Can America Win Wars?

The answer, according to Andrew Bacevich in a new LA Times op-ed, is a clear “No.” He writes:

Confusing capability with utility, the United States knows how to start wars but has seemingly forgotten how to conclude them. Yet concluding war on favorable terms — a concept formerly known as victory — is the object of the exercise. For the United States, victory has become a lost art.

While it’s impossible to argue with the facts — Fallujah, for example, has been captured by forces connected to al-Qa’ida, an organization that didn’t exist in Iraq until after our invasion — the good colonel is wrong in his conclusion that we lost a war in Iraq. The war in Iraq was handily won in a three-week campaign ending with the capture of Baghdad in April 2003. What happened next, and what we lost, was the occupation.

We shouldn’t feel too badly about this. Since the end of WW II, successful occupations are few indeed. The only one that springs to mind is the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, and that’s a chapter still being written. The Soviet Union, with force and brutality at its disposal that we could only dream about in Iraq, failed to hold Eastern Europe, for example.

The problem with using the war metaphor where it doesn’t apply shows up in Bachevich’s recommendations, in which he wants to conduct war, just do it in a smarter way:

Take force off the metaphorical table to which policymakers regularly refer. Rather than categorizing violence as a preferred option, revive the tradition of treating it as a last resort. Then get serious about evaluating the potential for employing alternative forms of power, chiefly economic and cultural, to advance American interests.

As an alternative, how about using American power to further American interests here at home? I’m thinking of things like our expensive but statistically mediocre health care system, fading economic prospects for the middle class, ballooning (and profitable) population in privately run prisons, crushing student debt, and exploding pension obligations in many of our states and municipalities?

For more on the difficulty of holding on to conquered populations in this day and age, I recommend Martin van Creveld’s The Changing Face of War (Presidio, 2006).

39 thoughts on “Can America Win Wars?

  1. Without coming out and saying so, Bacevich, who is consistently brilliant, underscores
    how “victory” never even enters into the equation, and NOT an objective.
    That would denote finality and a conclusion, which is the last thing those in charge

    I’ve characterized elsewhere, how every time you hear the phrase “war on” in the
    American vernacular, EG; “war on terror” “war on drugs” “war on cancer” etc, etc.
    These are completely bogus, and quite the contrary, are about the acquisition
    of resources, funds, growth, and perpetuation in a never ending cycle,
    of these uhm, err, “activities.”

    If this comes across as too cynical for you ?
    I’ve studied this for years.
    I all comes down to reducing everything to a self perpetuating business.

  2. from the law of unintended consequences, the justification for the invasion was fabricated WMDs … during the invasion they were told to bypass military/ammo bunkers and go directly for the (fabricated) WMDs. When they got around to going back, an estimated million metric tons had disappeared. Heavily reinforced trucks were eventually introduced as countermeasure to (smaller) IEDs, insurgents then started adding large artillery shells (from the bunkers) to the IEDs

    my son-in-law was Fallujah 2004-2005 and then Baqubah 2007-2008 … Baqubah described as worse than Fallujah … IEDs taking out Bradleys and Abrahm M1s … so many Bradleys were lost that they started getting retired Bradleys from desert storm as replacements. Abrahms were so vulnerable that they would try and do sweeps of the route before letting Abrahms out.
    (at the bottom hit the “previous” button to get the other parts)

    so another description is they melted away in face of large concentrated force to fight another day.

  3. as an aside … Robbs Brave New War
    details that Iraq’s actions in the invasion was specifically planned that way based on what they had learned during desert storm. There was no plan to oppose the invasion … then the law of unintended consequences bypassing the ammo dumps with estimated million metric tons … looking for nonexistent wmds played exactly into their plans

  4. Chet, is that question even relevant? By that I mean, what do we define as “victory”? That’s not entirely clear these days.

    I suppose WWII was the last clearly defined victory in a sense. Let’s define victory as a known enemy becoming more like the US, a liberal electoral democracy. Japan, Germany, and Italy have become democratic nations, which even exceed the US in certain areas of technology and by certain living standards metrics (ex: the Japanese lifespan). By that metric, although the Korean War was a stalemate, South Korea arguably “won” too.

    Perhaps even more perversely, we have interests in our population that do not want “victory” in a sense – the defense industry. Peace would be the death of the military industrial complex. Hence, the need to make up threats to justify the status quo.

    If we define victory as winning the moral war for the world against radical Islamic terrorism, that begs the question whether the US strategy was flawed from day one.

    It’s interesting – I’ve often been told elsewhere both on the Internet and in real life by Americans that as a non-American, I am inherently unable to make an accurate assessment of America’s strategy. I have always found that rebuke to be quite odd. My tax money (at least some of it anyways) also goes to this “War on Terror” (which continues in all but name), although a smaller proportion than I would be if I were an American. All of this also begs the question, when Bin Laden claims his objective was to isolate the US from its allies and the world, is he succeeding? More importantly, is the US and the conduct of Americans aiding him unintentionally in his objective?

    But again, what is “victory”? Earlier you defined victory in Iraq as the overthrow of Suddam. That could be argued as a tactical success, but a strategic defeat. So too could Desert Storm. Indeed, that seems to be a theme right now, tactical success due to overwhelming American firepower, but strategic defeat due to the unintended consequences resulting from many of America’s actions.

    Should we define “victory” as winning tactical successes here and there? A moral victory over Islamic radicals? Greater security for Western society? Unrestricted access to the world’s remaining oil supplies? A day where security is so tightly clamped that no threat of terrorism exists? Or what?

    There is no victory definition at this point clearly defined. Nor is there any effort to conclude this recent “War on Terror” on favorable terms. That I think is why victory will not be happening.

    Take care,


    • Chris,

      Thanks. You raise important points. I was not writing a treatise on geopolitics but only answering COL Bacevich’s contention that the US can’t win wars. We can, and we often do, but it’s important to define what we mean by “war.”

      I’m using the term similar to how both Sun Tzu and Clausewitz did, as a conflict between military forces. In that sense, our (military) force achieved its (military) objective and so arrived at victory. What came after was an occupation, which I’m not going to call a “war,” and that takes the military out of the equation. If you apply the term “war” to the occupation, then it becomes the military’s job to destroy the enemy forces. As Bacevich points out, the better they do at this, the worse the political problems become.

      You can get some of this flavor in how Boyd integrates the use of military force into achieving the higher level goals that you mention. For example, on chart 142 of Patterns, he writes:

      Yet, application of these latter four strategic and tactical notions permit real leadership to avoid high attrition, avoid widespread destruction, and gain a quick victory. This, combined with shattered cohesion, paralysis, and rapid collapse demonstrated by the existing adversary regime, makes it appear corrupt, incompetent, and unfit to govern.
      Under these circumstances, leaders and statesmen offering generous terms can form the basis for a viable peace. In this sense, the first two and the latter four notions can be in harmony with one another.

      In other words, it’s the military’s job to win the war and do it in such a way as the make the resulting peace viable. Oddly, perhaps, that’s exactly what our military did in Iraq.

      • Hi Chet,

        “Win war to make peace viable.” But has the US military? That I think we disagree. Peace is not “viable” in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, nor any of the post-Cold War interventions. I would argue that as a result of American intervention now in all of those nations, stateless entities hold a lot more power than they did before. Similarly, the living standards of the nations affected by US invasion and occupation have declined. Should the US choose to invade Iran, Syria, North Korea, or any nation that falls out of Washington’s favor, the outcome is likely to be very similar.

        Is that a military failure or a misguided political failure though? Open to debate. Let’s look at an example: The Iraqi invasion in 2003 for example was flawed politically (Suddam had no WMDs nor anything to do with 9-11-2001). At the same time though, the military was evidently totally unprepared for the long term occupation, the level of resistance the local population gave, the IED attacks, and the resources it would take. The “war” set things in motion for a disastrous “occupation” phase. Perhaps most damningly of all, it has been a huge moral blow.

        Similar things could be argued for the US actions in Afghanistan. The US appears to have repeated all of the mistakes of the Soviet invasion (ex: heavy reliance on air strikes) and of it’s own mistakes in previous wars, such as Vietnam.

        Bacevich defines “concluding war on favorable terms ” as victory. I do not believe that any of these wars (or occupations) have been concluded on very favorable terms.

        Let’s look at the 3 post 9-11 interventions (actually there are more of course, such as Yemen, but the 3 ones covered prominently):

        – Iraq: Sectarian violence continues. Iran has gained substantial influence over the area. The original goal, Iraq’s oil is largely in Chinese hands. It has played a role in shaping the more recent events in Syria.
        – Afghanistan: War has expanded into Pakistan. Usage of drones has become deeply reviled by the Pakistanis (understandable given the fact that they are on the receiving end). Military victory is impossible and given the political climate, a US/Coalition withdraw is likely.
        – Libya: A stateless entity now engulfs the area and is spreading throughout North Africa.

        Can any of these be considered “favorable” to the West or a position where “peace is viable”? If anything, they are likely to leave lasting scars, anti-American sentiment, and set the grounds for future problems, some of which could lead to future conflicts.

        I recently completed your book, “If we can keep it”. At this point, it does not appear that the US will “keep it”, so to speak.

        I think it’s become clear to everyone that Obama has not made the necessary reforms. He has largely kept the policies of the Bush Administration and in some ways has worsened them (ex: use of extra-judicial killings). It is likely that the US will face serious economic challenges due to the mistakes made over the past few decades, and that increasingly, the very fabric of a constitutional republic is itself in grave danger. Compounding this is the erosion of the American middle class, and the level of debt that the US is currently in.

        All in all, I believe that the US has lost it’s capacity for self-reflection and self-correction. These problems, most if not all of them, were largely self-inflicted. The poor economic decisions made, the “defense death spiral” that your colleague, Chuck Spinney has documented elsewhere, the foreign policy blunders, and so on. At the same time there seems to be an unwillingness to go back, to analyze, to correct, and to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past.

        Until that happens, things will keep their current disastrous course.

        At least that is my take on the situation.

        – Chris

      • Hi Chris,

        Interesting discussion. Here’s my summary.

        I don’t disagree with any of your conclusions. However, you’re arguing that because Iraq and Afghanistan are disasters today, it was inevitable that they end that way. Perhaps, but I’m not much into alternative history so I don’t know how to argue it. However one alternative outcome is certain: Had there been no occupation, there would have been no revolt against the occupation. This was, as I recall, Rumsfeld’s initial plan.

        The military did win the war. They took out Saddam’s regime and eliminated the ability of opposing forces to continue operations. That’s all you can expect a military force to do. The larger questions of “Should we have invaded?” “Should we have tried to occupy the place?” “Should we have tried to impose our ideas of governance on the Iraqis?” and are indeed crucial to not creating similar disasters in the future, but they don’t bear on the question of whether the US can win wars.

        Incidentally, you wrote that “I recently completed your book, If we can keep it.” Congratulations! Few have achieved that and fewer still will admit it.


      • Hi Chet,

        To begin with, thanks for your reply.

        I do indeed believe that the sectarian violence was “inevitable”. The reason why I do is when we look at the history of Iraq (a product of British colonialism and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the start of the 20th century), the ethnic tensions that emerged after the 2003 invasion were always there. They had just been suppressed by a dictator, Suddam Hussein.

        Now should the US have withdrawn immediately as you suggest after 2003? I will reply that I believe that the true reason why the US invaded was to secure Suddam’s oil reserves. That by nature required a long term occupation. Similar arguments could be made about Afghanistan (the proposed oil pipeline there and natural gas pipeline from the Caspian Sea).

        Of course, this in turn begs the question, does the problems encountered affect the US ability to win wars? At the very least, I think that this begs the question, is the US military the all-powerful force that it is proclaimed to be?

        I think that there are cracks beginning to show. For one thing, the “defense death spiral” has demonstrated that huge sums of money are being wasted on ineffective weapons systems, at the same time, useful equipment are aging and not being replaced on a 1 to 1 basis. There are also huge problems in military leadership, morale, careerism, and other personnel problems. Looking forward, if there are future invasions, I would not be surprised if the outcome of such an invasion is similar to that of the Vietnam War. Arrogance at first from the US, a disdain for the opponent, but eventually, a grinding stalemate, followed by a withdraw.

        So in that regard, yes, I am not confident in the US military’s ability to win wars. The US military may be no “paper tiger”, but it’s also far from the omnipotent force it is proclaimed to be. It is also declining with time, so the future could be far different.

        Regarding your book, you noted that few people are willing to admit to reading it. I think that may very well be symbolic of the problems facing the US. People are not willing to read, to learn from history, and to think about the long term. We live in a society that seems to value hedonism, a “me only” mentality, and excessive consumerism.

        – Chris

      • Robb’s book has between 40,000 and 100,000 “insurgents” were organized under Saddam’s son Uday before the invasion … and that with other organizations, total insurgents were much greater (150,000 active on any given day) … that they had learned from Desert Storm and knew some other strategy was required. Iraq was not going to participate in the US military war plan … and along with all the other stories about fabricated justification for the invasion … a possibility is that it was just one of Spinney’s “Perpetual War”. One 2010 analysis of the DOD budget was that it had been increased a little over $2trillion over baseline … $1+trillion budgeted for the wars and another $1+trillion couldn’t be accounted for

      • Hi lhw0,

        I think that the Iraqis and Suddam knew that if they tried to take on the US head on, they would lose – badly, and that’s what happened in 2003. Yet at the same time, it is evident that they also did make preparations for an armed resistance.

        In other words, the plan had always been to respond asymmetrically. Although the US did invade and overthrow Suddam, the second part of the plan worked brilliantly in that it was able to tie down the US. I suppose the things that did not go accordingly to plan were that Suddam did not plan to die (I imagine he planned to reclaim power by “waiting it out”), and that Iran is now exerting greater control over the area.

        I think that is a failure of US strategy, that they expect enemies to respond symmetrically. In order words, they want to fight a Second Generation opponent where firepower and numbers are king. The problem is, Second Generation warfare is not effective in a Fourth Generation world. Notice whenever the US media for example portrays a new weapon, they tend to focus on the weapon’s firepower – a clear example of Second Generation thinking. Other examples include the military structure, the training, and how problems are approached, such as the widespread use of drones.

        As far as the accounting, it would appear that the Pentagon has been struggling with a lot of accounting issues. The real question is, are they accounting issues caused by incompetence, or a deliberate effort to conceal serious problems? A worthy study to read up on may be Brown University’s “Costs of War” project. The final figure could be on the order of $5 trillion for Iraq and Afghanistan. It might be even larger in the end.

        – Chris

  5. All of the commenters here make good points. By the way, Chet, excellent posting. I think that militarily, the war in Korea achieved most of the goals and held in check the forces we and our allies moved against. some would not call that a victory, but unfortunately, the lessons learned from both WWII and Korea did not carry forward into the new groupthink that came into existence when the “Cold War” really got underway. Korea may have turned out differently in a military sense had we not been largely dialing in to that mind set.

    A notable development in the subsequent years, was the notion that we could prevail by throwing money at the problem. We fielded ill equipped troops and to Vietnam and attached a support tail that enabled those who were ticket punchers to run the show. The post-mortem on that conflict shed light on the fact that “managerial” and “careerists” had taken control of the reigns. Military actions started looking like business plans and the a priori concern became funding. All was well as long as the budget increased.

    All of these things have come to characterize our approach to any problem with any of the systems ( ( financial, healthcare, transportation, energy etc.) comprising the various components of our “way of life”. We do learn, but the lessons become subservient to the ulterior motive of funding. Much of the work Chet, and others who were associated with John Boyd realized this and tried to turn the table in order to get our military back into the Einheit that was extant to a large degree during the “good war”, and partially so in Korea.

    Now the planners take the same approach as the corporate interests in the prosecution of any conflict we are involved in. The saddest thing to me is that we feed the flower of our youth into the meat grinder, all the while singing the hymns of patriotism, and then think nothing of doing it all over again on another pretense down the road. Our only resulting tribute is to the flow of money, and those who have laid down their lives out of a sense of duty are forgotten.

  6. One problem with a Democracy is that it divides the nation into two types of individuals. There are those who don’t want to lose, and there are those who want to win.

    Because it is easier to not lose than win (winning means climbing out of your own OODA loop), most of the individuals in a Democracy don’t want to lose. In fact, as perhaps the Republic was supposed to fix, our leaders to office are mostly those who don’t want to lose. I mean, just how many Rick Santorums are there in office?

    Some reporter asked Obama what kept him up nights, and Obama replied it was the border between India and Pakistan, and the over-100 nuclear warheads between the two boarders that are aimed at each other. 100 hundred warheads going off within the context of war means the ending of life as we know it on this planet, so it’s not too hard to understand why Obama thinks this way.

    Obama, now that he is faced with reality, wants to win, but those opposing him see little need to climb on board, because there is little need to worry about losing.

    In other words, If this same question (what would keep you awake nights) was asked to most of our elected leaders, the answer would be: not getting re-elected. Nobody would elect a loser to any office, so they are all winners, even Rick Santorum.

  7. With regard to Iraq had learned in desert storm and wasn’t going to oppose the invasion … for the fun of it from Hart: Why Don’t We Learn from History? (only a $1.99)


    On approaching Vilna, Napoleon found that the Russians had abandoned the city. “It was truly heartbreaking for him to have to give up all hope of a great battle before Vilna and he voiced his bitterness by crying out upon the cowardice of his foes.” After five weeks’ campaigning, despite his deep advance, he had inflicted little damage on the enemy, while his own army had been reduced by at least a third in numbers and still more in efficiency.

    • In that sense, the US DoD does have a plan. Their goal in short is to “keep the money flowing” to the defense budget.

      In turn, that would drive their OODA loop, only their “orientation” is not to win the “War on Terror” (assuming it can even be won by 2nd generation military means), but rather to maximize the defense budget. Victory by that perverse sense would be an ever growing defense budget. Weapons that are effective are not desired. Wars that are won are not either.

      Thinking about this further, in answer to the question, can America will wars, I think that the correct answer is, it depends. Maybe depending on the opponent, the cause of the war, and a few other factors, which I will elaborate below:

      1. The opponent. Who is the US going to war with? Chances are, given the proliferation of nuclear weapons, it will be another small to medium sized nation with no nuclear weapons and only limited or poor quality conventional forces.

      By nature this means that the opponent will use unconventional means. They will be forced to do so.

      2. Why? What caused this conflict? If it turns out to be a situation similar to Iraq, where the entire world is skeptical. From that vantage point, if it turns out to be something like Iraq, then the US has lost the moral war before it began. If it turns out that a substantial proportion of the world sympathizes (and truly sympathizes, not just supporting something to win Washington’s favor), then perhaps the US may have at least some moral strength.

      3. The state of the US economy. When the US stated the Vietnam War, it was very confident. The post-WWII boom had not worn out. Things were quite different than today. It was assumed perhaps that the Korean War was an aberration.

      Furthermore, the rest of the world has made relative gains in many ways since say, the end of WWII. It is very likely for example in the next 15 years that China may surpass the US in total GDP (however imperfect a measure GDP is).

      A stronger economy may make society more willing as well to commit to war, which in a sense is a negative. After seeing the results of war since WWII, I believe that Washington and perhaps the American people are choosing to consciously ignore history. Of course, they do so at their own peril.

      Given that the current economic situation is quite weak, this could be an issue. I suspect that there may be a long term stagnation in the future.

      4. The state of the US military. Let us face another problem. The US military has severe problems. Equipment is aging and not being replaced. Needless complexity drives up costs in a “defense death spiral” as described by Chuck Spinney. Worst of all are the ongoing personnel problems and the crisis in confidence of military leadership.

      At its heart, the US military is a Second Generation war organization. It never really made the orientation that say, the German Wehrmacht (whatever it’s other flaws) towards Third Generation War. Accordingly, it will continue to struggle with Fourth Generation opponents. As a military, it is far more comfortable facing an enemy that it can clearly name, like the Soviet Armed Forces, which just so happen to not exist anymore.

      5. Not only is this a matter of the US. Although the US does tend to treat other nations with a certain “you should be grateful that we are doing this”, the reality is that the US needs allies that go along with the US.

      The US does need support from at least the rest of the Western world, and increasingly from other nations, such as China.

      6. Finally, of course, if the Pentagon’s OODA loop isn’t oriented truly to winning at the very top, then all of this is moot. Winning is not the objective. Keeping the money flowing is.

      • Perhaps instead of thinking that the Pentagon has an OODA loop, we should think of it as a dissipative structure ( dependent on the flow of energy from the environment for stability. In other words it is a orientation inside a OODA loop. On the other hand, the Military, Industrial, Congressional Complex (MICC) is a decentralized structure, not dependent on the environment for stability. And while the Pentagon is a part of the MICC, the MICC is not a part of the dissipative structure. The MICC only supplies the flow to keep the Pentagon stable.

        Of course the MICC gets its stability from its position in the world. In other words, what it is able to do, instead of its state of being.

        By thinking in these terms, it’s not so much about winning or losing. It’s about stability. So the question might be: does America want either the Pentagon or the MICC to lose its stability, and at what cost?

        Does America want the dissipative structure to remain stable even if that stability means the vortex will suck-up all the resources remaining in the U.S.A.? Or will the MICC in the name of stability, need to re-position itself in the world and feed another vortex to handle the entropy of the system?

      • Hi Larry Dunbar,

        At what cost do you ask?

        It would appear that at the cost of weakening the rest of the US, and perhaps someday driving it into bankruptcy. That is the issue. The MICC wants more money no matter what.

        Is the MICC decentralized? I would argue that it’s command structure is very centralized, very authoritarian, very second generation war-oriented.

        For sure, the cuts advocated by Chet in his book, and by others will lead to massive destabilization. Millions of people depend on the MICC and it does have a effect on many communities. Far less efficient than had the money been spent elsewhere, to say nothing that the products made would have greater social benefit and not be a source of anti-American sentiment around the world, but yes there is an effect. That and there are many who have built their careers around the MICC who would struggle. But the alternative is far worse, and I think that with some vocational training, the effects could be mitigated.

        For those with their careers, livelihoods invested in the MICC, I think that there is very much a perception of “winning or losing”. I would encourage you for example to look at whenever there is talk of a base closure in the US. There is always a huge movement to “save” their community’s base because of the economic benefits that having a base gives.

        – Chris

      • Great post, it brings to mind some interesting revelations (or should). What we are seeing with the embedded MICC that has spread purposely throughout our basic infrastructure, is the equivalent of what happens when HIV virus blooms into full blown AIDS. The HIV virus masks itself within the host cell and avoids the natural antibodies of the system. Once in circulation, it then implants the mutation in the genetic structure of the healthy cells until cellular replication occurs, the natural immune system becomes overwhelmed with corrupt cells and the body falls into living decay until it can no longer sustain life.
        The machinations of the MICC are very much similar in that it has become sort of a “reverse symbiosis” where the body of our financial system only recognizes the short term effects (i.e. employment, market gains etc) and chooses to tolerate what is already recognized as a malignancy in the long term. We have allowed our system to effectively harbor a disease that can only be eradicated by a complete paradigm shift away from the “business of war”.
        Doing so will cause a great deal of short term pain and suffering, but once the benefits are felt of a society that looks to the betterment of its people and their standard of living, all will be forgotten in the long run. I think that it is important to remember that our generation bears complete responsibility for propagating the “disease” of short term financial considerations above all else. Our human history is filled with anecdotal evidence that this phenomenon is finite. Those of us who read and contribute to this post must remember that our time and ideas will fall into the dust of time, and perhaps recognize that our calling may be to educate those who are coming up to take our places.
        I think that it would be highly beneficial to a younger generation to have Chet, Franklin, and those men who “walked with the giants”, try to relate their learning to a new and untested generation. It is our wars and reliance upon them that have corrupted the flower of today’s adult youth by feeding them into the same meat grinder that has claimed so many with so little to show for their sacrifices.
        This country has been around for approximately 300 years. There is evidence of highly evolved civilizations (for their day) that lasted for thousands of years before they fell into the dust of time. At some time, all of them had their great thinkers and strategists, but their accomplishments really benefitted those who came centuries later. The Schwerpunkt for today is, “teach your children well” they will inherit what we leave behind, but that does not mean it has to be “engineered self-destruction” financially or otherwise.

      • To larrydunbar, the definition of “all” is in this instance: …Everything, anyone, any system, financial, military, governmental, etc. that any of us are addressing on this site, or any site. In less than 100 years, nobody will remember or care that we existed. Out of everyone spoken of on this site, the only possible exception will be John Boyd.

      • “…the only possible exception will be John Boyd.”

        That is good news. It means that, at the very least, you believe there will be someone around in 100 years.

      • Larry, do you think the human race will be extinct in 100 years? Things aren’t that bad. Frustrating, yes, but humanity will move on. Share your knowledge with the younger generation.

      • Debate has been going on for a while:

        I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last ding-dong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking. I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail.

      • “Larry, do you think the human race will be extinct in 100 years?”

        A 100 years is a very short time. I doubt the spicket sending radioactive waste into the Pacific from Japan’s failed nuclear reactors will be closed in that amount of time. I was just hoping you were not one of those End Timers who feel the world will end in their lifetime, aka, the Michele Bachmann’s in this world. Not much use in talking to them about the next generations coming on.

        “Share your knowledge with the younger generation.”

        I am pleased that you would think that I have knowledge, and I would be glad to share, but isn’t that what Google is for? 🙂

        But seriously, to me “sharing” implies a two way street, and the best way to go down that two way street is by asking questions, such as,”Can America Win Wars?” Which I believe you answered by stating, “All valid points, Chris. It is indeed cultural. The only way to change the culture is to ensure it gets buried by the next generation.”

        So you seem to believe that our ability or inability to win wars is because we need to change our culture. I think this is an impossibility, the generation before has too much advantage in both resources and will for that to happen. It would be like trying to change trains while they are both moving in opposite directions. The only real way is to change a culture is by changing the structure that contains it, While there is much going on in that effort, it is still going to take many years before something like that comes close to happening.

      • HI Tim Mckeever,

        “Doing so will cause a great deal of short term pain and suffering, but once the benefits are felt of a society that looks to the betterment of its people and their standard of living, all will be forgotten in the long run.”

        In the long run, yes, no doubt about it. The problem is that the current system is deeply entrenched, with considerable political power, and support from those who in the short run, benefit. Speaking as a non-American, I have noticed that among many Americans it is taboo to talk about any of the following:

        1. That the US Armed Forces are not the omnipotent force that they are portrayed as in the media, by Hollywood, and by popular culture.

        2. That spending so much on the military is a drain on national resources, that the money could be better spent elsewhere.

        3. That empires can and do collapse. Not so long ago, “the sun never sets on the British Empire” was a saying. Spain, Portugal, and few other European empires had similar sayings. Today people speak of “American Exceptional-ism”. No doubt many once thought Ancient Rome would endure forever.

        “I think that it is important to remember that our generation bears complete responsibility for propagating the “disease” of short term financial considerations above all else.”

        Valuing the short term over the long term has I think become a powerful part of the DNA of the Western World, particularly in the English-speaking nations. Look for example at how modern corporations are run – short term is often more important than the long term. The results have been a hallowing out of the many middle class jobs, social discontent, and declining living standards.

        Another example – I encourage you to spend some time and do some research on comparative statistics. You’ll notice some alarming trends, particularly in the Anglo-Saxon world. Let’s take an example – obesity. Obesity is a global problem, but within the Western world, it is particularly severe in the Anglo-Saxon nations.

        I think that our decision as a society to value, well, nutritionally-terrible food, that tastes good is very much a declaration of values. Let’s look at sugar, we like sugar. Tastes good, it makes us feel better. But eating it in huge quantities that we do today is terrible in the long run – especially with a very sedentary lifestyle. The problem is that most people don’t consider what the long term implications are of a society that has such a poor eating culture. Accordingly, any real efforts at change would be met be resistance, not just be corporations whose profits would be impacted, but also by the public at large.

        I am also alarmed at the excessive individualism that seems to plague many people. The idea that you have a moral duty to society, to the future generation, to build a better nation is anathema to a large segment of the population. Whenever there is a debate about whether something needs to built, or done (say high speed rail for example), there is always a very vitriolic debate. The key take away I get from this is that most people agree with the benefits of a certain service. At the same time, most people are unwilling to consider the idea that in order to pay for such a thing, there will have to be short term pain.

        It could be argued that with substantial cuts to the MICC, there would be more funding for much needed infrastructure and other programs, such as insuring affordable post-secondary eduction. However, it is not really money that is the bottleneck here – it is cultural. Long term over short term, needs of society have to be considered; ideas that are the opposite of what a large segment of the population wants.

        At least, that’s my take on it.

        – Chris

      • All valid points, Chris. It is indeed cultural. The only way to change the culture is to ensure it gets buried by the next generation. In the US, money is the sugar. We need to get corporate money out of politics. I am alarmed by the recent finding that 85 individuals control the same amount of wealth as the lowest 3.5 billion people on this planet. That is an obscenity. The culture you mention has gone global.

      • linkedin now has ibm group specifically on subject of watson’s “wild ducks” … recent post on leadership

        This is comparison between German and US Army military schools … with US turning out nearly the antithesis of leader … aka what not to do (in contrast to German military Schools)

        recent talk the author gave at first division museum

        Command Culture: Officer Education in the U.S. Army and the German Armed Forces:

        German junior officers were regularly asked for their opinions and they would criticize the outcome of a large maneuver with several divisions before the attending general had the floor. The American army culture in contrast has historically had a great problem with dissenters and mavericks and just speaking one’s mind to a superior officer, disagreeing with or criticizing him could easily break a career.

        … snip …

        from “Computer Wars: The Post-IBM World” Ferguson & Morris on failure of Future System:

        … and perhaps most damaging, the old culture under Watson Snr and Jr of free and vigorous debate was replaced with sycophancy and make no waves under Opel and Akers. It’s claimed that thereafter, IBM lived in the shadow of defeat

        … and:

        But because of the heavy investment of face by the top management, F/S took years to kill, although its wrongheadedness was obvious from the very outset. “For the first time, during F/S, outspoken criticism became politically dangerous,” recalls a former top executive.

        … snip …

        Command Culture: Officer Education in the U.S. Army and the German Armed Forces:

        As a young officer, Dwight D. Eisenhower wrote an article favoring mechanization of the cavalry.87 The article displeased the chief of infantry greatly and Ike was commanded not only to cease such heretical activities but also to publicly reverse his opinion. He was threatened with a court-martial.88 His superiors expected a fellow officer to become a sycophant.

        … snip …

        One of Boyd’s briefings at IBM was “Organic Design for Command and Control” … which ends with what is really needed is “Appreciation and Leadership”. Part of the briefings was observation that US corporate culture was becoming contaminated by former military officers climbing corporate ladder.


        note that Boyd’s briefings at IBM was also during the period that there was starting to be a lot of blame laid at the door of the rise of MBAs and myopic focus on quarterly numbers/profits. More recently there has been a lot written that myopic focus quarterly numbers as basis for top executive compensation has severely perverted how companies are run.

  8. there was recent post about marine small wars manual
    based on experience dealing with small scale conflicts … and this was written about the same time, based on same experience in support of wallstreet
    characterizing same events done in support of MICC and wallstreet … which references
    and above references Spinney’s theme

    this is by congressman (contemporary of Mahan, also mentions Mahan aligned with Roosevelt on US imperialism in Pacific) “Triumphant plutocracy; the story of American public life from 1870 to 1920”

    XXX. THE LEAGUE TO PERPETUATE WAR The war has just begun. I said that when the Armistice terms were published and when I read the Treaty and the League Covenant I felt more than ever convinced of the justice of my conclusion. The Treaty of Versailles is merely an armistice — a suspension of hostilities, while the combatants get their wind. There is a war in every chapter of the Treaty and in every section of the League Covenant; war all over the world; war without end so long as the conditions endure which produce these documents.

    … snip …

    these talk about what has been going on more recent

    “Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism”
    “Prophets of War”:

    and then there is economic hit man … some parts of wallstreet wants to attempt extract wealth w/o having to send in the military

    which can put them in conflict with MICC that wants any excuse to be sent in.

  9. one of their MICC stories is that they went to former soviet block countries and told them that they would back their membership in NATO and USAID to buy (US made) NATO compatible weapons … if they voted for invasion of Iraq

  10. “That is the issue. The MICC wants more money no matter what.”

    If the Pentagon can be thought of as a dissipative structure dependent on the flow of energy, (entropy energy) from the environment observed, for stability; and the MICC represents an environment capable of supporting a dissipative structure, then the issue becomes a little more complex than that.

    The MICC doesn’t “want” more money no matter what, it “needs” more resources or the dissipative structure will either collapse or move to another environment. Unlike the Russians who were unable to build a MICC to support a dissipative structure (most likely because of the way they handle entropy), China, in its use of Capitalism, looks like it’s more than just on its way to building an environment fully capable of handling a dissipative structure similar to that of the Pentagon.

    I mean, while the Pentagon has used the entropy from the Middle East, as a stabilizing environment, for its dissipative structure, for years, the center of the dissipative structure’s vortex, because of Asia’s buying into the U.S. debt, has been located somewhere in the Pacific Ocean.

    So, in that context, the issue is: do you collapse the Pentagon and get rid of its dissipative nature (if that is its nature), or do you keep moving the MICC closer to Asia and closer to where the entropy lies?

    • For-profit MICC companies want constantly increasing quarterly profits as part of executives compensation objectives. The nature of a lot of MICC funding would ebb & flow with conflicts. Spinney and others’ theme about MICC objective of continuous conflict (perpetual war) is efforts by MICC maintaining their ever increasing profits objectives. Other fallback plans are shifting budget from gov. payroll and projects to for-profit companies. This shows up in intelligence with claim that at least 70% of the intelligence budget now goes to for-profit companies and over half the people are from for-profit companies (along with for-profit companies have enormous motivation to cut corners to meet profit objectives).

      One of the scenarios from Lockheed was that the disastrous cut in pentagon budget (back to 2007 levels at peak of the 2 wars), would result in loss of jobs. Somebody pointed out that in the interval since 2007, Lockheed’s profit increased, executive compensation increased … at the same time they were laying off employees (Lockheed was constantly reducing employees regardless). They would be perfectly happy if returning to 2007 funding levels also met that they returned to 2007 employee levels.

  11. Ok, will start a new thread seeing that the previous one is getting very long.

    “Interesting, Chris. What do think accounts for these trends?”

    It seems that whenever empires reach their height, they seem to decline. In short, I think it’s a matter of human nature. The other is that in most cases, the elite of the nation seemed to have gained too much power and made too many mistakes.

    The US has enjoyed superpower status since the end of WWII, and arguably great power status since around the late 19th century as the world’s largest economy. The current crisis? I would argue that it’s a matter of too much power in the hands of too few and an unwillingness to make short term sacrifices for long term benefits.

    By that I mean, look for example at China. I believe that the Communist Party is very corrupt. Yet at the same time, they have done a great deal for the well being of the general Chinese, due to the policies that they have pursued. Since about the 1970s, by contrast, in the West, I get the increasing impression that there has been a massive transfer of wealth upward, with no corresponding benefit.

    But let’s look at Ancient Rome. I would argue that the moment that they begun their fateful decline was the death of Tiberius Gracchus. That would set things in motion for changes that would lead to the creation of an Empire. I am simplifying, but it’s necessary or else I would have to write a very long essay.

    Yet even as an Empire, Rome managed to last for a long time. The reason I think is that the good aspects of their civilization acted as a sort of “insulator”. I think that the US is like that too. The extensive infrastructure built up after WWII, the university system, the inherent wealth that the US has (ex: natural resources), the nation’s industrial capacity, and the well educated populace. The good qualities of the US are well acknowledged around the world. It is one of the reasons why the US still commands quite a bit of respect around the world, despite it’s less than admirable actions at times. That said, many of these advantages are eroding, and in some cases, have vanished completely.

    Another reason why Rome was able to endure was that often, there would be good people in charge at least in the early Empire. I don’t believe that there’s anything intrinsically “superior” about a Western democracy. I think that running a country well is a matter of:

    1. Having leaders who genuinely believe that their primary purpose is to enrich the nation as a whole, not themselves, or only a segment of the population that supports them.
    2. A long term vision of what a nation should be, and how to get their vision implemented.
    3. A willingness to acknowledge mistakes and change course in the evidence of problems.
    4. A high degree of responsiveness to the problems of the people and long term challenges.
    5. Integrity, and a system that encourages truth seeking.

    There were Emperors which I felt largely met most of these criteria, based on what evidence we have today. Certainly, they were imperfect, but that’s why I emphasize largely. Similar arguments could be made about certain US presidents and members of Congress.

    The decline of Rome is greatly debated of course. I personally believe that a very large percentage of the problems were self-inflicted, just like what has happened to the US today. By that I mean, there was no need to keep a military-industrial complex in power after WWII – it was a choice. Similar arguments could be made about the economic policies pursued.

    All in all, there are some very alarming parallels between the late Roman Empire and the US today. I bet nobody in the early Roman Empire ever would have imagined how their Empire would have fallen. Well, I believe it has been said that history is a warning system and those who ignore it, do so at their own peril.

    So can America win wars? Perhaps a better question is, what wars should America be fighting in the first place.

    – Chris

    • Boyd’s briefings about WW2 was US strategy was overwhelming resources and logistics … sometimes 10:1. Muth’s comparison of German and US military schools references lack of leadership and tactics in the US. Since then conflicts have had opponents resorting to tactics that attempts to nullify the enormous resource advantage (and with the enormous resources nullified, there was little or no tactics to fall back on). In Vietnam it was “grab them by the belt” … get so close that heavy artillery bombardment and air strikes were ruled out. Muth references German military exchange students in the US during 20s&30s visiting large manufacturing facilities (like Ford) … but they had difficulty leveraging that knowledge.

      One history of fall of Rome (The Fall of the Roman Empire : A New History of Rome and the Barbarian) was that North Africa was its economic powerhouse that provided resources to pay for foreign soldiers protecting the borders in Europe (and allowing taxes on the wealthy to be eliminated). It was believed North Africa was not at risk and they didn’t station sufficient forces there and it fell by sneak attack. With the loss of the North Africa economic powerhouse all the rest eventually unravels.

      • Hi lhw0,

        I would, after studying history, agree with that assessment. The Axis lost because of two factors:

        1. Overwhelming industrial and numerical superiority enjoyed by the Allies
        2. Their own strategic mistakes (Hitler attacking the USSR and Japans’ Pearl Harbor in 1941)

        The US Armed Forces are fundamentally a 2nd Generation organization, despite claiming to be a 3rd Generation force. Their mentality, culture, procurement process, and training all have more in common with a 2nd Generation force.

        Should it be any surprise that an organization like the Vietcong with a much shorter OODA loop was able to overwhelm the US morally and strategically, even considering the vast disparity in resources?

        Regarding Rome, yes they did heavily rely on North Africa. Rome was unable to feed itself at its peak and had to rely on imports for food. Other issues included disease (Rome was hit by several plagues), religion (Christianity), and the fact that their enemies often adapted to their tactics on a unit level. But I think on the whole, the biggest issues were largely self-inflicted. A failure to recognize that their rear areas needed protection is an example of a strategic error, as were many of the policies pursued in the Late Roman empire.

        – Chris

  12. 5 years after a classified report, Virginia-class subs have no proof of full combat worthiness

    and Lessons Not Learned

    which mentions Raising the Bar: Creating and Nurturing Adaptability to Deal with the Changing Face of War.

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