“Why has America stopped winning wars?”

This is a worthwhile read from Atlantic magazine:

…From 1846 to 1945, the United States had a minuscule peacetime army but won almost every major campaign. After World War II, Washington constructed the most expensive military machine that ever existed and endured seven decades of martial frustration.

Indeed, power is part of the reason the United States loses. After 1945, America’s newfound strength created a constant temptation to use force (emphasis added), and projected U.S. forces into distant conflicts. But Washington chose an unfortunate moment to discover its inner interventionist. The nature of global warfare changed in ways that made military campaigns ugly at best and unwinnable at worst…

America’s material strength has another curse. For a global hegemon like the United States, each war is just one of many competing security commitments around the world. For the enemy, however, the conflict is a life-and-death contest that occupies its entire attention. It’s limited war for Americans, and total war for those fighting Americans. The United States has more power; its foes have more willpower.

Two thoughts:

1) All the material advantages in the world can be useless if there is not a coherent strategy that aligns means and ways with ends.  In nearly all of the recent conflicts that have turned sour, it is difficult to identify a comprehensible–and achievable–goal that could serve as an endpoint toward which our resources could logically be used.  Regardless whether a conflict is a massive conventional struggle of state against state, or the now-more-common issue of fighting various non-state or quasi-state actors (i.e. ISIS), unless you know–and can articulate–what your desired end state is, you’ll never get there.

2) The recent escalations of tension with both Russia and China are both unnecessary (another result of America’s interventionist attitudes since 1945), and if we aren’t careful, could prove a disastrous temptation.  After the frustrations of fighting Viet Cong, then Al Qaeda and the Taliban, and now ISIS, no doubt many yearn for the “simpler” times of industrialized warfare between functioning nation-states.  Frustrations aside, all one need do is look at the costs of the Second World War and the Cold War versus our long national nightmares in Iraq and Afghanistan to realize that, as Billy Joel put it, “the good old days weren’t always good…”  Let’s hope nobody provokes World War III while quoting Han Solo: “bring it on; I prefer a straight up fight to all this sneaking around.”

What America REALLY needs to do is realize it is not omniscient, nor omnipotent, and that our continued delusions of remaking the world in our image have only led to us becoming more like the rest of the world (including importing large quantities of refugees from our various wars of choice), and squandering all that once made us unique.  Our poor choices have cost us much respect and prestige, not to mention considerable blood, treasure and the rise of ever-increasing government power (remember: “War is the health of the State”).  Instead of following the 1990s view of the hawkish first female Secretary of State, Madeline Albright (“What’s the point of having this superb military that you’re always talking about if we can’t use it?”), we should recall the council of the Greek historian Thucydides: “Of all the manifestations of power, restraint impresses men the most.”

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