Two interesting reports explain in detail why America simply cannot win wars against guerrilla terrorism. A Washington Post report details the conflict between Special Forces and regular Army units in Iraq. The Special Forces officers and sergeants speak some Arabic, know the culture, have patience over endless cups of tea, look at the long view, and succeeded in getting a major tribe with 300,000 members to take up arms and work with American forces. The regular Army colonel wants to “win” the battles, do body counts, and primarily protect the lives of his men. He is impatient with slow and incompetent tribal ways, and is losing the war. His soldiers are isolated and afraid, hate being in Iraq, brutally arrest the tribesmen, despise the locals, kill and destroy indiscriminately, and create more enemies for America. The report is well worth reading in detail to understand how hopeless the war is.
Of course an additional factor is the criminal incompetence of the initial occupation strategies, such as dismissing all government officials, police, and military from their jobs, and then bringing incompetents and “kids” (even Heritage Foundation interns) to staff the occupation. But this simply reflects the larger issue that the American system is incapable of intelligent postwar planning. Look how we fought the Second World War to give half of Europe (and Manchuria) to communists, thereby making them into a greater threat than Hitler. Now, we’re losing our allies and making ourselves into the enemy of most of the Muslim world, nearly a quarter of the human race.
America simply does not have the will, resources, patience, care, or ability to “run” an empire or even an effective counterinsurgency. War for Americans is like a football game: one “wins” and then goes home. For many Americans, war means watching Oliver North on Fox TV and then cursing the foreigners for not doing what we tell them. Few care that America has now become so hated in the world. When real wars start, it means TV “news” repeatedly showing planes taking off aircraft carriers, missiles firing into space, and tanks charging through the desert dust. Rarely (for example, recently with Lebanon) do Americans ever see the destruction and misery caused by war. Indeed, it is very hard to find any Pentagon sources on Google that explain what our bombs actually do when they hit.
The second report is a Cato Institute study, “The American Way of War: Cultural Barriers to Successful Counterinsurgency [.pdf],” by Jeffrey Record of the Air War College. The paper criticizes our view of military victory as an end in itself. It also argues, “Simply put, the U.S. is not very good at defeating enemies who do not fight like we do, enemies who avoid our strengths while exploiting our weaknesses.”
The professor recounts several characteristics of the “American way of war” as described by the respected British strategist Colin S. Gray, such as:
I would add another major point: Our vast military budget is bloated with corporate welfare. The hyper-expensive F-22 is a good example, being built with subcontractors in 42 states to spread the jobs and money. Most spending is a giant money pot to help members of Congress win reelection.
Other major points from Professor Record:
Record goes on to say that “great power intervention in small wars is almost always a matter of choice.
Most such wars do not engage core U.S. security interests other than placing the limits of American military power on embarrassing display.” Furthermore, “Neither the Pentagon nor the U.S. government as a whole is properly organized or sufficiently motivated to meet the challenges of political reconstruction in foreign lands.
Notwithstanding the exceptional cases of post-World War II Germany and Japan, the United States has demonstrated in Vietnam,
Somalia, Haiti, the Balkans, and Afghanistan that it lacks the will and skills required to effect the enduring rehabilitation of failed states.”
A good example is the shortage of Arabic-speaking interpreters. At a major conference I covered, several speakers explained that there was only one level of security clearance and that persons with even grandparents in the affected nations were rejected. It was suggested that the CIA and military adopt several levels of security clearance so that the sons and daughters of Arab immigrants in America with linguistic skills could be hired. The idea has not yet, to my knowledge, been adopted. And our military has a desperate need for Arabic speakers. The government is simply too cumbersome to change past policies.
Record concludes that “abstention from small wars of choice would mandate a realistic foreign policy that placed the protection of concrete interests ahead of crusades to promote the overseas expansion of abstract American political values.”
Another tremendous problem is that in Third World nations without the rule of law, everything is based upon trust and personal relations. We constantly read of successful American officers being transferred or rotated out of their jobs, leaving the local Iraqis with whom they dealt out in the cold. Could America staff and train a permanent overseas body of men and women to learn local cultures and languages and then stay for years in the same location, as England and Rome once did? Given American culture, it is impossible. And even if we had them, they would still be at the mercy of partisan or ethnic interests in Washington. Democracies are simply unable to effectively rule empires, and are defeated or destroyed when they try (e.g., Athens).
Two years ago, James Pinkerton wrote an amusing analysis in The American Conservative titled “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Imperialists.” Like Record’s analysis, Pinkerton’s piece confirms that America is incapable of organizing itself to successfully impose our will by force upon small foreign nations, much less the world.
Read more by Jon Basil Utley
- Avoiding Accidental Nuclear War – January 6th, 2017
- Paul Ryan’s Phony Budget – Taxes Today for Promises Tomorrow – April 30th, 2014
- Benghazi, Mali, and the Need for a Defensive American Strategy – January 27th, 2013
- Romney, War, and the Republican Base: Libertarians May Split – September 24th, 2012
- Polling the Right Questions on Defense – Voters Get It Right – April 4th, 2012