forces on which so many resources have been lavished to represent fearsome warfighting machines capable of quickly overcoming any opposition. Nothing, however, is farther from the truth. For all the countless billions that have been and are still being expended on them, the plain fact is that conventional military organizations of the principal powers are hardly even relevant to the predominant form of contemporary war. …Without a single conventional war being waged, colonial empires that between them used to control approximately one half of the globe were sent down to defeat through LIC’s …In the process, some of the strongest military powers on earth have suffered humiliation…

“…how well have the world’s most important armed forces fared in this type of war? For some two decades after 1945 the principal colonial powers fought very hard to maintain the far-flung empires which they had created for themselves during the past four centuries. They expended tremendous economic resources, both in absolute terms and relative to those of the insurgents who, in many cases, literally went barefoot. They employed the best available troops, from the Foreign Legion to the Special Air Service and from the Green Berets to the Spetznatz and the Israeli Sayarot. They fielded every kind of sophisticated military technology in their arsenals, nuclear weapons only excepted.

“They were also, to put it bluntly, utterly ruthless. Entire populations were driven from their homes, decimated, shut in concentration camps or else turned into refugees. As Ho Chi Minh foresaw when he raised the banner of revolt against France in 1945, in every colonial-type war ever fought the number of casualties on the side of the insurgents exceeded those of the ‘forces of order’ by at least an order of magnitude. This is true even if civilian casualties among the colonists are included, which often is not the case.

Notwithstanding this ruthlessness and these military advantages, the “counterinsurgency” forces failed in every case.”

See this briefer summary in Chapter 6.2 of The Changing Face of War (2006).

“What is known, though, is that attempts by post-1945 armed forces to suppress guerrillas and terrorists have constituted a long, almost unbroken record of failure … {W}hat changed was the fact that, whereas previously it had been the main Western powers that failed, now the list included other countries as well. Portugal’s expulsion from Africa in 1975 was followed by the failure of the South Africans in Namibia, the Ethiopians in Eritrea, the Indians in Sri Lanka, the Americans in Somalia, and the Israelis in Lebanon. …Even in Denmark {during WWII}, “the model protectorate”, resistance increased as time went on.

“Many of these nations used force up to the level of genocide in their failed attempts to defeat local insurgencies. Despite that, foreign forces have an almost uniform record of defeat. Such as the French-Algerian War, which the French waged until their government collapsed.”

The two kinds of insurgencies

In January 2007 I gave a more detailed explanation to van Creveld’s conclusion. As a simple dichotomy for analytical purposes, we can sort insurgencies by the degree of involvement of outside armed forces (of course, there are other ways to characterize 4GW).

  1. Violence between two or more local groups, who can form from any combination of clans, governments, ethnicities, religions, gangs, and tribes.
  2. Violence between two or more sides, where at least one is led by foreigners – comprising, as above, any imaginable combination of factions.

Local governments often win conflicts of the first kind, often with valuable foreign assistance — so long as the locals control political strategy, tactics, and the major combat forces. For example, see David Kilcullen’s insightful analysis of the Indonesian government’s defeat of insurgencies in West Java and East Timor. These conflicts are often conflated with those of the second kind, as if victories by the local governments are similar to the defeats by foreign armies.

An intermediate kind of conflict occurs when a colonial power grants independence to the local elites through whom it has ruled, winning by trading away sovereignty for an influence with the newly independent State. Examples are the British wars in Malaysia (1948 – 1960) and Kenya (1952-1960) (in which the British took full credit in the histories they wrote).

Foreign forces almost always lose when they take the lead — as always, with exceptions from unusual circumstances — because the locals have two great advantages. First, they play defense and need only to outlast the foreigners. As Clausewitz said in On War, Book 1, Chapter 1…

“As we shall show, defense is a stronger form of fighting than attack. … I am convinced that the superiority of the defensive (if rightly understood) is very great, far greater than appears at first sight.”

Second, locals have the home court advantage. David Kilcullen unintentionally described this in his famous “Twenty-Eight Articles: Fundamentals of Company-Level Counterinsurgency” (Military Review, May – June 2006). For example, consider article #1…

Know the people, the topography, economy, history, religion and culture. Know every village, road, field, population group, tribal leader and ancient grievance. Your task is to become the world expert on your district.

This is delusional advice to an American or British company commander. The world expert on “your” district already lives there and probably was born there. US company commanders on twelve month rotations cannot acquire such deep knowledge in foreign cultures, no matter how thick their briefing books. It might be difficult for some of them to do so in Watts or Harlem.

Time brings insight to those who pay attention

Time made this clear to a widening circle of observers. Chet Richards (Colonel, USAF, retired) expanded this insight in his 2008 magnum opus If We Can Keep It: A National Security Manifesto for the Next Administration. In 2008 RAND came to the same conclusion after examining “Eighty-Nine Insurgencies: Outcomes and Endings” (Appendix A by Martin C. Libicki in “War by Other Means – Building Complete and Balanced Capabilities for Counterinsurgency“ by David Gompert and John Gordon et al). Here is a summary.

Some with experience on the front lines tried to warn us, as in this quote from Doug Sanders “Afghanistan: colonialism or counterinsurgency? Americans bring Afghans their new 60-year plan” (Globe and Mail, 31 May 2008).

One thing this cloak is hiding is the likelihood that once a nation finds itself relying on counterinsurgency for military success in a foreign setting it has already lost. … The insurmountable problem that the COIN Team faces is that expressed by a senior French commander who told journalist Eric Walberg that: “We do not believe in counterinsurgency” because “if you find yourself needing to use counterinsurgency, it means the entire population has become the subject of your war, and you either will have to stay there forever or you have lost”.

In 2010 Andrew Exum referred us to the doctoral dissertation of Erin Marie Simpson in Political Science from Harvard: “The Perils of Third-Party Counterinsurgency Campaigns” (17 June 2010; available through Proquest). Her conclusion was expressed in a DoD-sympathetic fashion…

Ultimately, I argue that third parties {foreign armies} win when they’re able to overcome these intelligence challenges before public support runs out. This typically requires rather substantial military reforms and complex deal-making with local leaders. Unfortunately, the nature of selection effects in these cases gives rise to a population of insurgencies whereby these conditions are very unlikely to be met.

The Counterinsurgency Center
Too bad they keep losing.

The core problem.

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!”
— Upton Sinclair in I, Candidate for Governor: And How I Got Licked (1935).

This data clearly shows our problem. Why do so few people see this history (e.g., see the near-total refusal to see it at this Small Wars Council comment thread)? Why do our armies — led by the best-educated officers in history — repeat the tactics that have failed in so many similar wars?  This is especially unfortunate, since we face foes that have learned so much from the wars of the post-WWII era.

The most plausible reason, as so many have explained since 9/11, is that the leaders of our national security apparatus run it for the money. They run wars to keep the funds flowing and build the power of the Deep State. Victory is nice but optional.  “War is the health of the state“, as true today as when Randolph Bourne wrote those words in 1918.

How can we win?

“Men and nations behave wisely when they have exhausted all other resources.”
— Abba Ebban (Israel’s Minister of Foreign Affairs), 19 March 1967. Let’s not wait until then.

First, stop “repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results” (that’s insanity per an ancient insight of Alcoholics Anonymous, who know all about dysfunctionality). Eventually this will go badly for us. Second, admit that we do not have the best military in the world at fighting these “unconventional wars” (i.e., most wars of the post-WWII era).  Third, fight only where the stakes are high and we have reason to believe we can win (see this post for details).

Fourth, stop listening to people whose advice has been so wrong. As Martin van Creveld’s said in “On Counterinsurgency: How to triumph in the age of asymmetric warfare“, a speech given at the Henry Jackson Society (26 February 2008).

So when people ask about how we should study counterinsurgency, the first step should be to gather 95% of all the literature on the subject, put it aboard the Titanic and sink it. In fact, there is so much of it that if you put it aboard the Titanic the iceberg becomes unnecessary!

The logical answer for why the materials on counterinsurgency are so inferior is that most of them were written by people who failed to achieve victory. Ninety-five percent of the literature is written by the losers, who in trying to justify their own actions, put the blame for their failure on others. Therefore there is little reason to expect the literature to be any good. Indeed, the best thing to do with it is to put it away.

Last, rely on methods that have worked for America in our past. Let’s try a defensive strategy in America’s wars, and win.

War often forces harsh choices. We will continue to lose until we confront them. The pressure to do so must come from below the most senior ranks of our defense agencies and from civilians. Neither will happen fast or easily, but we must start soon. Time is not our ally.

Einstein on problems and solutions
A fake quote (see his actual words), but good advice.

For More Information

For a deeper analysis of these matters see The Transformation of War: The Most Radical Reinterpretation of Armed Conflict Since Clausewitz by Martin van Creveld and The Utility of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World by Rupert Smith.

If you found this post of use, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. Also see the history of COIN (we close our eyes so as not to learn from it):

  1. Max Boot: history suggests we will win in Afghanistan, with better than 50-50 odds. Here’s the real story.
  2. A major discovery! It could change the course of US geopolitical strategy, if we’d only see it.  — About the doctoral dissertation of Erin Marie Simpson in Political Science from Harvard.
  3. A look at the history of victories over insurgents. — A study by RAND.
  4. COINistas point to Kenya as a COIN success. In fact it was an expensive bloody failure.
  5. Return of the COINistas (the zombies of military theory).

27 thoughts on “Why the West loses so many wars, and how we can learn to win.”

  1. The upshot of FM’s analysis suggests that America should strive to “win” 4GW conflicts by not starting them. This can easily be done by curtailing America’s endless unwinnable foreign invasions (calling them “wars” isn’t really accurate, because most of America’s post-1945 military incursions have involved invasive transient military occupations, rather than traditional efforts to destroy opposing armed forces or capture territory. In fact, even when America has captured territory in its foreign military incursions, it typically abandons the territory soon thereafter. C.f, Operation Desert Storm in 1991.)

    Ultimately this prescription for solving America’s military problems requires change in America’s civilian leadership and in our population, not in our military.

    If American presidents and America’s congress and the American people stop giving the U.S. military impossible missions (Viet Nam: “win their hearts and minds”; Iraq: “create a laboratory of democracy in the middle east”; Afghanistan: “bring order to a fractured set of fiefdoms which has never been conquered in 3,000 years”; Somalia: turn a libertarian hellhole run by warlords with armies of drug-addled Ak-47-toting children into Topeka Kansas circa 1955), our military will function well.

    Ultimately, American delusions are epitomized in the text of the AUMF, a document as insane as anything ever issued by a drug-crazed lunatic screaming from a soapbox on the streetcorner. Among other impossible goals, the AUMF calls upon the president

    to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.

    The president is therefore required by this bizarre document to do whatever is necessary to make sure that America never gets attacked by terrorists ever again, at any time, no matter how distant in the future. In the James Bond movies, this was called “a plot by an evil mastermind to take over the world.” According to the AUMF, the president of the United States must become the lord of all space and time, able to end every threat to America forever and ever, at any time no matter how distant in the future, by any enemy, no matter how insigificant today. That’s crazy. It’s also completely impossible.

    The AUMF also represents a symptom of serious mental illness. An earlier section of the AUMF describes the 9/11 attack as a “threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States posed by these grave acts of violence.” This is delusional. The 9/11 attacks knocked down two skyscrapers. That’s nothing compared to the 3,500 nuclear warheads the USSR had aimed at us for 50 years — yet America’s population and politicians went mad with hysteria because two buildings got knocked down, while Americans didn’t seem to feel the need to blow up every other country in the world and turn itself into a police state to defend itself against the threat of Soviet nuclear annihilation from 1947 to 1991. Clearly, something has gone wrong with the American population and with their politicians. They’re suffering symptoms of mental illness involving a psychotic break with reality, and severe paranoid delusions with morbid hysterical affect.

    As further evidence of the mental problems exemplified by the AUMF, consider the section in which the collapse of two buildings in downtown New York gets described as “such acts continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States.” Knocking down two buildings in New York is an “extraordinary threat” to America’s national security? On what planet? Collapsing the twin towers of the world trade center creates an extreme threat to the “foreign policy of the United States”? How? This is crazy. Al Qaeda could blow up 100 skyscrapers in America, and it wouldn’t threaten this country and it certainly wouldn’t threaten our foreign policy.

    The AUMF seems to describe a nation so fragile and so vulnerable that even the slightest violent event would cause America to teeter on the brink of collapse. This is crazy. That’s not the country that defeated the Nazis in WW II — that’s a nation full of hysterical crybabies cowering and whimpering in their beds with the sheets drawn up over their eyes while they shriek for their collective mommy. Out here in the real world, nations have sufffered infinitely greater war damage than the 9/11 attacks (Stalingrad in Russia; Cambodia in the U.S. carpet bombing; Afghanistan during the 1840s attacked by the full might of the British Empire) and those countries didn’t feel compelled to go berserk and run around the world invading every other country on earth in reprisal.

    Documents like the AUMF and the USA Patriot Act represent symptoms of severe mental illness in the American population and America’s politicians. Reform of America’s military seems contraindicated prior to treatment for these severe mental disorders of paranoid delusions and psychotic breaks from reality.

    I’m not alone in making this diagnosis.

    [Col. Andrew] Bacevich cuts to the heart of the problem: “The biggest mistakes have been those made by the civilian policymakers who have committed the military to unnecessary and unwinnable wars.”

    Source: “Why Does America Keep Losing Wars?” Vice.com, 8 April 2015.

    Does U.S. credibility matter? If so, how much? Is it more important for other states to have high confidence that the United States will fulfill its overseas commitments, even when doing so might be expensive and not necessarily in America’s best interest? Alternatively, is it better if other states have high confidence in America’s judgment, i.e., in its ability to analyze emerging international problems and devise effective responses to them?

    As anyone who’s studied the history of U.S. foreign relations knows, American leaders have been obsessed with credibility ever since World War II. If other states ever doubted U.S. power or resolve, so the argument ran, communists would be emboldened, deterrence would weaken, and America’s allies would be intimidated and neutralized, leaving the United States isolated and friendless in a hostile world. This concern led American leaders to constantly reiterate their pledges to defend allies all over the world, led Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon to fight on for years in Vietnam, and drove U.S. efforts to acquire some sort of “nuclear superiority” over the USSR. Even today, whenever something bad happens almost anywhere in the world, hawkish voices will immediately proclaim that America’s credibility will collapse if Uncle Sam does not do something now. (..)

    Unfortunately, this obsession with credibility was misplaced. For one thing, a state’s “reputation” for being tough or reliable didn’t work the way most foreign-policy elites thought it did. American leaders kept worrying that other states would question the United States’ resolve and capability if it ever abandoned an unimportant ally, or lost some minor scrap in the developing world. But as careful research by Ted Hopf, Jonathan Mercer, and Daryl Press has shown, states do not judge the credibility of commitments in one place by looking at how a country acted somewhere far away, especially when the two situations are quite different. In fact, when the United States did lose, or when it chose to cut its losses and liquidate some unpromising position, dominos barely fell and its core strategic relations remained unaffected.

    Source: “The Credibility Addiction: The United States can’t stop fighting other countries’ wars — and its allies are acting like enablers,” Foreign Policy magazine, 6 January 2015.

    1. Thomas,

      (1) “America’s endless unwinnable foreign invasions (calling them “wars” isn’t really accurate, because most of America’s post-1945 military incursions have involved invasive transient military occupations, rather than traditional efforts to destroy opposing armed forces or capture territory.”

      That’s an absurdly narrow definition of war. It’s a protean social dynamic, among the most varied and complex.

      (2) “Ultimately this prescription for solving America’s military problems requires change in America’s civilian leadership and in our population, not in our military.”

      That’s only somewhat true. The military has massive influence on the wars its told to fight. A unified “that’s dumb” would shut down many of these wars that are popular only with sustained cheer-leading from DoD.

      (3) “The AUMF also represents a symptom of serious mental illness. … Documents like the AUMF and the USA Patriot Act represent symptoms of severe mental illness in … America’s politicians.”

      I am always amazed at Americans who casually describing the acts of our elites as stupid, incompetent, or crazy. These people — such as our bankers, generals, hawks, and politicans — are thriving on a scale almost beyond imagination. Our generals, the neo-cons (Robert and Kimberly Kagan), the politicians who support them (Hillary) — they’re all doing well. Certainly better most of those in antiwar groups, the military reform community, and the 4GW scribes (and me). So I will disagree with your very odd characterization.

      when you say successful famous people have made gross mistakes, perhaps you should ask yourself if your goals are their goals.

  2. Doug Macgregor (Colonel, US Army, retired) emailed this reminder from history.

    In November 1967 General William Westmoreland arrived at Andrews Air Force Base. When asked how the Vietnam War was going, he replied…

    “Very, very encouraged. I’ve never been more encouraged during my entire, almost four years in this country. I think we’re making real progress. Everybody is very optimistic that I know of who is intimately associated with our effort there.”

    Report by General David Petraeus to Congress on 10 September 2007:

    “Based on all this and on the further progress we believe we can achieve over the next few months, I believe that we will be able to reduce our forces to the pre-surge level of brigade combat teams by next summer without jeopardizing the security gains that we have fought so hard to achieve.”

  3. Juana Azurduy

    Martin Van Creveld (MvC): excerpt from “The Decline and Rise of the Humanities

    “Political correctness is the blight of the modern humanities. So fearful are universities of being sued that they are actively preventing their faculty from speaking his (or her) mind on any subject, and in any way, that might be the least “offensive” to anyone. To understand what it is all about, read and re-read Philip Roth’s novel, The Human Stain. There a highly respected professor, referring to two students who had never showed up, asked the class whether anybody had seen the “spooks.” It quickly turned out that the students in question were black. But the professor, not having set his eyes on the students in question, could not know that. This, as well as the fact that most people do not even know that “spook” can be used to mean “black,” did not save him from being crucified. His colleagues turned against him. He lost his job, his wife died of chagrin, and he became an unperson.”

  4. Well done FM.

    When we first invaded Iraq, I couldn’t imagine in my worst nightmare that my kids might end up fighting in this war.

    Now, it’s a possibility. Maybe, we’ll sober up so my grandkids won’t be affected.



    1. Mike,

      Thanks for the kind words, especially valuable from someone of your experience.

      This is diagnosis, description of the problem. The weakest part of this is my analysis of the cause. But far more difficult and important is prescribing a cure. I believe the first step is getting people to see this simple insight. Yesterday’s post about Kukis’ article — even he does not see it, which suggests that Bacevich does not either — shows the steep learning curve ahead.

      More of a wall, I suspect.

  5. “This is diagnosis, description of the problem. ”

    Che Guevara was an MD. regularly shot people in non vital spots to subdue them, subdued them , then healed them. Crazy shit

  6. FM,

    I disagree a bit on your take on Kukis and Bacevich. In my mind, they are complementary to what you and MvC are writing. While you’re describing the problem, they’re examining the legitimacy of our actions (just war) through the lens of Reinhold Niebhur.

    Both are important. You’re describing why we have a problem, and they’re alerting us that we must give up control if we wish to ever regain control and confront our problems.


    1. Mike,

      I agree about that aspect of their work. But their analysis of our wars — like James Fallows — is hopelessly confused, does not see how they fit with the wars of other nations since WW2 (the big picture), and ignores the major lessons.

      Hence my analogy with the military reform and 4gw communities. They were right, also. But that is not enough.

  7. SouthAmericanrReflections

    If being right is not enough, they would ally themselves with Russia,China, SouthAmerica, the full works, The USA is such a vast rich country, what need to go fuck the world up? Can the USA relate to the world in a manner that is similar to a peer basis.

    Why not an Honest Panamerican Union?

  8. NOTE: Dont Bring Bush Jr.next time, please, we beg you. we just kind of dont like him at all. Bring us Rand Paul if you have to :)

    But generally speaking, ALCA? ALCARAJO!!! al= to the carajo= Carajo

    Literally meant the lookout basket in the top mast of a Spanish galeon ship. Sailors would get very sea sick when assigned to this post, so when they would think of becoming mutinous, the captain would send them up to the carajo as punishment. Hence the Spanish interjection meaning anything from get out of here, go fly a kite, go fuck yourself, etc…

  9. An incredible amount of work and effort in this Post. And you provide your own answer on how we can Win. And maybe it surprises you, too. We can’t and we simply won’t. It’s a Wall and we can only barely see it….Deline the problem…let alone begin the climb. You quote Westmoreland and Petraus and tell us it’s all about the money and the power. Then add in that it will take the Military underlings and citizens to put a stop to these Failures.

    I mean that is just not going to even start to happen in your lifetime. As you say or offer us, War is a protean social dynamic. If that is so, and that is a fair assessment, then these are deep metaphysical issues and Dr. Martin’s article on the Humanities is a better place to spend time.
    Or as you like to offer up for consideration periodically…..best consult a Priest or a Philosopher.
    Until then more hand wringing is one response.


    1. Breton,

      “that is just not going to even start to happen in your lifetime”

      I don’t understand your certainty about this. The recognition process has already begun, as shown by the citations I give. The articles by Fallows and Kukis, although flawed, show progress. These things can move with blinding speed once they have begun. Look at gay marriage.

      “then these are deep metaphysical issues”

      That conflates two distinct issues. I was talking about the narrow issue of the US altering when and how it wages war; little metaphysical about that. Thomas was talking about the definition of war.

    2. FM: “Look at gay marriage.”

      You are right about gay marriage and I would very much like for you to be right about reforming how and when the US wages war but I fear that you are very wrong.

      My skepticism comes primarily from the fact that gay marriage didn’t affect the careers of thousands of high ranking officers and their very large support network of neo-cons and neo-libs but the changes you advocate would.

      That doesn’t mean that we should give up, it just means that we need to prepare for a long and (metaphorically) bloody campaign against the liars and idiots while hoping that it is easier than expected.

      1. Pluto,

        While the future is the unknown country, you are looking only at one side of the ledger. A lot more people oppose gay marriage than care about our military police either way. Also, there are large costs — not just money, but broken and dead bodies — to our belligerent geopolitical strategy. Most of all, our strategy does not work in any rational sense (other than profiting a few special interests), and so can generate opposition by the large public and corporate forces that have an interest in a better foreign policy.

        I give no forecast about the outcome (I have a good forecasting record because I make so few). I just point out that the dynamics of the situation are more complex than you describe.

  10. “he is engaged (from his point of view) in “resistance” rather than “insurgency” and fights principally to be left alone.”
    “From his point of view” ??? Who else should have a view on one’s existence.. What were the Indians(from time immemorial), for that matter Chinese(in 5th century), Portuguese(16th century), Dutch (17th century) and the English(18th, 19th & 20th century) were doing in Srilanka. They all go somewhere to poke their fingers in other peoples’ affairs and then call the people who say no, terrorists, insurgents etc. Now it seems that poor fellows cannot have their own point of view.

    1. Law of the nature is “Aggressor will be the ultimate looser”, not the technology or the strategy

      1. Prem,

        History shows that there is no such law. Aggressors often prosper.

        In Europe (narrowly defined) every big aggressor has been defeated since 1648. That’s a hard-earned result of a specific society, not nature.

        In the nuclear era aggression against other nuclear powers is suicide. Technology at work, not nature.

    2. Prem,

      “Who else should have a view on one’s existence”

      You have that backwards. Killcullen does not say that there is only one view. He says, correctly, that there are always multiple views. I see myself. You see me, differently. Nobody’s view is privileged.

  11. FM proclaims: “I don’t understand your certainty about this. The recognition process has already begun, as shown by the citations I give.”
    Utterly wrong.
    There is zero recognition of the problem with America’s wars inside the Beltway, among people who matter.
    Military reformers have loudly and convincingly pointed out the manifold problems with America’s grand strategy and with our military since the 1970s. This has had absolutely no impact whatsoever among the people within the Washington D.C. community of pols and thinktankers and appointed national security honchos and elected U.S. officials.
    The point that many commenters are making is that 1) the Washington D.C. insiders are completely impervious to criticism from outside the Beltway, and 2) the behavior of the Washington D.C. insiders is, to quote the commenter MikeF, “Insanity.”
    FM’s hand-waving about “recognition of the problem” obscures this issue. The real issue is that America’s politicians and military operate in a zero-defect environment: no one within the Beltway is ever allowed to make any serious criticisms of cite any significant problems with the U.S. military. And, indeed, the speeches we hear from U.S. elected officials or American military commanders uniformly follow the formula: “America is the greatest country in history, America’s military is the greatest in the history of the world, and all we need to do is tinker around the edges to improve our already marvelous military and splendiferous foreign policy.”
    The chorus of criticism from outside the Beltway to which FM alludes is as meaningless as the chirping of crickets to the people inside the Beltway. As proof of which, the “recognition of the problem” that FM mentions has gone on since the 1970s, and absolutely nothing has changed in the U.S. military in any substantial way over that time. Except that all the bad trends in the U.S. military have gotten worse during that period.

    Over the last several years, we have consistently taken the fight to terrorists who threaten our country. We took out Osama bin Laden and much of al Qaeda’s leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan. We’ve targeted al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen, and recently eliminated the top commander of its affiliate in Somalia. We’ve done so while bringing more than 140,000 American troops home from Iraq, and drawing down our forces in Afghanistan, where our combat mission will end later this year. Thanks to our military and counterterrorism professionals, America is safer.

    [Barack Obama, “Statement by the President on ISIL,” 10 September 2014.

    Almost every sentence in that statement is provably false, yet absolutely typical of the boilerplate we hear from inside the Beltway. It’s an example of what Andrew Bacevich calls “Washington rules” is his excellent book “Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War.” And the Washington rules are simply not amenable to change from outside the Beltway.

  12. Pingback: quicklink: Why the West loses so many wars, and how we can learn to win [FM] | Spread An Idea

  13. How much does “the West” put into winning? Do they really want to win? And if they do, then what?

    For ISIS this war is their lives.

  14. Pingback: Daily Reading #18A | thinkpatriot

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