How to win the Long War

Summary: Yesterday’s post explained why our Long War has produced so few gains at such a high cost in money and blood. It did not explain why our military — led by the best-educated officers in history — repeats the tactics that have failed in so many similar wars? This leads to a second question: after that problem is fixed, how do we win the Long War? Winning the Long War requires answers to both questions.

Clash of Civilizations

Chuck Spinney explains 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).

The most plausible reason for our failure to learn, 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.“ That is as true today as when Randolph Bourne wrote those words in 1918.

Chuck Spinney (Wikipedia) is one of America’s top defense analysts. He sent me this summary of the core problem with our military today.

“Traditionally, the military–industrial–congressional complex (MICC), including the people who really counted in the Pentagon, preferred a Cold War to hot war. Hot wars send money to the Operations & Maintenance budget and readiness-related Procurement accounts (like spare parts and depot maintenance). In contrast, cold wars spend money on “future” threats to our existence. But the future is unknowable, so the threat construct introduces huge uncertainties — making it easy for defense advocates to inflate threats in order to justify all sorts of new bells and whistles.

“But the Cold War ended and the Soviet threat disappeared unexpectedly. That made “long wars” the focus — all low tempo operations and requiring few weapons and soldiers vis a vis major conventional wars like Vietnam or Korea. Another factor perpetuating the status quo is the increased privatization which really took off in Cheney’s last years. Before the privatization binge, the main players in the MICC focused on modernization, but now companies like Lockheed have major divisions that rake in money from contract services support in the readiness accounts, including privatizing fighting with mercenaries. In short, there is a growing political-economic constituency for the never-ending long war that is going on now.

Franklin C. Spinney
Chuck Spinney. USAF photograph.

“You want to see decay, just look at what is going on inside the Pentagon and try to parse the decisions and plans that are supporting the military budget (the PPBS).

“Moreover, the sudden end of the Cold War led to a spontaneous evolution of efforts to start a new one. These efforts were not centrally planned but represented the survival instincts of the MICC’s individual constituencies. These efforts can be seen in the NATO expansion that began under Clinton and continued through Obama, the demonization of Putin and Russia, the scuttling of the ABM treaty, the across the board nuclear modernization program that Obama acquiesced to into order to win approval of the New START treaty and win the Nobel Prize.

“These and other efforts are all now coming to fruition. Congress has just approved a $700 billion defense budget. The level of corruption and incompetence in the budgeting process exceeds anything I saw in my 33-year career by a wide margin. Experienced guys like Tom Christie and Pierre Sprey would agree with me on this point.

“To fix or reform the American military you have to unwind the MICC you have to understand the politics is about money — where it comes from and where it goes.

“George Kennan summed up the magnitude of the problem in 1987:”

“Were the Soviet Union to sink tomorrow under the waters of the ocean, the American military-industrial complex would have to remain, substantially unchanged, until some other adversary could be invented. Anything else would be an unacceptable shock to the American economy.”

— Cold War diplomat George Kennan (Wikipedia) in At a Century’s Ending: Reflections, 1982-1995.

How do we break the hold of money on DoD? All it takes is our willingness to act — and our work. The price is cheap, nowhere near “our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.” Nowhere near the price paid by so many of our soldiers fighting our incompetently run Long War.

Muslims victory
Both sides want to win.

Other steps towards victory

“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.

Breaking the hold of money on US grand strategy creates the opportunity to win the Long War. Then comes the hard work of winning.

First, stop listening to people whose advice has proven to be 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 on 26 February 2008).

“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.”

Second, stop “repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results” (that’s insanity per an ancient insight of Alcoholics Anonymous, who know all about dysfunctionality). If we do not, eventually our foreign wars will go badly for us.

Third, 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). Our arrogance encourages us to intervene in fights that are none of our business, in which we have low odds of accomplishing anything.

Fourth, fight only where the stakes are high and we have reason to believe we can win. For details, see COIN, another example of our difficulty learning from history or experience.

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

Last, and most important, understand we are the attackers in the Clash of Civilizations. When handicapping the clash, bet on the West to win big (we’re already winning in Saudi Arabia) — if we can avoid foolishly losing along the way. This is the key insight that can guide our geopolitical strategy — and win.

For More Information

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about Islam, about the clash of civilizations, and especially these…

  1. The Fight for Islamic Hearts and Minds.
  2. Darwin explains the futility of killing insurgents. It makes them more effective.
  3. Business 101 tells us what to expect next from jihadists: good news for them, bad for us.
  4. Trump prepares for a strong military response to jihadists. We’ll win anyway.
  5. Omar Ali: Islam vs. Western liberalism; only one can win.
  6. Don’t listen to the calls for more killing in the WOT.
The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order
Available at Amazon.

The book that best describes the Long War

The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order by Samuel P. Huntington (2011). From the publisher…

“The classic study of post-Cold War international relations, more relevant than ever in the post-9/11 world.

“Since its initial publication, it has become a classic work of international relations and one of the most influential books ever written about foreign affairs. An insightful and powerful analysis of the forces driving global politics, it is as indispensable to our understanding of American foreign policy today as the day it was published. As former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski says in his new foreword to the book, it “has earned a place on the shelf of only about a dozen or so truly enduring works that provide the quintessential insights necessary for a broad understanding of world affairs in our time.”

“Samuel Huntington explains how clashes between civilizations are the greatest threat to world peace but also how an international order based on civilizations is the best safeguard against war. Events since the publication of the book have proved the wisdom of that analysis. The 9/11 attacks and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have demonstrated the threat of civilizations but have also shown how vital international cross-civilization cooperation is to restoring peace. As ideological distinctions among nations have been replaced by cultural differences, world politics has been reconfigured. Across the globe, new conflicts—and new cooperation — have replaced the old order of the Cold War era.

The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order explains how the population explosion in Muslim countries and the economic rise of East Asia are changing global politics. These developments challenge Western dominance, promote opposition to supposedly “universal” Western ideals, and intensify intercivilization conflict over such issues as nuclear proliferation, immigration, human rights, and democracy. The Muslim population surge has led to many small wars throughout Eurasia, and the rise of China could lead to a global war of civilizations. Huntington offers a strategy for the West to preserve its unique culture and emphasizes the need for people everywhere to learn to coexist in a complex, multipolar, muliticivilizational world.”

8 thoughts on “How to win the Long War”

  1. In the meta-game (or long, long war), there are multiple fights….And, the landscape is changing (again). My only additions to your post is to add 1. Technology Impacts and 2. Chinese view of Unrestricted Warfare. See below for one example- as with most things, it is nuanced. Rich women now get to drive rich cars. Outside of the culture change, there will eventually be a peasants revolt. But for now, the Wahhabis are displaced.

    Women in Saudi Arabia assert themselves in ways once unimaginable

    “Change is coming to a kingdom once stuck firmly in the past. Women are asserting themselves in ways that were unimaginable until recently. It’s six months before Saudi women will finally be allowed to drive, but Noura al-Otaibi isn’t waiting. A $170,000 Mercedes Benz takes her fancy. It is, after all, oil-rich Saudi Arabia. Her brothers have already started giving her driving lessons in the desert, she told CBS News. Women fought for the right to drive in Saudi Arabia, illegally taking to the road and shaming their government with protest videos.”

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor


      Great examples of how we’re already winning! I’ll add that to the post. The virus of western culture appears unstoppable.

  2. The costliest and losingest military in history. Since 1945 hasn’t won a war unless you count Grenada and Panama but then it was tasked with wars that should never have been fought…. The US Military…. doing badly that which should never have been done at all.

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor


      The WOT is the longest war in US history, but by no means the most expensive.

      The direct costs of the civil war are difficult to calculate, but estimates run from $6 to $7 billion dollars. That’s roughly $20 billion in today’s dollars. But a more realistic cost is as a percent of GDP. That’s very roughly 2 years GDP. That does not include the cost of the lives and property destroyed. Nor does it include the staggering cost of the pensions paid during the next 50+ years to veterans of the Northern army – which were a major problem for the Federal government.

  3. Aaah! After all that, Samuel P Huntington? Neocon claptrap used to justify the post-9/11 nonsense, as far as I can tell, but do correct me if I’m wrong.

    Incidentally, religions tend to last longer than states.

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor


      “religions tend to last longer than states.”

      Do you have any evidence for that? Religions live and die like mayflies (we just remember the long survivors). America has seen the birth and death of hundreds. In Seven Pillars of Wisdom, T. E. Lawrence described traveling in Sinai amidst the shards of past religions — each living on in a village or two.

      This is an ancient phenomenon. The classic world has countless religions, including the many Mystery Religions.

      “Neocon claptrap”

      What a decisive rebuttal to the news!

      1. If the subject is long wars, cultures, and clash of civilizations, isn’t the focus is on the longer lived and more significant members of each group?

      2. Larry Kummer, Editor


        That’s over my paygrade. I just reply to the words posted here, which is about all I can handle. I leave analysis of such metadata to the really smart folks.

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