Why has the US had such a difficult time achieving satisfying results with military force in the post-WW II era?


The United States spends more on military than many of its key allies, and enjoyed the only remaining superpower since the fall of the Soviet Union. However, U.S. has rarely achieved military war since the World War II. Since then, wars the United States involved started with civil wars. U.S. has fought five major wars including Korean, Vietnam, the Gulf war, Iraq and Afghanistan. Neither of these wars achieved its expected goals, except the Persian Gulf War in 1990. The primary reasons U.S. lost these wars is shifting the nature of the wars from classical war to civil conflicts. Both the Korean and Vietnam wars began as civil wars but ended up to be proxies between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

According Clausewitz, war is a continuation to achieve a political goal, which can be also classified in the extent outside the war. Clausewitz also explains “source of war is politics, the intercourse of governments and people,” and a “continuation of political intercourse, with the addition of other means.” This suggests that policy and politics are interacting forces and must be treated as one. When the military objective satisfied the political objective, then policy outcome can come to the forefront.

The United States failed to form a clear political objective and strategies for the wars it engaged and lost. Making correct political and strategic decisions is the key winning for war because tactical and operational errors can be corrected but political and strategic mistakes will remain forever. Policy, strategy, and the military operations must be communicable in both ways. If the decision makers fail to connect these three, then war will be an imbalance in the Clausewitz’s “trinity” (reason, passion, and chance) that respectively connects the people, the military, and the government. Moreover, The United States failed to properly assess the character of the wars. Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan wars, U.S. policy objectives were not clear to what it is going be accomplished. The decision makers of these wars focused only destroying the enemy and failed to envision long run larger political goals. For instance, 2011 U.S. intervention in Libya was a low-cost military victory, but also an abject failure that led Libya into a failed state.

In Dec. 2019, The Washington Post published Lessons Learned Record Interviews documents about the war in Afghanistan from Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR). The document revealed the magnitude of missteps and failures in the American effort to Afghan war and reconstruction. According to the document, the United States enjoyed a quick but short-term victory over the Taliban and Al-Qaeda; however, the progress became disarray after the Pentagon shifted its focus toward Iraq. Troops on the ground in Afghanistan voiced concerns about the American strategy’s growing shortcomings.

In January 2020, The United States is on the brink of conventional war with Iran after the assassination of Iranian general, a key figure of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), Qasem Soleimani with a drone attack by the United States. Despite war is a continuation to achieve political goals under Clausewitz theories on war; however, the U.S. is lacking a coherent political objective, and a strategy for achieving what seems to be an act of military war on Iran. Killing Qasem Soleimani, it is only a theatrical foreign policy show that could leave the United States worse off.

Understanding the “national will” (will of the people) to fight will help leaders improve their assessment of various conflict scenarios and what to do about it.  A war for a “national will” must represent the will of people in a broader domestic and international support. When the public supports the policy of war then it falls into a political situation. Then, war becomes an act of policy (Kubiak, 2014). Political and strategic guidance help war planners understand their missions and prioritize their activities and how they approach daily geopolitical challenges. This is the main part of Clausewitz’s theory that was not employed to the unsuccessful wars by the United States and its allies.

In the World War II, when Germany was defeated, the war was over, but when Saddam Hussein and Taliban governments were toppled, violence by insurgency, terrorism, and civil war came into play. Thus, U.S. and its allies had to fight these violence groups which was not originally designed the war to defeat them.  Afghanistan was already experiencing warlordism, the Soviet invasion, and ethnic conflict before the U.S. set a foot in the country. Classical war (Interstate war) is much easier to fight than fighting to insurgency because traditional wars the enemy wears uniforms, but insurgency and terrorist groups are an invisible enemy that shields in the civilian population. Therefore, U.S. approach of fighting ISIS, Taliban, Al-Qaeda and other insurgency in the Middle East is avoidance to Clausewitz’s theory of war and strategy that created instability in the entire region.

U.S. Policymakers and national security leaders have long avoided form military operations that serve long run political objectives with a measure of effectiveness to be a product of capabilities and rationality. According to the 1970 RAND report, U.S. used an outdated form of war that was designed for war in Europe- “The Army’s doctrine, its tactics, its organization, its weapons – its entire repertoire of warfare was designed for conventional war in Europe…

Finally, it is significantly clear that America’s failure for developing and perform a successful war strategy is mainly a political failing. The failure attributed to an unwillingness of adapting to a new era of war and lack of understanding the war it is engaging. About ninety-percent of today’s wars are civil war, and the United States had little cultural understanding of the countries it is fighting. (Tierney, 2016). Civil wars involve multiple factors: counter insurgency, nation-building and combat operations. Therefore, dealing with a civil war, it is difficult to achieve political goals without fully understanding the cultural norms and values of the society.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: