Peak Oil is You

Donate Bitcoins ;-) or Paypal :-)

Page added on August 5, 2019

Bookmark and Share

America doesn’t win wars anymore

America doesn’t win wars anymore thumbnail

A month into his presidency, Donald Trump lamented that the US no longer wins wars as it once did.

“When I was young, in high school and college, everybody used to say we never lost a war,” Trump told a group of US governors last February. “Now, we never win a war.”

Dominic Tierney, a professor at Swarthmore College and the author of multiple books about how America wages war, may know the reason why.

He believes the US can still successfully fight the wars of yesteryear — World War-style conflicts — but hasn’t yet mastered how to win wars against insurgents, which are smaller fights against groups within countries. The problem is the US continues to involve itself in those kinds of fights.

“We’re still stuck in this view that war is like the Super Bowl: We meet on the field, both sides have uniforms, we score points, someone wins, and when the game ends you go home,” he told me. “That’s not what war is like now.”

The US military is currently mired in conflicts in countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen. It’s hard to see any end in sight — especially an end where the United States is the victor, however that’s defined.

A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.

Alex Ward

During his first year in office, Trump got the US more deeply involved in wars, with the goal of defeating terrorists in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and Somalia. But has this put the US on course to end these fights?

Dominic Tierney

Victory may be asking a lot.

Since 1945, the United States has very rarely achieved meaningful victory. The United States has fought five major wars — Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, Iraq, Afghanistan — and only the Gulf War in 1991 can really be classified as a clear success.

There are reasons for that, primarily the shift in the nature of war to civil conflicts, where the United States has struggled. Trump himself recognized this: He said on the campaign trail numerous times that we used to win wars and we don’t win anymore. And he has promised to turn the page on this era of defeat and said that we were going to get sick and tired of winning.

But will he channel that observation into winning wars? I doubt it.

The nature of war continues to be these difficult internal conflicts in places like Afghanistan, where the United States has struggled long before Trump ever dreamed of running for president.

Alex Ward

So what constitutes victory in war today, and has that changed from the past?

Dominic Tierney

The famous war theorist Carl von Clausewitz argued that war is the continuation of politics by other means. So war is not just about blowing things up — it’s about achieving political goals.

The United States, up until 1945, won virtually all the major wars that it fought. The reason is those wars were overwhelmingly wars between countries. The US has always been very good at that.

But that kind of war has become the exception. If you look around the world today, about 90 percent of wars are civil wars. These are complex insurgencies, sometimes involving different rebel groups, where the government faces a crisis of legitimacy.

The US has found, for various reasons, that it’s far more difficult to achieve its goals in these cases. The three longest wars in US history are Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan — all from recent decades, all these complex types of civil wars.

Alex Ward

On its face, this seems to be a paradox: The US can win on the battlefield against a major military force, but we can’t seem to win these smaller wars.

Dominic Tierney

Yes. And even more surprising: It’s when the US became a superpower and created the best-trained, strongest military the world has ever seen, around 1945, that the US stopped winning wars.

The answer to the puzzle is that American power turned out to be a double-edged sword.

The US was so powerful after World War II, especially after the Soviet Union disappeared, that Washington was tempted to intervene in distant conflicts around the world in places like Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

We ended up intervening in countries where we had little cultural understanding. To illustrate this, in 2006 — at the height of the Iraq War — there were 1,000 officials in the US embassy in Baghdad, but only six of them spoke Arabic.

In addition, the US military has failed to adapt to this new era of war. The US military has this playbook for success against countries: technology, big-unit warfare, and so on. And when we started fighting insurgents, it was natural that we would turn to that same playbook.

Alex Ward

So we might not have much cultural understanding of the places where we’re fighting, but we have greater technology and better fighting forces. Why can’t we overcome this obstacle?

Dominic Tierney

The reason, again, comes down to the difference between an interstate [more traditional] war and a counterinsurgency, or nation-building mission.

One difference is that we cannot easily see the enemy. In an interstate war, the enemy is wearing uniforms, we know where they are on a map. In a counterinsurgency they are hiding in the population.

Now, the US military is capable of hitting any target with pinpoint accuracy using the latest hardware. But what if we don’t know where the enemy is? A lot of that technology, which is really impressive, turns out to be irrelevant.

Alex Ward

It seems like we have two problems here. We haven’t corrected our way of thinking to deal with insurgencies or civil wars, and then we keep getting involved in those kinds of wars, despite the fact that we’re ill-prepared to deal with them.

Why do we keep falling into this trap?

Dominic Tierney

One answer is we basically believe in illusions — the idea that nation-building and counterinsurgency will be avoided.

Look at Iraq, where the United States believed it could topple Saddam Hussein and basically leave as quickly as possible. We would overthrow the tyrant and then the Iraqi people would be free to create their own democracy. That was based on massive overconfidence about what would happen after Hussein fell.

So why do we go to war if we hate counterinsurgency and we struggle at it? The reason is the White House convinces itself it doesn’t need to stabilize or help rebuild a country after a war. But it’s not just the Bush administration — think of the Obama administration too.

Barack Obama was a very thoughtful president and talked at length about his foreign policy thinking. At the heart of the Obama doctrine was “no more Iraq War.” And yet he basically made the same mistake in Libya, where there was very little planning for what would occur after Muammar Qaddafi was overthrown in 2011. In fact, Obama went on the record saying that the Libya intervention was his worst mistake a president.

Alex Ward

So if it really is a bunch of wishful illusions and incorrect assumptions, how do we avoid that? We have tons of evidence that things don’t go our way when we get involved in these kinds of wars. We don’t seem to learn from our mistakes.

Dominic Tierney

We don’t learn very well from history. Presidents convince themselves that the next time will be different.

The lesson Obama took from Iraq was not to allow any US ground forces to get involved in nation-building. Since Obama was willing to support regime change, the end result was going to be the overthrow of Qaddafi with no real plan to stabilize Libya.

If a thoughtful president like Obama — who was very cognizant of the errors of Iraq — can do that, it suggests that any president would be capable of doing that.

Alex Ward

It seems like one of the problems is that we’re involving ourselves in these wars with little preparation. How do we solve that?

Dominic Tierney

We need better language training, cultural training, more resources for special forces — and that would mean less money spent on nuclear attack submarines, for example.

Second, once we improve America’s ability for stabilization missions, we deploy the US military with greater care and fight fewer wars. That means when we do fight, we have a better plan to win the peace.

Alex Ward

But then there’s another problem: Sometimes groups like ISIS arise, and US leaders and many Americans want the military to take them out. So when the president is faced with the option to target a group like ISIS with airpower, some would argue that it’s better, politically, to do that.

Dominic Tierney

The US doesn’t think several moves ahead. The US military is good at taking out bad guys. But the removal of the bad guy creates a power vacuum, and that power vacuum is filled by somebody else.

In Afghanistan, we created disorder and then the Taliban returned — the power vacuum there was also filled by ISIS. And in Iraq, the vacuum was filled by militant groups, most notably al-Qaeda in Iraq. In Libya, the vacuum was filled by a complicated range of militant groups.

The mood in the US is: “We just killed ISIS, let’s go home and close the book on the ISIS war.” Well, there’s more to the story.

Alex Ward

The Trump administration says it will pay less attention to defeating terrorists and will now focus more on battling back growing Chinese and Russian power.

That new strategic focus means we’ll change the kinds of weapons we buy and the kind of training our troops do. But I don’t see the US stopping its fight against terrorism. Does this preparation for a different style of war — while still fighting another — put the US in an awkward position?

Dominic Tierney

I think it does.

There is a desire to shift from difficult nation-building missions toward countering great-power challengers like Russia and especially China. But this isn’t very new. The Obama administration wanted to pivot to Asia and the China challenge. And then what happened? We ended up being engaged against ISIS.

I tend to think that the pivot to China is sort of like Waiting for Godot — it never arrives. And I think the United States is going to get drawn back into these civil wars and these kinds of messy conflicts, particularly in the broader Middle East. The odds of conflict between the US and China are very low; the odds of the US engaging in another civil war in the next five years are extremely high.

Alex Ward

Based on this conversation, victory in war seems to be how we define it, or, rather, will it to be. The US sets its victory goals low, but we don’t even meet those lower goals. Why can’t we get over this hump?

Dominic Tierney

We’re still stuck in this view that war is like the Super Bowl: We meet on the field, both sides have uniforms, we score points, someone wins, and when the game ends you go home. That’s not what war is like now. Now there are tons of civilians on the field, the enemy team doesn’t wear a uniform, and the game never ends. We need to know there’s no neat ending.

The costs of this problem have been so catastrophic for the United States, in the form of thousands of military lives and billions of dollars spent. It’s time we fundamentally rethink our vision of what war is.


363 Comments on "America doesn’t win wars anymore"

  1. Cloggie on Mon, 12th Aug 2019 1:49 am 

    “Boris Johnson could be the last prime minister of the United Kingdom”

    “John Bolton heads to London for highest-ranking US visit since Boris Johnson became prime minister”


    Too political:

    “PICTURED: Moment Jeffrey Epstein’s body is wheeled into hospital – as the NY medical examiner delays announcing his cause of death and it’s revealed guards did NOT check on Epstein for HOURS before his death”


    Clearly no harressing muslims:

    “Barcelona confirms women can swim topless in city pools”

  2. Cloggie on Mon, 12th Aug 2019 2:01 am 

    BoJo has a large pile of homework to get done, provided of course the Commons will let him:

    “Almost FIFTY reservoirs across Britain have dams in need of safety work, experts reveal in wake of Whaley Bridge scare”

    To make things worse:

    “Drenched by a midsummer monsoon: Britain is set to endure two MORE weeks of rain that could make it the wettest August on record”

    Tourarism latest: it is not just Amsterdam, Paris or Venice. Norway is flooded with tourists too (incl me, later this month)

    A Turkish architect has proposed a novel way in how to deal with these masses: turn the famous Preikestolen rock into a multi-level hotel, with several

  3. Cloggie on Mon, 12th Aug 2019 9:53 am 

    Doug Casey, who hopes CW2 will happen, on China, Africa, US:

    “The Biggest Migration Since The Barbarian Invasions Of Rome (Is Not Where You Think)“

    Core message: China has hundreds of millions it can use for colonization, mainly of Africa. He doesn’t mention Australia btw.

    “We’re seeing a veritable recolonization of Africa. Each time I visit Africa, there are more Chinese. It doesn’t matter which country; they’re everywhere.”

    “The Chinese see Africans as no more than a cheap and dispensable labor source. That’s at best. Other than that, they’re viewed as a complete nuisance.”

    “Doug Casey: Well, the US government is basically bankrupt at this point. The only thing that the US exports in quantity is US dollars. And sometime soon, the Chinese, the Russians, the Malaysians, the Iranians, and the Indians, among others, won’t need or want US dollars. They don’t want to accept them now, because it’s an asset of their adversary or even their enemy. They’re unhappy about having to settle accounts in dollars that all have to clear through New York.”

    “How’s the United States going to react to that?

    It’s going to be left out in the cold. No one needs or wants their dollars—they want and need real goods, not the paper obligations of a hostile, unpredictable, bankrupt government. Also, the US isn’t in a position to export people, except for some unwelcome soldiers. The Chinese are in an excellent position to export a couple hundred million spare people. The bottom line is that the Chinese are going to take over Africa financially, and they’re going to take it over demographically as well.”

  4. Duncan Idaho on Mon, 12th Aug 2019 10:17 am 

    Market is down again.
    Has the Fat Boy finally gone over the edge and into the ditch?
    We shall see–he has given the sociopaths all there is, so that option is gone.
    The game can still be played– there is more to rape and scrape.

  5. Cloggie on Wed, 14th Aug 2019 1:12 am 

    These rightwingers are getting a taste for European power!

    “Salvini: “My only purpose is to save Europe””

  6. Cloggie on Wed, 14th Aug 2019 2:06 pm 

    Common sense is growing in the UK. The May-deal is the only non-disastrous Brexit the UK can hope to achieve. The EU is credible that it won’t blink: May-deal or no-deal. The latter means getting plucked by Donnie.

    Sign at the cross, Albion! Don’t do it for the “Eurocrats”, do it for your children.

    “Labour bloc plans ‘radical’ move to push through Brexit deal”

  7. Cloggie on Wed, 14th Aug 2019 2:19 pm 

    US Democrats (majority of the house) will block US-UK trade deal if that would mean a hard Irish border, says la Pelosi:

    “Brexit: No chance of US trade deal if Irish accord hit – Pelosi”

    It has been some time that I said something positive about the Dems, there we go:

    Well done mrs Pelosi!

    …oh and say hello to your Dutch son in law:

    Poor BoJo, needs to be protected against himself:

    “Boris Johnson expects post-Brexit trade deal with US to be ‘tough old haggle'”

    First I thought that “Old Haggle” referred to mrs Pelosi, but then I learned to discern betwixt “Old Hag” and “Old Haggle”.

    My bad.

  8. Cloggie on Wed, 14th Aug 2019 4:52 pm 

    Wanna see Bill C. in blue dress and high heels?

    “EXCLUSIVE: Jeffrey Epstein had a painting of Bill Clinton wearing a blue DRESS and red heels and lounging in the Oval Office inside his Manhattan mansion – visitor reveals bizarre image inside pedophile’s $56m lair”

  9. Antius on Thu, 15th Aug 2019 12:34 am 

    Cloggie’s Brexit obsession. There is nothing more annoying to a zealot than a group of people who aren’t interested in sharing the vision.

    The US will happily grant the UK a trade deal on our terms. The reason is simple: without one, they cannot expect any cooperation at all with their global political and military ambitions. What incentive would the UK have to go along with US sanctions against Iran and Russia without a trade deal? Lets face it. All else being equal, we have plenty to gain from cuddling up with the Russians. They build nuclear reactors. They sit on a large percentage of the world’s resources, just as the Iranians sit on huge oil deposits. Pelosi will say what she likes to keep the Irish American vote happy. But if the UK chooses to play hard ball, then a tiny country of 3 million people isn’t going to stand in our way.

  10. joe on Thu, 15th Aug 2019 3:44 am 

    All evidence points to a recession. Tipping point has arrived. Banks have nothing to fight it with other than negative rates and massive debt splurges. Soon things will get very hard for millennials. Their collage debts hang over them and a shrinking services sector will mean they won’t even be able to flip a burger.

  11. Antius on Thu, 15th Aug 2019 5:54 am 

    “All evidence points to a recession. Tipping point has arrived. Banks have nothing to fight it with other than negative rates and massive debt splurges. Soon things will get very hard for millennials. Their collage debts hang over them and a shrinking services sector will mean they won’t even be able to flip a burger.”

    Quite so. One of the things that will make this recession particularly bad, is that the huge inflation of money supply over the past decade may lead to a crisis of confidence in many fiat currencies. To defend against this, central banks will be forced to raise interest rates. That will lead to huge insolvency crisis across developed world economies.

    The crisis will be very different to the one we faced in 2008, which was really all about bad debt owned by banks, which was burst by a combination of high inflation in asset prices, rising interest rates and surging energy costs. The crisis will be a lot worse this time around.

  12. Davy on Thu, 15th Aug 2019 7:57 am 

    “Organic Food Cooperative Organic Valley Achieves 100% Renewable Electricity” clean technica

    “Renewable energy is an investment in our future, and a recognition of our cooperative’s past. It’s built into who we are. Being an organic cooperative founded by and owned by farmers, we know that harnessing of the sun is yet one more way to help keep farmers farming, and we hope to serve as an example for other larger and smaller companies and organizations who are serious about getting to 100% renewable electricity…What does the company operate with the electricity sourced from renewables? All of our cooperatively-owned buildings are powered with renewables. This includes operations that we have partial ownership of, as well as those we wholly own. We even power our entire Cashton campus, and that means our distribution center, where we make our ghee, and our Cashton office building. Does Organic Valley also use electricity from wind power? Our partnership with rural communities started with our Cashton Greens Wind Farm. The key difference here is that CROPP, along with our joint-owners Gundersen Lutheran, are the owner-operators of the project. Work started in 2008, and the project was completed in 2012. It is comprised of two 2.5 MW clipper turbines. Is energy storage part of the system? No energy storage is included with these systems; however, we are investigating some peak shaving batteries on our facilities at this time. We’ve also been working hard to understand better and serve many of our Amish farms. We want to help scale the adoption of right-sized non-grid connected solar on our farms and will be releasing ~40pg best practice guide for our farmers and those who serve them. Does the company use any all-electric or hybrid vehicles? We have several Ford C-max Energi that are used by employees. We also have free level 2 chargers at both of our major facilities, and have seen evidence that if you build it, they will come. The number of employees with EV’s seems to grow exponentially, so much so that we’re doubling the number of chargers at our Cashton campus…Are the installations all ground-mounted solar? These OVCSP projects are all at the community/small utility-scale ground-mounted systems (the largest is 5MWdc & ~36 acres). We have solar behind the meter solar and solar hot water on 3 of our facilities, and our first PV system was installed over 12 years ago in La Farge, WI…How will pollinator habitats be created under the solar panels? We’ve worked with folks at Fresh Energy, the Bee & Butterfly fund, as well as our partners OneEnergy & BluEarth renewables to make sure that the projects stack benefits and support our rural agricultural system. The seed mixes planted beneath the solar panels are tailored to each specific site and incorporate native species and those that benefit both honeybees and native pollinators as well. ill the sheep on the land with the solar panels help with weed control? Sheep will control the vegetation of the project in Cashton, WI for sure. Our Amish neighbor has a flock of sheep that he’s grazed on our certified organic pasture for years as part of a good neighbor handshake agreement. When we began talking about this site for solar, the farmer was interested from day one about grazing his sheep among the array. The sheep are put on for a few days & will likely be rotated between various sections of the installation before being relocated to adjacent pasture. In the case of the Cashton site, we worked with what was there, like the cool-season pasture grasses. And of course, just like the farms in our cooperative, we will manage the solar array without use of toxic herbicides and pesticides.”

  13. joe on Thu, 15th Aug 2019 9:31 am 

    Sadly Trumps gonna own the recession, because he wants to own the boom. Credit, and claiming credit is a very risky business. More than anything Trump may only be beaten by an inverted yield curve.
    Trump isn’t the problem though. The problem is what’s coming after him. The next potus might have the manage the worst economic circumstances in US history, that’s not Trumps fault. Bailing out the elites and causing US debt to GPD ratios to grow was the liberals answer. Trump has slashed government departments since he came in but the real issue is that US spending goes into the private sector and subsidising the elites and the military. The UK is like an industrial arm of the US army and air force.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *