Sunday, June 7, 2015

Losing the Habit of Winning Wars

Normally, war are either won or lost. In war, one side wins and the other loses. Negotiation has a place, but usually in the sense of negotiating the terms of surrender.

And yet, America has developed the habit of not winning wars. This does not mean that America has been losing wars, but as Dominic Tierney argues in a new book, since World War II, America seems to have lost its ability to win wars. In that time it has only won one of the military conflicts it has fought.

David French presents the point:

Since World War II, America has clearly won only one of five major conflicts: Operation Desert Storm. Korea was a bloody stalemate, Vietnam an “outright military defeat,” and both Afghanistan and Iraq — America’s two longest wars — hardly look like victories. At least that’s the contention of Dominic Tierney, contributing editor at The Atlantic and Swarthmore political science professor. Yesterday, he launched a new book, The Right Way to Lose a War: America in an Age of Unwinnable Conflicts and promoted it with a lengthy Atlantic essay outlining the reasons for American failure abroad.

While I have long taken issue with the notion that the military has truly “lost” its wars, there is no question that most of our postwar conflicts have been much longer than anticipated, less decisive than hoped, and far more costly than promised. In analyzing why, Tierney explains the gap between America and its recent enemies with startling (and refreshing) clarity: “It’s limited war for Americans, and total war for those fighting Americans. The United States has more power; its foes have more willpower.”

French presents Tierney’s argument about willpower:

The best military in the world is ineffective if a critical mass of our citizens lack the will to deploy it effectively and then endure through adversity. In fact, those two concepts are related: The perception of effectiveness is inextricably linked to the willingness to endure. Americans are losing the will to fight because we first lack the willingness to deploy the military effectively.

Of course, a nation must also understand that wars are about winning and losing. A nation that is unwilling to do what it takes to win will either lose or arrive at a stalemate. It will elect a president who takes pride in ending wars, not in fighting and winning wars. It recalls the president who said that he was “too proud to fight.”

As the authors both note, Americans do not seem to care whether they win or lose. They know that they are the strongest. They know that they could annihilate anyone at any time they please. So, why should they go out of their way to win a war?

And then there are those who believe that fighting wars diminishes us morally. By this argument, warriors have a harder time getting to Heaven. Thus, we must reject the warrior ethos.

While only a small minority of Americans are true pacifists, there is a much larger number — mainly in the Left and segments of the libertarian Right — who are functionally anti-war, at least when it comes to the use of American military power. The functional pacifist doesn’t reject all war, but he does reject war the way it’s traditionally been fought. The functional pacifist declares as a “war crime” virtually any civilian death, conceives the ideal form of warfare as somehow more “clean” than even big-city policing, and places ever-escalating constraints on the use of force.

The Bush administration did not do very much better. It suggested that a continuing war could only be justified if we could bring democracy to Iraq.

French explains:

At the same time that the Left and the libertarian Right reconceive the use of force, excessively idealistic conservatives exaggerate its potential cultural and political effectiveness. As I’ve argued before, our political leaders can’t ask the military to remake nations and cultures. For example, had the Surge been conceived solely as a military effort to crush al-Qaeda, it would have been an unmitigated success. Instead, the Bush administration aspired to use the Surge not only to defeat our enemies in the field but also to establish key political benchmarks that proved entirely unattainable. Of course there has to be some government in Iraq and Afghanistan, but that government need not be a democracy, and if the goal is democracy (as the example of Korea shows us), it need not happen anytime soon.

As for the underlying premise, we ought to question our belief that we are so much stronger than all others that we do not need to win. Such appears to be the case at present. Only a fool would imagine that it will always remain the case. Moreover, what will happen to morale if we make our soldiers into social workers and send them out to proselytize the faith.

Leftists understand the stakes. They are not just against violence. They are trying to undermine the martial culture that is manifest in the military. They were horrified by the post World War II period when a triumphant nation stepped forth and led the world. They were horrified by the organization man, by conformity, by a stable social order, by men in suits and ties, by notable achievement and by a culture that seemed to glorify men.

They believed that this culture stifled individual spontaneity and creativity. They insisted that it was repressing our sexuality and keeping us from attaining our true destiny as a world leader in decadence.

If the nation, as Camille Paglia argued, is becoming more decadent, the cause lies in the attack on the military culture.

If we diminish our respect for the values of martial culture we will also find ourselves having more difficulty competing against other nations and other cultures around the world. Already, America’s schoolchildren cannot compete scholastically. America’s millennial generation has fallen behind its cohorts around the world.

Heck, if the popularity of Fifty Shades of Gray is any indication, America is not even very good at decadence.


Ares Olympus said...

Fantasy. We can't even agree that paying taxes to pay for our wars is patriotic, we've not had a draft for military service for 40 years, and we're told to "go shopping" when our enemies attack.

Remember what the movie star said, "The government is not the solution to our problems. The government is the problem." Especially when the POTUS is asleep at the job.

Also consider that the U.S. was the biggest supplier of oil to the world in the days we used to win wars, while we've been the biggest importer of oil since the 1970s, shale oil and all.

re: As for the underlying premise, we ought to question our belief that we are so much stronger than all others that we do not need to win. Such appears to be the case at present. Only a fool would imagine that it will always remain the case.

This is a good point. All we really know is we spend many times more money on our military than all possible enemies combined.

I think I learned the truth of "winning wars" from 9/11. When 12 box cutters will bankrupt your enemy, who needs bombs? All you need is time.

Sam L. said...

Democrats hate the idea of victory in war, unless it's against Republicans.

Ignatius Acton Chesterton OCD said...

Until after World War II, our military formula for winning wars was "unconditional surrender." That was a demand, not a bargaining chip. We even did it to our fellow countrymen during the Civil War. Now, in the multilateral world, we spill blood while refusing to vanquish our foes. Probably because it's "not nice." Had enough therapy?

Maybe we need another Kellogg-Briand Pact so we don't have to worry about war anymore.