Why Has America Stopped Winning Wars?

The Fabius Maximus website (June 03 2015)

A powerful new book shows why we lose so many wars. Excerpts from and comments on The Right Way to Lose a War: America in an Age of Unwinnable Conflicts (2015) by Dominic Tierney, Associate Professor, Political Science, Swarthmore College.

Summary:  Slowly America begins to come to grips with its defeats in Iraq and Afghanistan, as experts provide simple, easy explanations that excuse our failure to learn. Eyes tightly closed we stumble onto a rough road to the future.

Since 1945, the United States has experienced little except military stalemate and loss –  precisely because it’s a superpower in a more peaceful world.

Professor Tierney vividly demonstrates one reason America keeps losing: our US-centric view of the world. It’s all about us. As with health care and other public policy issues, we have little interest in the experience of other nations –  and so draw stunningly bad conclusions on our little history.

Why does the United States struggle in war? How can it resolve a failing conflict? Can America return to victory? Today, these are critical questions because we live in an age of unwinnable conflicts, where decisive triumph has proved to be a pipe dream.

We can’t win, so obviously nobody can win. This displays an amazing blindness to history. The post-Wold War Two era of anti-colonial wars ended in 1992 (that is, Afghanistan versus the USSR) with a series of decisive wins by local peoples over foreign armies. It’s been an age of victory parades, not unwinnable conflicts.

And then, all of a sudden, the United States stopped winning major wars. The golden age faded into the past, and a new dark age of US warfare emerged. Since 1945, Americans have experienced little except military frustration, stalemate, and loss.

This drastically misunderstands the situation, but illustrates the US-centric world view which so hobbles US foreign policy. We are not in a dark age of “US warfare”. Armies of developed nations and armies of emerging nations have all ventured to foreign lands to crush insurgencies –  and most suffered defeat. This “dark age” began when Mao brought fourth generation warfare to maturity after World War Two. Since then the odds have shifted towards the insurgents.

Local governments still usually defeat insurgents, but local insurgencts –  fighting with the home court advantage (for example, knowledge of the local language and culture) –  usually win once foreign armies take a leading role (see the “For More Information” section below for studies about this record).

Since 1945, the United States has experienced little except military stalemate and loss –  precisely because it’s a superpower in a more peaceful world.

No, that’s not why we lose.  It’s the fourth generation of modern warfare, with its own characteristics. We will continue to lose until we think more seriously about how to wage it. That means studying the history of all post-World War Two conflicts. We must learn how to pick the conflicts worth our involvement (high stakes, with acceptable odds of victory), and learn what tools (for example, aid, training, combat forces) work best in various kinds of conflicts. I see little evidence we have begun this process.

Other Posts in This Series: Why Does America Keep Losing?

These matters are more extensively discussed in the previous posts in this series.

http://fabiusmaximus.com/2014/12/30/james-fallows-tragedy-american-military-chickenhawk-75279/

http://fabiusmaximus.com/2015/05/04/does-america-have-the-finest-military-83879/

http://fabiusmaximus.com/2015/05/27/is-victory-a-myth-now-85008/

http://www.martin-van-creveld.com/?p=295 – a summary at Martin van Creveld’s website.

For More Information

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about military theory, especially these about the history of foreign armies fighting insurgencies since World War Two …

http://fabiusmaximus.wordpress.com/2010/06/21/18372/

http://fabiusmaximus.wordpress.com/2010/06/28/18459/  –  Andrew Exum (aka Abu Muqawama) points us to the doctoral dissertation of Erin Marie Simpson in Political Science from Harvard about the history of counter-insurgency.

http://fabiusmaximus.wordpress.com/2010/06/30/18747/ –  A study by RAND.

http://fabiusmaximus.com/2012/08/07/10597/

http://fabiusmaximus.com/2015/03/10/counter-insurgency-history-4gw-guerrilla-war-80361/ –  The two kinds of insurgencies.

http://fabiusmaximus.com/2015/06/03/unwinnable-wars-dominic-tierney-85287/

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