The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

Comparative Military Dominance and the End of American Hegemony

It’s said, too often, that the US military is the most powerful the world has ever seen. To be sure, that’s true in the sense of sheer destructive power, but it’s not true in terms of relative dominance.

The most dominant army in history, compared to its peer competitors, in my opinion, was the Mongols.  (The Germans studied Mongol campaigns when they created blitzkrieg doctrine.)

The Mongols did not lose a war until they ran up against the Mamlukes, who defeated them by copying them, with a horse archer army of their own.  Mongol armies moved faster than WWII tank armies, coordinated multiple armies across hundreds of miles, arriving at the same time at pre-chosen points.  Their tactics in battle tended to inflict disproportionate casualties.

A large part of Mongol dominance was genius-level leadership.  I can’t think of any major historical figure who was better at picking subordinates than Genghis Khan: not only was he never betrayed by any of his generals, his administrators were brilliant, and his generals were almost all, themselves, great generals.

More than that, the Mongols did not rely on battlefield supremacy alone.  Genghis Khan used traders as spies, and before he invaded anyone, he knew who within that country was unhappy and ready to rebel as well as who the enemies of that nation were.  Any internal or external weaknesses were exploited.  After cities were captured, if they had resisted, he rounded up the men and used them as the first wave in the next city assault.  His genocidal activities were terrible (though a reading of the actions of many of his foes shows him no worse than them, just more effective), but they were militarily sound: he did not leave large, hostile, unpacified populations in his rear.

The Mongols also often brought enemy military units into their own ranks, reorganized them, and retained their loyalty.  Mongol armies, even in Genghis Khan’s time, were made up more of non-Mongols than Mongols.  Even so, the Mongols won battles against fores who outnumbered them regularly: they were not a horde at the beginning, but were fighting more populous countries with larger armies.

The key weakness of the Mongols was, in fact, Genghis Khan.  His particular genius at choosing brilliant subordinates and earning their loyalty was not shared by any of his heirs.  When the last general Genghis picked himself, Subotai, dies, there are no more great Mongol generals.

Nonetheless, the Mongol successor states wound up controlling the largest chunk of the world before the British Empire, and unlike the British, conquered the core civilized parts of the world: China, Persia; indeed, virtually all of continental Asia.  Europe was only saved by the death of the Genghis Khan’s heir (I remain unconvinced by arguments that the fragmented, easily played against each other, backwards Europeans would have been able to stop Subotai short of the Channel.)

Note further that the Mongols were able to rule those they conquered.  They were able to create law and order; to put down rebellions, and so on.

The US army is a blunt instrument, incapable of winning what its masters want it to win (Iraq, Afghanistan); and it hasn’t been tested in main battle against a peer foe in a long time (China/Russians/Europeans). Theoretical overwhelming power is all very nice, but lets see how that fleet with its big, clumsy, exposed aircraft carriers (for example) does against someone like China who has been specifically gearing to destroy it, rather than against tribesmen or 3rd rate powers (Saddam’s Iraq) which had no means of fighting it.

A military must be judged by what it can do.  The American military can destroy countries, it can blitz countries, but it can’t hold them.  Dominant?  Sure.  Most dominant in history?  No.  And we’ll see what happens to its dominance when it is really tested.

Osama bin Laden had a thesis: his theory was that the Americans could be defeated if they could be convinced to occupy a Muslim country where they could actually be fought.  He was right.

Which General or Military Theorist today will turn out to have had the theory that the US military can be defeated in conventional non-occupation war, who is right?  Is it a Chinese theorist?

We’ll find out.  All periods of military dominance end.  The Mongols did, the British did, the Romans did, the Greeks did, and so on.  The question is just when, and how.

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Does Russia invade the Ukraine?


Guerrilla Warfare: The Way of the Weak


  1. Ian:
    Why do you hate John Schindler and Tom Nichols?!?!

  2. Ian Welsh

    Had to look both of them up, actually. Good thing I had a sick bag handy.

  3. oldskeptic

    Oh I think Lebanon in 2006 shows just how well they would do against a well set up foe … they’d get thumped badly.

    For all it’s size, in terms of sheer fighting power against anything even like a comparable force the US, from WW2 onwards at least, has never been any good.

    Their performance in WW2, conveniently airbrushed out of history since they won the war singlehanded of course, was pretty woeful. Ditto Korea.

    if Iraq had even at least one good general (that hadn’t been bought off by the US, yet another airbrushed thing) they probably could have beaten the US invasion.

    The US not good at the military thing, it is very good (genius level in fact) at corrupting and co-opting other countries elites (political, economic, national security and military).

    Hence the neo-cons endless push for use of the military is both bizarre and totally self defeating, they want the US to play to their own weaknesses, which is always a bad idea for anyone.

    At the higher levels of the US military, particularly the Army, there is a fair awareness of that, hence their opposition to attacking anyone that could fight actually back, like Iran (it was largely their opposition that stopped the balloon going up there in 2007).

    As for the one area that they have any sort of real power in, air power, that has never been used against any real opposition either since Vietnam, where it didn’t actually distinguish itself. It was totally ineffective, from the purely military point of view in Serbia. And it is a dying asset anyway as it self destructs over the F-35.

    If Serbia had kept it’s nerve the US and NATO would have had a real bloody nose when they finally moved in, since the air bombardment had been totally ineffective in reducing the Serbian armed forces.

    The US Army is so ran down because of Afghanistan and Iraq and so overstretched by its garrisoning of the thousands of bases* around the world that it can barely form up a couple of combat brigades now, a division is way beyond its resources.

    And apart from its, still very potent submarine force, the USN is also well into the self destruction game. And the one bright area (so to speak) the Marines, well they have decided to follow the rest of the US armed forces in the ‘how fast can we make ourselves militarily useless, while making out like bandits’ race.

    So the US’s military power is far more apparent than real. They can kill a lot of people, not military people, ordinary ones, but that is about their limit these days.

    * They handed over the Afghani Govt 355 bases they had built there….355, my god, no wonder they couldn’t defeat the Taliban, far too busy building bases….’sorry can’t fight today, got a base to build’.

  4. bobs

    Another key factor (perhaps *the* key factor) is how many soldiers you’re willing to lose on the battlefield. Unlikely the US will ever be willing to lose more than 10K per month unless it is attacked directly. This unwillingness means they can never win against the Chinese or the Russians under any circumstances, regardless of actual military capabilities.

  5. Ian Welsh

    In the Gulf War, there was a point where there was a huge sandstorm. Saddam’s forces should have immediately attacked into it, since it took out almost all of the US advantage in sensors and so on. See how the US can fight with its air grounded, its satellites useless and at short range (which the main tanks are NOT designed for.)

  6. oldskeptic

    Bobs, the US has always been and still is ready to lose lots of troops, they just lie about it. The do try real hard to keep the deaths at the battlefield low (though the deaths after then are not counted), but their injury/disease rate is insane.

    The appalling levels of injuries to US troops can be shown by the 1 million (yes million and rising) disability claims just from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars alone. That’s about 50% of all those who served there. Of the serious injuries, estimates I have seen are in the 25% region.

    So the US, long dominated by the attrition theory of war (since the Civil War actually), will quite happily throw huge amounts of service people down the bin in the pursuit of their aims, they just lie, hide and ‘spin’ their way out of it.

    Better body armour and battlefield medical care has reduced the deaths, but it is just a change in the death/injury rate, not a reduction in actual casualties, which are as horrific as they ever have been (with sheer military incompetence adding to that considerably).

  7. Josh

    I think that even the Mongols’ defeat by the Mamluks had more to do with their own internal political divisions and civil wars than any military failures.

  8. Ian, the U.S. tankers’ infrared sensors were working just fine in that sandstorm. Saddam’s tankers were utterly helpless during the sandstorm. Saddam’s tanks had been turned into dug-in immobile pillboxes because of air power (digging them in was the only way to hide them from the aircraft), but once the sandstorm hit, they *still* couldn’t go anywhere, because they couldn’t *see*. So they were still being picked off by U.S. tankers, who *could* see on the infrared.

    That said, you are quite correct that the U.S. military has not gone up against a first-rate opponent since WW2, and has had a mixed record against the 2nd and 3rd rate powers that it’s faced since then. Korea was a bloody stalemate against a two-year-old Chinese Communist regime that at best qualified as a 2nd-rate power. Vietnam was another bloody stalemate against a third-rate power. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan can be counted as victories if you’re talking about tactical encounters, but as occupations they are failures due to lack of boots on the ground and lack of intelligence to identify who needs killing. That said, I’m confident that at a tactical level, the current U.S. military would have no problem defeating any other military on the field right now.

    The problem is that tactics don’t win wars. Logistics win wars, and fighting a war on the opposite side of a wide ocean with iffy logistical support would be as insane as the German army remaining in Stalingrad after the Romanian armies on their flanks were routed. And the logistical support would be iffy because Russian and Chinese submarines would quickly end U.S. use of commercial shipping for logistical support, and the U.S. military lacks sufficient organic sealift and airlift capability to support extensive operations sans commercial shipping. Unless the U.S. hijacked thousands of commercial shipping vessels and forced them into service, its forces overseas fighting against Russia or China would be as doomed as the 6th Army in Stalingrad.

    But of course there isn’t going to be such a war, because a conventional war between nuclear-armed powers is literally insane… uhm, at least I *hope* there won’t be such a war. Because I kind of prefer, well, *not* glowing in the dark…

  9. oldskeptic

    “That said, I’m confident that at a tactical level, the current U.S. military would have no problem defeating any other military on the field right now. ”

    Sorry Badtux I have to disagree, if the other side are even half competent I’d expect serious US losses.

    Bill Lind (and others) have been writing about this for years (always worth reading him and the archives of his articles before and during the Iraq war, he has long had close connections with the Marine Corp). Has stated over and over again that the US military hasn’t even been able to evolve to the ‘manoeuvre’ level of warfare (ie equal to the Whermacht of WW2) in terms of competence. Term’s like ‘non learning system’ come to mind.

    The obsession with new and ever expensive equipment at the cost of good training, competent leadership, effective tactics and strategy means a force with a lot of (usually very uneven and poorly targeted) killing power, but little winning power, once people learn to neutralise that killing power then US forces will be beaten militarily.

    A clear indicator of this was the Israel Lebanon 2006 war, the Israeli’s, who think themselves far better than the US but share the same doctrines and equipment, were comprehensibly beaten militarily.

    Alastair Crooke and Mark Perry did a 3 part series on this, well worth a read:

    I can’t see the that US would have done any better in that situation.

    And Afghanistan is a clear military loss. The Taliban, after being defeated have steadily won back the majority of the country and inflicted crippling damage on the US/NATO forces.

    Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis wrote a report (and killing his career) on the mendacity of US Generals about what has happened: Dereliction of Duty II: Senior Military Leaders’ Loss of Integrity Wounds Afghan War Effort 27 January 2012

    My favourite part is this snippet (but please read the rest):

    “The United States, along with over 40 NATO and other allied nations, possess the most
    sophisticated, powerful, and technologically advanced military force that has ever hit the field of combat. We have the finest and most well trained Soldiers that exist anywhere; we have armored vehicles of every type, to include MIA2 Main Battle Tanks; artillery, mortars, advanced rockets, precision guided missiles, and hand-held rocket launchers; we have a wholly uncontested air force composed of NATO’s most advanced ground attack fighter jets, bombers, AWACS controllers, spy planes, signals-interception aircraft, B 1 bombers, attack helicopters, and massive transport jets to ferry our troops and critical supplies where they are needed; we have thousands of unmanned aerial drones both for intelligence collection and missile-launching; we have a helicopter fleet for personnel transport and attack support; we have an enormous constellation of spy satellites; logistics that are as limitless as the combined weight of the industrial world; we have every technological device known to the profession of arms; we are able to intercept virtually every form of insurgent communication to include cell phones, walkietalkies, satellite phones, email, and even some ability to eves-drop on otherwise private conversations; a remarkably capable cohort of intelligence analysts that arc as educated, well trained and equipped to a degree that used to exist only in science fiction; and our various nations have the economic wherewithal to spend $10s of billions each month to fund it all. And for almost 10 years we have pitted this unbelievable and unprecedented capability against:

    A bunch of dudes in bed sheets and flip-flops.

    On paper, the imbalance between the two forces couldn’t be greater and ought to have resulted in a rapid and crushing defeat for the insurgent force. But wars aren’t fought on paper. An unbiased analysis of the tactical situation on the ground in Afghanistan and even a cursory observation of key classified reports and metrics leads overwhelmingly to the conclusion that over the past two years, despite the surge of 30,000 American Soldiers, the insurgent force has gained strength, the number of attacks has increased considerably, and the number of American casualties has skyrocketed. The Afghan people demonstrate an alarming lack of faith in their government and security forces and according to multiple sources, despite ISAF claims to the contrary, Taliban morale is so strong that most are reported to be utterly convinced they have already won.”

  10. oldskeptic

    So many people don’t really study war and what really happens, rather sticking, like the neo-cons to their myths. It is a horrible and bloody business and hence for all sane people to be avoided at all costs.

    Taking the 2006 Lebanon war as an example of how to beat the US/NATO/Israel/etc, using the Crooke and Perry articles (there are others too) … this is why MarkfromIreland reports the ‘fear’ of the Israeli military when they talk about Hezbollah:


    ” On July 22, Hezbollah units of the Nasr Brigade fought the IDF street-to-street in Maroun al-Ras. While the IDF claimed at the end of the day that it had taken the town, it had not. The fighting had been bloody, but Hezbollah fighters had not been dislodged. Many of the Nasr Brigade’s soldiers had spent countless days waiting for the Israeli assault and, because of Hezbollah’s ability to intercept IDF military communications, Israeli soldiers bumped up against units that were well entrenched. ”

    “IDF detachments continually failed to flank the defenders, meeting counterpunches toward the west of the city. Special three-man hunter-killer teams from the Nasr Brigade destroyed several Israeli armored vehicles during the fight with light man-made anti-tank missiles. “We knew they were going to do this,” Ilay Talmor, an exhausted Israeli second lieutenant, said at the time. “This is territory they say is theirs. We would do the same thing if someone came into our country.”

    “After-battle reports of Hezbollah commanders now confirm that IDF troops never fully secured the border area and Maroun al-Ras was never fully taken. Nor did Hezbollah ever feel the need to call up its reserves, as Israel had done. “The entire war was fought by one Hezbollah brigade of 3,000 troops, and no more,” one military expert in the region said. “The Nasr Brigade fought the entire war. Hezbollah never felt the need to reinforce it.” ”

    “Much to their surprise, Hezbollah commanders found that Israeli troops were poorly organized and disciplined. The only Israeli unit that performed up to standards was the Golani Brigade, according to Lebanese observers. The IDF was “a motley assortment”, one official with a deep knowledge of US slang reported. “But that’s what happens when you have spent four decades firing rubber bullets at women and children in the West Bank and Gaza.”

    “Later on July 25, during US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s visit to Jerusalem, the Israeli military fought its way into Bint Jbeil, calling it “Hezbollah’s terror capital”. The fight for Bint Jbeil went on for nine days. But it remained in Hezbollah hands until the end of the conflict. By then, the town had been destroyed, as Hezbollah fighters were able to survive repeated air and artillery shellings, retreating into their bunkers during the worst of the air and artillery campaign, and only emerging when IDF troops in follow-on operations tried to claim the city.

    The Hezbollah tactics were reminiscent of those followed by the North Vietnamese Army during the opening days of the Vietnam conflict – when NVA commanders told their troops that they needed to “ride out the bombs” and then fight the Americans in small unit actions. “You must grab them by their belt buckles,” a Vietnamese commander said in describing these tactics. ”

    “On July 26, IDF officials conceded that the previous 24 hours in their fight for Bint Jbail was “the hardest day of fighting in southern Lebanon”. After failing to take the town from Hezbollah in the morning, IDF commanders decided to send in their elite Golani Brigade. In two hours in the afternoon, nine Golani Brigade soldiers were killed and 22 were wounded. Late in the afternoon, the IDF deployed its elite Paratroopers Brigade to Maroun al-Ras, where fighting with elements of the Nasr Brigade was in its third day.”

    “On July 28, the severity of Israel’s intelligence failures finally reached the Israeli public. On that day, Mossad officials leaked information that, by their estimate, Hezbollah had not suffered a significant degradation in its military capabilities, and that the organization might be able to carry on the conflict for several more months. The IDF disagreed, stating that Hezbollah had been severely damaged. The first cracks in the Israeli intelligence community were beginning to show. ”

    “Hezbollah fired about 4,000 rockets at Israel (a more precise, though uncertain, figure calculates the firing of 4,180 rockets), bringing its stockpiles down to 14,000 rockets – enough to prosecute the war for at least three more months.

    Moreover, and more significant, Hezbollah’s fighters proved to be dedicated and disciplined. Using intelligence assets to pinpoint Israeli infantry penetrations, they proved the equal of Israel’s best fighting units. In some cases, Israeli units were defeated on the field of battle, forced into sudden retreats or forced to rely on air cover to save elements from being overrun. Even toward the end of the war, on August 9, the IDF announced that 15 of its reserve soldiers were killed and 40 wounded in fighting in the villages of Marjayoun, Khiam and Kila – a stunning casualty rate for a marginal piece of real estate. ”

    “The robust Hezbollah defense was also taking its toll on Israeli armor. When Israel finally agreed to a ceasefire and began its withdrawal from the border area, it left behind upwards of 40 armored vehicles, nearly all of them destroyed by expertly deployed AT-3 “Sagger” anti-tank missiles – which is the NATO name for the Russian-made vehicle- or man-deployed, wire-guided, second-generation 9M14 Malyutka – or “Little Baby””

  11. Steve Metz

    “The US army is a blunt instrument, incapable of winning what its masters want it to win (Iraq, Afghanistan)” <—— This shows a profound misunderstanding of counterinsurgency. Military forces don't "win" counterinsurgency. At best, they create a minimum level of security that allow governments to address the political and economic conditions that gave rise to conflict. The U.S. military provided that to both the Iraqi and Afghan governments; neither capitalized on the opportunity given them.

  12. markfromireland

    Going on the assumption that the Stephen Metz in the comment above is the Stephen Metz who is Director of Research at the US Army War College’s Studies Institute Strategic Studies Institute we’ve just been provided with a marvelously concise example of one of the main reasons why the USA loses its wars.

    “Military forces don’t “win” counterinsurgency. At best, they create a minimum level of security that allow governments to address the political and economic conditions that gave rise to conflict. The U.S. military provided that to both the Iraqi and Afghan governments; neither capitalized on the opportunity given them.

    This is delusional nonsense, actually it’s worse than delusional it’s a pack of lies from start to end. It’s the sort of lie that Americans tell themselves, each other, and everyone else.

    The purpose of COIN as practised by the regular and irregular armed forces of the United States of America in both Afghanistan and Irak was, is, and remains to help place the American boot ever more firmly on the necks of a people under occupation.

    It is wholly and completely false to pretend that the brutality with which the regular and irregular armed forces of the United States of America in both Afghanistan and Irak behaved in each country made the security situation or the political situation better. It didn’t, in each case it made the situation so drastically worse that even the collaborationist regimes installed at the point of American guns were determined to get rid of them.

    For those of us who aren’t American neo-imperialists that people like Metz and his pupils actually believe rubbish such as his comment above is good news. Anything that hampers the abilities of the regular and irregular armed forces of the United States of America to win their illegal wars is good news for anyone who cares about peace or the rule of law. Bad news for the members of those armed forces of course who get killed or mutilated but given the barbaric way in which they behave wherever they go they deserve all the suffering and all the defeats dished out to them first by Iraki and Afghan resistances.

    These remarks apply equally to America’s Israeli front-men and their serial defeats in Lebanon at the hands of Hizballah.


  13. Steve Metz

    It’s a basic technique of social science to ask: What would we expect to observe if a particularly hypothesis or explanation is true? In the case of “The purpose of COIN as practised by the regular and irregular armed forces of the United States of America in both Afghanistan and Irak was, is, and remains to help place the American boot ever more firmly on the necks of a people under occupation” even if we skim over the question of why, on earth, the United States would want to place the people of Iraq and Afghanistan under its “boot,” we would expect to see efforts to sustain dominance rather than disengage.

    That we don’t see that means one of two things: Either the hypothesis is right, the United States has some sort of deep set desire to oppress far away people and is simply incompetent at it, or the hypothesis is nonsensical ideological propaganda.

    As a social scientist, I know which meaning I find most plausible.

  14. someofparts

    Best I can tell, the only thing current American elites are really good at is fraud.

  15. Gee

    We disengaged in large part because of our failure. The main design was to get Western control over Iraq’s oil assets. Control has been accomplished, but of course, our destruction of the country in order to try to be the winner of that access has largely resulted in other countries being better suited to form economic alliances in the oil sector. The boot was there to crush the political leadership, not so much the people, so that they will be compliant with our economic imperialism. We couldnt even do that right.

  16. Gee

    Well, Schindler and Nichols weren’t too horribly off on this story :

    and the view here, seems like it was latching on to something – wasn’t the Baltics or Poland, but Ukraine instead.

  17. John

    Dear Steve Metz,
    Oh, I have an explanation of the “why” and the pack up and go home that gets right to the point Ian is making.
    Look at the behavior of the average American schoolyard bully.
    They pick on a weaker opponent, violently push them around and then run with tail between legs when the weaker opponent surprises them with a return of violence.
    That’s also why there hasn’t been a peer to peer conflict since WW2. The bully knows better than to go up against someone who can kick his butt.
    It really pisses off true believer Muricans when their freedumb and dumboracy are rejected by those they perceive as lesser. Especially when they are brown skinned.
    Let’s not forget the racism.
    And the bottom line is just that. Eisenhower’s military/security industrial complex runs the show…at it’s core it is about the money for our oligarchic elites.
    War is just another profit center.

  18. markfromireland

    @ Steve Metz May 5, 2014

    Spare us please the “social scientist” guff. You may have been one once but what you are now and have been for a long time is an American professional imperialist who earns his living as a bureaucrat in an American military institution I’m not even slightly surprised that you would try to pretend that the American wars in both Afghanistan and Irak were not wars of subjugation.

    Nor am surprised that you would try to pretend that USA did not make efforts to “sustain dominance rather than disengage” as you put it. Unfortunately for your employers those efforts failed, not least because of the casual brutality with which American troops behaved towards the populace of those countries, the fact that the American commanders in those countries and their superior officers subscribed to the notions and methodologies collectively referred to as COIN also contributed greatly to the American military defeats in those countries.

    I wish you a long and successful career as a phrenologist military bureaucrat shilling arguing that the American military should continue to buy your preferred brand of snake oil make use of the ineffective and discredited tactics that you advocate . The more of your wars of subjugation that you Americans lose the better it is for the rest of us.


  19. Bruce Wilder

    In warfare, there’s inevitably a tension along the whole length of the axis chain uniting tactics on the most minute level to strategy and grand strategy on the broadest and most abstract. That’s a long axis, and there can be a lot of slack in the chain, a lot of screw-ups along it, without fatally compromising the capacity of a state to accomplish at least some of its policy goals, in cooperation or conflict with other states. One great area of strength along that axis can compensate for many weaknesses — this is not a chain that is only as strong as its weakest link; history has examples of a few strong links salvaging the whole. (Also, it helps to be lucky.)

    It is tempting to look for an Achilles heel, a single point of likely failure, a weak link, which may prove fatal to the whole chain — for want of a nail, a kingdom is lost, sort of thing. The enormous power of the aircraft carrier falling victim to the cruise missile is an example of this kind of analysis. And, it may be right in an instance, but, even if it is right, it’s likely to be in the context of a faulty architecture, where the resilience of the whole structure has been undermined by faults in strategic and grand strategic leadership.

    Ian is right to emphasize that Genghis Khan’s singular genius was in his grand strategic vision and ability to choose and coordinate subordinates of enormous ambition, talent and capacity. It cannot be easy to promote men to positions of great power, who have the ambition, talent and capacity to rule in your place. It is in cultivating the capacity of such men to cooperate together, that the architecture of the chain that unites grand strategic goals to the most minute details of logistics and fighting tactics can be thoroughly worked out and understood. If all the elements of the Mongol machine seemed to work together, and to adapt to circumstance fluidly, it is because the leadership was smart, and understood the machine they designed and led, and their purposes, and could adapt intelligently as they confronted opposing forces and emerging circumstances.

  20. S Brennan


    I read all the way through your well aired diatribe…waiting for you to factually address Metz’s point. You didn’t.

    Steve’s important point is a lesson learned in Viet Nam, if you don’t have the capacity to solve the underlining political problems, your military is useless* as a counter-insurgency force AND SHOULD NOT BE USED AS SUCH.

    The Bush/Obama administration’s wars in Iraq & AF-PAK ignored this dictum and the USA failed miserably in both endeavors. In both cases my VOCAL opposition was premised on Steve’s point.

    In the case of Obama’s “wars of Aggression” in Libya, Syria & Ukraine, where Obama “astroturfs” an insurgency with each respective societies most depraved elements, [the same way he ran his campaigns] and then seeks to control the outcomes of these insurgences is a greater violation of Metz’s dictum.

    One last point Mark, just because you have had ALL the advantage of an upper class upbringing doesn’t mean you should subject us to your intolerable snobbery. You are not the only one on this board that has seen awful things, or battled the idiotocracy ensconced in DC/Wall-Street…with the exception of the US Chair Force, all these wars have had a political origin, NOT a military impetus.

    In WWII the military/political leadership was as good as it gets and US soldiers were, with a few exceptions, pretty damned disciplined draftees. When leadership breaks down, or is driven by craven men & women, the discipline of fighting units suffers. Or perhaps you can school me on my history, did we hang the ranks of Pvt, Cpl, Sgt, Lt & Cpt at Nuremberg? I seem to remember the Reich’s Secretary of State, Party Chief, Governor General, Interior Secretary, Media manager, Secretary of Treasury, CEOs, Ambassadors, Newspaper Publishers in addition to GENERALS doing time…or the drop. The upper class penchant for blaming peons for the sins of their masters is tiresome and morally bankrupt.

    *Unless you are willing to publicly/politically commit to annihilation of entire populations. Or

  21. markfromireland

    @S Brennan May 5, 2014 I treated Metz’s argument with considerably more respect than it deserved. The tactics adopted by the American military in both Irak and Afghanistan were not – as Metz tried to pretend aimed at solving those countries underlying political problems. They were aimed at exacerbating them.


  22. ks

    Steve Metz’s point is a diversionary tatic. He’s trying to spin Ian’s point about the US military being a blunt instrument….by reframing it to “military forces don’t win counterinsurgencies” which begs the point but also ignores that we created the conditions for those insurgencies in general. Also, the notion that the U.S. military provided some sort of “opportunity” to the Iraqi and Afghan governments that they failed to capitalize on is quite a howler of a sentiment. I mean really…wow.

  23. markfromireland

    S Brennan May 5, 2014

    As for this:

    One last point Mark, just because you have had ALL the advantage of an upper class upbringing doesn’t mean you should subject us to your intolerable snobbery. You are not the only one on this board that has seen awful things, or battled the idiotocracy ensconced in DC/Wall-Street…with the exception of the US Chair Force, all these wars have had a political origin, NOT a military impetus.

    You haven’t the faintest idea of how I was brought up. Or by whom, under what circumstances. Nor do you have even the remotest idea of how I was educated or by whom and under what circumstances.

    As to the “awful things” to which you refer the main difference between you and I is that I consistently condemn them and those who do them. I leave the making excuses for the consistently vile behaviour engaged in by your fellow Americans in furtherance of the American government’s goals to people like you.

    I’m pro-life, anti-imperialist, anti-racist, and anti-torture, I also believe strongly that people are entitled to live their lives in peace and to earn a decent living without being ground down into the dust all of these attributes and beliefs make me profoundly anti-American or as you prefer to put it “an intolerable snob”.


  24. Bruce Wilder

    In the Second World War, the United States had great grand strategic leadership. The U.S. prepared logistically in a remarkably broad and effective manner, because FDR brought in the very best people to do it, well in advance of direct U.S. participation in combat operations. And, the U.S. adopted as its grand strategic policy goals, a vision of the post-war world order, which was idealistic and persuasive and attractive. Ultimately, the success of WWII was the success of Japan and Germany in that post-WWII order — a truly remarkable outcome.

    The U.S. had good, but not generally great, professional military leadership in WWII. On the level of strategy and tactics, there were many serious errors. MacArthur lost the Philippines very rapidly, because he didn’t know his business. Americans had gasoline-powered tanks at the beginning of the war, which was insane. The effectiveness of strategic bombing was greatly overestimated by the British, and that assessment was not challenged by the Americans. Even late in the war, the Battle of the Bulge became a meatgrinder for American forces because Marshall and Eisenhower were unaccountably stupid about basic issues like rotation and maneuver. The last few major islands captured in the Pacific were extremely bloody affairs, and not in every case strategically necessary. My point is not to rehearse the controversies of WWII strategic military history, though, it is simply to emphasize the strengths that mattered: industrial power and the emerging vision of a workable post-war liberal order, salvaged in part from the failure of Wilsonian internationalism in and after the first World War.

    The Project for a New American Century types, who dominated the GWB administration, took the precedent of Japan and Germany as the model for their goals in the occupation and reconstruction of Iraq. They took a pastiche of the rhetoric of Wilsonian internationalism and Churchill as their own. And, they did not have a clue about what they were doing — most of all they missed the moral core. When they instituted a policy of torture, they proved that for all the world to see. The neoliberal cum conservative libertarian economic theories applied in “organizing” the reconstruction project are rationalizations for looting and corruption, and produced . . . (shocking, I know!!!) . . . looting and corruption.

    Now we have Obama, a cynical tool in a suit who plays an idealist on teevee, mouthing the words of high principle for a world order, long since sunk into nearly hopeless corruption. Putin proved, in his masterful NY Times op-ed on Syria, that he understands the power of the idealism of a liberal world-order better than the American leadership. Obama does not seem to understand that appeals to high principle only work as the basis for ordering the anarchy of international affairs to the extent that the U.S. is willing to restrain itself to honor principle. People, who cannot grasp the concept of self-restraint, I will venture, are not going to grasp any strategic concept.

    The great propaganda Wurlitzer in the American Media is raising a crescendo, drowning out more reflective thinking, and still, polls show little popular enthusiasm for confronting Russia. The stops are out on the great Wurlitzer, because the establishment media “left” is sure Maidan square is a popular uprising of idealistic democrats, and the establishment media “right” is hopeful of renewing a (profitable) cold war against the demonic Russian bear. And, the tired story of a clash of civilizations from a rising Islamic fundamentalism continues to drown out questions about a rapacious neoliberalism, despite the inability to apply the Islamic story to the emerging chaos of Ukraine, Thailand, Greece, Venezuela, Brazil . . .

  25. Bruce Wilder

    Steve Metz:

    Military forces don’t “win” counterinsurgency. At best, they create a minimum level of security that allow governments to address the political and economic conditions that gave rise to conflict. The U.S. military provided that to both the Iraqi and Afghan governments; neither capitalized on the opportunity given them.

    What I hear in this quotation is the self-serving rationalization, that substitutes for strategic thinking in a U.S. military, which cannot and will not confront its own abject failures. The U.S. military has not been able to bring the war in Afghanistan to a conclusion. Year after year, it has spent well in excess of the GDP of the entire benighted country, and accomplished less than nothing of any value to anyone. And, it will blame any one, or any thing, but itself.

    I don’t think it is necessary to bring other motives, other goals into the analysis, just to bash the U.S. The U.S. military in Afghanistan has not accomplished any goal. It’s a reasonable hypothesis that it is brain-dead at the top, and morally bankrupt, not because it has barely hidden motives, but because it has lost its capacity to intelligently adapt. The brutality and waste on the operating edge is the by-product of a kind of palsy, setting in from the brain-rot.

  26. Gee

    The circular reasoning here is just absolutely preposterous – you’d think you were listening to the excuses of a mildly precocious five year old.

    “…that allows governments to address the political and economic conditions that gave rise to conflict.” —um, hullo!!! YOU CREATED those conditions!!! zOMfG

    We’re here to save you from…from…..FROM US!!! (head explodes)

  27. Ian Welsh

    World War II American troops were competent, to be sure, but they were widely considered to not be the best. Australians, Canadians, Germans were all better troops (the Finns were stupid good, of course). And, to make the obvious point, the Germans were defeated by the Russians. The troops the Allies fought in Western Europe were not the cream of the Wehrmacht, that had been destroyed in the East.

    As for the Japanese, the poor bastards never stood a chance for simple logistical reasons. I remember finding out what their monthly production of tanks was (I forget now, but it was less than a 100). They could not sustain losses of ships and replace them, etc… Yamamato understood this, he told the high command they couldn’t win the war unless they could get the US to sue for peace early, and it was unlikely the US would do that, even if the entire fleet at Pearl Harbor had been sunk including the aircraft carriers, they could have recovered.

    Counterinsurgency can be won, and often has been. It is an odd modern conceit that it can’t be. The British defeated the Boers and won the Malaysian Emergency. The Tamil Tigers have been defeated. But you either win against an insurgency through intelligent restraint and kindness; or you win with flat out brutality: you can’t go halfway between the two methods. US actions in Iraq were brutal and cruel, same in Afghanistan, but minus Fallujah, but too retail to win.

    A large part of the problem was specifically US troops: they cannot win hearts and mind operations as a group, because they consider their lives more important than the lives of the indigs. No matter how many Iraqis/Afghanis you have to kill to (maybe) save a few American lives at, say, a check point, you do it.

    This is why I predicted that the surge in Afghanistan would make things worse: because more US troops would mean more retail incidents of cruelty and brutality, which would turn the population more and more against them.

    Finally, back in the months after 9/11, I read an interview the Afghan ambassador to Pakistan (which I’ve never been able to locate since, I believe it was in Salon, but can’t find it.)

    He said exactly what would happen. “You will take the cities, we will retreat into the countryside, and then we will win, even if it takes ten or twenty years. You can’t destroy us, you can’t stay forever, and we will always be there.”

  28. VietnamVet

    I was there when the draft army mutinied in Vietnam. It forced Richard Nixon to end the war and the United States to form a volunteer army with privatized security and logistics to continue fighting its colonial wars. The Iraq Invasion was crazy from the get-go. It is too big to conquer with 200.000 men. To win the USA required the draft, taxing the rich to pay for it, and killing most of the enemy’s young men just like the wars with the Confederate States of America, Germany and Japan.

    Today we are witnesses to the collapse of the American Empire. Western Governments are lying to their citizens; forcing them to endure Austerity cuts, and supporting Jihadists in Syria and Neo-Nazis in Kiev.

    How the USA is handling the Kiev Putsch is insane. The neo-liberal, R2P, and neo-conservative polices of the Obama Administration have gone wild. The USA cannot fight a hot war with Russia. It will inevitably lead to nuclear holocaust. The only way to avoid total destruction is to establish a neutral federated Ukraine. This is a real back down from current policies. Even if a shooting war is avoided, the Ukraine Civil War will drive Russia into the arms of China. The survival of Europe will depend on establishing a democratic EU and managing the Euro for Europeans. After the dollar loses its reserve status with the rise of the new Euro and the BRICs world payment system, North America will split apart unless sovereignty is wrestled away from the plutocrats and returned the people.

  29. Ian Welsh

    Since I have written extensively on guerrilla (insurgency) warfare in the past and since it is relevant, I have kicked the main piece to the top:

  30. thepanzer

    In the officer core we called what Mr. Metz stated above, or the troll pretending to be him, as “drinking the kool-aid.” It points to one of the major problems that hastened the decline of the British Empire and as cultural cousins it is equally hastening our own. Hubris.

    Rudyard Kipling wrote about how the servants of empire must wear the mask of empire over their true face and by degree, and without realizing it, the wearers face is eventually replaced by the mask. Our top strategic thinkers, by and large, have worn the mask for so long their own face is gone. And even worse, and perhaps unique to the American Empire, refuse to even acknowledge that the imperial mask exists because in their minds…America isn’t an empire.

    So by refusing to consider we’re an empire they de facto also rule out the possibility of committing the sins of empire. Thus the vast majority of foreign military or diplomacy failures is chalked up to the foreigners own failings, instead of our hubris. We saw this in Iraq as the western media and leadership portrayed the Iraqis as children who needed western guidance and then as ungrateful ones for not taking advantage of the “blessings” we bestowed. Mr. Metz’s comments above fall neatly into that rubric. Anyone with any historical knowledge recognizes this as a carbon copy of the British imperial “white man’s burden” but of course American strategic leaders literally cannot or will not see this since it would mean we’re an empire, which they avow we aren’t. (we’re just a benign global military power with over 1k foreign bases that unilaterally takes military action, assassinates foreigners aboard with no care for due process, and gives commands to other sovereign nations with the expectation they’ll be fulfilled…or else.)

    If that actually is Mr. Metz then this another awful sign that the kool-aid drinking hasn’t wavered at all, no soul searching is taking place within at least the Army’s strategic thinking, and we can expect more of the same strategic failures in the future.

  31. S Brennan


    I’m pro-life*, anti-imperialist, anti-racist, anti-fascist and anti-torture, I also believe strongly that people are entitled to live their lives in peace and to earn a decent living without being ground down into the dust, all of these attributes and beliefs make me profoundly American and still…anti-snob. BTW, I consider myself a conservative by the standards in place in 1970.

    Prattle on all you want Mark, only a tiny minority in the US wants this bullshit. If you notice from my post above, Americans in Nuremberg, blamed…and tried to hang Media types Media was recognized by US authorities as being an integral and necessary part of the NAZI regime. If you repeatedly broadcast lies, people believe the lies. You only can do this when the media is tightly controlled. The US media since 1982 has become evermore tightly controlled. All the stupid shit you say against the average American could be said against the average German/Italian/Japanese/Spanish…and while we are on the subject, Irish whose support of Hitler through 1945 is well documented…was they lied to…or just stupid? And if they were stupid back then, why aren’t they stupid now? Genetics, or is their media/school different than in 1938?

    As for your biography, you are the one that puts bits and pieces of it out thinking others will forget, I don’t.

    Sadly, your arrogant assumption of superiority is in every post, it degrades what would otherwise be a useful contribution.

    *However, I think church and state should be separate. Referencing Ireland’s Catholic laws, I once said to the IRA rep passing the hat in a Chicago bar…”I would not want to trade the laws of an English King for that of a Roman King”. The Catholic church’s genocide against the Cathars, based on religious dictates should dissuade anybody.

  32. ks

    S Brennan,

    I get your point but in your passion to absolve the “average American”, I think you may have overlooked that, imo, we are past the tipping point. At what point does willful ignorance/delusion overtake being lied to by the media? It seems that the latter is an awfully thin fig leaf at this point. Also, while the US media was certainly better before when they did some actual news rather than the full on infotainment it is now, it has always been used to marshall sentiment against the “other” internally (e.g. Native, Blacks, etc) or externally long before Regan era deregulation, the elmination of the Fariness Doctrine, and corporate control fully took over.

    More importantly, why should the average Iraqi/Afghani care whether the average American wanted this bullshit? Shouldn’t that be the way to look at it rather than – “not me! or the media….!” After all, we, as a socitey, were certainly not as magnanimous or exacting in parsing blame, and the murderous results, when it came to them. Hell, we STILL aren’t as we fairly routinely drone murder groups of them just to kill one “suspect”.

    Sure, as an abstract exercise they may blame and hate W Bush, Cheney, Obama, Hillary, et al more than you or I and rightfully so but , also righfullly so, it doesn’t let us off the hook. Whatever fig leafs we use to cover our personal selfs are really just transparent rationalizations for the monstrous evil that was done in our name. It may suck and not be comfortable but it is what it is.

  33. Jessica

    I suspect but can not prove that much of what we are witnessing about the behavior of the American leadership is not just about empire and the decline thereof (or not), but about the inner decay of the entire first world leadership. In the American case, one way this manifests is an inability of the top leadership to impose discipline on its oligarchs and the rest of its elite. In other words, they can not steal intelligently, but rather loot impulsively.
    I wonder what would have happened if when the US invaded Iraq, they had given top priority to restoring electricity etc. in Baghdad and declared the entire Iraqi Army as the new army of Democratic Iraq, doubled their pay, and kept them marching around and training, somewhere out in the desert where the US could keep an eye on them and they could not be organized resistance in the cities. Maybe it was simply hubris that neither of these things was done, but I do think there is a useful distinction between excess pride and kleptomania.
    To put it another way, during WW2 those at the top of American society still had a historical function to play, but now they no longer do. Nor do they in any of the 1st world countries.

  34. oldskeptic

    Well I followed the Iraq invasion and takeover very carefully as it happened. The work of people like Dahr Jamail who were on the spot was invaluable.

    My conclusion was that the US had decided on and acted out a ‘Poland’ type of occupation. That is they deliberately smashed the entire society, economy, education, agriculture and Govt into tiny little pieces.

    A reign of terror was initiated right from the start, mostly against the Sunni’s. All those roundups, torture (of which Abu Ghraib was just a small piece) . There were mass roundups of males who were thrown into camps, many makeshift out in the desert. A regime of torture and terror was instigated right from the start.

    And all that before there was any insurgency. In fact that created the insurgency.

    And of course all those bases started being built virtually right away, the US was in there for the long haul.

    My thesis, based on the observed behaviour, was that the Iraqi’s were now going to be the ‘new Slavs’, peasants in their own country held in poverty and kept in line by systematic terror, while their oil was stolen and their country was to be a large military base for the US (to add insult, workers were imported to do that so the locals got nothing even from that).

    US soldiers were fed full of propaganda that Iraq was responsible for 9/11 and ‘let off the leash’ by their commanders. Far, far too many stories of, when they burst into homes rounding up the males, of them being needlessly brutal or stealing money and jewellery. UK soldiers were no better.

    Again I think that it was quite deliberate, to install terror in the population. It was too widespread just to be a ‘few bad apples’, this was systemic.

    Abu Ghraib was a mass torture system, comparable to the Phoenix program and a lot of people died there (and all the women that were tortured and raped too). Again to install terror in the population right from the beginning. Like MarkformIreland, I wish those soldiers and ‘intelligence’ people involved in that (by no means all of the US/UK forces of course), long and terrible suffering from PTSD (and the marines who had so much fun shooting up ambulances in Fallujah).

    It didn’t work and I think for a very different reason than most COIN type commentators make and why this type of occupation cannot work now (unless you set up death camps and mass kill millions at a time straight away, or drop nukes/chemical weapons on population centres and mass kill the majority of the population).

    Cheap and available guns and explosives. Crushing the will of people to resist (no matter how angry they are) is dependent on them having no way of fighting back so they basically fall into depression and passivity. But with AK-47s (etc) being readily available then people can, they have an outlet for their anger, they no longer feel so helpless.

    Even if ineffective at first the laws of evolution very quickly improves their ability, the hot heads driven by anger who squirt shots at soldiers very quickly give way to effective ambushes and mine laying. In Iraq’s case this was helped by the anger throughout the ME over the torture (which they all knew about, though the western MSM ignored it) and many people going there to fight (that is confirmed by interviews by the way).

    So the days of using brutality to win and hold an occupation are over for most of the World, the more brutal you become the more (rather than falling into passivity which is the aim) they will fight back because the means are now readily available.

    Sadly that won’t stop various countries to keep trying that, eg the Ukraine. You think Brennan was advising the Ukrainian putsch leaders to have nice discussions and elections?

  35. Formerly T-Bear

    Nice one there MFI! Now we’ll get the prattle on about how Duhmerican shite don’t stink, and why. This may be instructive of a language becoming meaning fungible, e.g. when ‘innocent’ smears to clothe those who aren’t. Bravo! Well played!

  36. Ian:
    Sorry to reply so late. I meant it as snark of course. Both of them are Twitter Keyboard Kommandos. Both seem to think more war is the answer to everything.

  37. Ian Welsh

    The Russians essentially put down the Chechens. There’s a little terrorism still going on, but nothing that matters. The Tamil Tigers have been destroyed, etc…

    It’s still more than possible to brutalize a population into acquiescence.

    In the case of Iraq, I subscribe to the “incompetence, ideology and greed” explanation. Plus, frankly, George Bush got off on torture and selling the war by tying it to 9/11 was what he had to go to get it going in the first place, not a cunning plan to make American soldiers even more brutal.

  38. jcapan

    “Year after year, it has spent well in excess of the GDP of the entire benighted country, and accomplished less than nothing of any value to anyone.”

    Come on, Bruce. If the actual goals had been bettering the lives of young women in Afghanistan or creating a city on a hill in Baghdad, then you’d be spot on. But in the era of privatized, directly for profit warfare, when trillions of taxpayer $ are funneled to corporations/their shareholders, I daresay it’s been of great value to someone.

  39. americatheGreat

    Suppose american military dominance ends, will it mean that america will be a bad place to live? Not necessarily. In-fact, it could still be the very best place to live in terms of quality of life, access, and general well being in healthcare, education, social and economic stability, etc. Go to India or China and you’ll realize the water shortages and rationing of when people can do something so basic like take a shower when they so desire to.
    Forget about it if you think European countries offer the same quality of life. Walk around paris, rome, Berlin and try to find a public tennis court. Aside from New York city, you can easily do so in a city like Dallas, Miami, Atlanta, Orange County, you name it.

    Basically, it really doesn’t matter if military spending goes up or down. It really doesn’t matter if america loses a war somewhere across the world. Nations will still buy US Treasury debt instruments and people will still use Twitter and buy iPhones. The intellectual potential will remain strong. Now, if america gets invaded or it has a real conflict which takes place within its borders, like continental Europe has had over the past 1000 years, that’s a game changer and you’d need to find a new place to live.

  40. John Measor

    Excellent post, however (there’s always a ‘however’ eh?), the United States – for all its failures in “colonial” wars of late has shown considerable capacity to conquer, occupy and alter opponents (for the better, I would argue, in terms of governance and normative changes promoting liberal values, both good and bad). Post-WWII Western Europe, the southern Korean peninsula and Japan being of note.

    This can’t undermine the endless failures of same throughout the Cold War and post-1989 ‘Pax Americana’, but its not a complete failure either. Moreover, in terms of strategic discussions everyone seems to consistently forget that the U.S. can withdraw from the world in a fashion unavailable to any Eurasian state / political project. The cost of militarily invading the North American continent by any of those peer competitors would be enormous and therefore (short of nuclear holocaust) not seriously entertained IMO. China, Russia, Brazil, India etc. may well desire the removal of U.S. hegemony from their respective neighbourhoods – but, I don’t see any peer that could challenge the U.S. in its own environs.

    The Mongols are as you describe though – singular in scope – although a comparative examination of Greeco-Roman, Han and Islamic projects would be illustrative. That all the rest are acknowledged as ‘high’ cultures while the Mongols are seen as ‘barbarians’ of the first order is another interesting angle – especially as the Mongols seemed so successful at integrating themselves *into* these other cultural basins while at the same time transforming them.

    Thanks for the great post.

  41. Phoenician in a time of Romans

    In the case of “The purpose of COIN as practised by the regular and irregular armed forces of the United States of America in both Afghanistan and Irak was, is, and remains to help place the American boot ever more firmly on the necks of a people under occupation” even if we skim over the question of why, on earth, the United States would want to place the people of Iraq and Afghanistan under its “boot,” we would expect to see efforts to sustain dominance rather than disengage.

    Only if it worked. The purpose of Germany invading Russia was to dominate at least the western Slavic lands; their retreat years later doesn’t change this.

    The US doesn’t have the sustained capability to occupy the lands it tries to dominate. If the purpose of COIN was to train local elites and police forces to act as proxies in placing the American boot on the necks of a people under temporary occupation, you’d expect to see the US schooling these troops in violence and repression, the use of torture, and attempts to tie up commercial and industrial contracts to maintain dominance when the troops leave.

    Which we do see.

  42. Regarding tactics and equipment, Israeli tactics and equipment are not the same as American tactics and equipment by any means. Merkava tanks do not in the slightest resemble American tanks. They are heavily protected infantry support tanks that double as armored cars for the soldiers riding in the back. They are not highly mobile. They aren’t intended at all for maneuver warfare. They are intended for occupations and for defense against invading armies in a limited area where mobility is not a major concern. Invading Lebanon was not playing to their strong point, and showed the other major weakness of the Israeli army. The Israeli army is heavily dependent upon part-time reservists. The reservists are heavily dependent upon having sufficient equipment and ammunition in major arms depots to train and equip themselves. Years of budget austerity caused by the fact that Israel subsidizes religious zealots to not work and not serve in the military reduced the stocks of equipment and ammunition to below the amount needed for the reservists to train adequately. The result was a large number of poorly trained, poorly equipped, and poorly motivated soldiers who entered Lebanon with neither the training nor equipment needed to succeed against a highly motivated, well trained and heavily entrenched enemy.

    The US Army is not (yet) at that level of decrepitude. When the Army Reserves and National Guard deploy, it is after working up for several months to achieve a high level of competence, it isn’t literally on a few days’ notice. Indeed, that is how I knew that we were going to war with Iraq in March of 2003 four months in advance… I saw the reservists being called up in November 2012, and added up the numbers. Three months to work up. One month to move into position. Equals war in March 2003. Everything else regarding inspections etc. was kabuki. The US has that luxury because it is on the other side of wide moats and thus nothing is so urgent that the reserves must be called up on literally moments’ notice. The result is that from a tactical point of view, the U.S. military is currently unsurpassed. Not as good as before being ground down in Afghanistan and Iraq, but now that the concurrent rotations are over and the troops are getting their six-month training rotations again, things are getting back to normal.

    The problem is that tactics win battles, not war. I think Iraq and Afghanistan show the limits of that approach. Furthermore, the current Pentagon leadership doesn’t appear to understand the limitations of concentration on tactical superiority at the expense of logistical and strategical superiority, their current emphasis upon high tech super-weapons reminds me of Hitler’s obsession with high tech super-weapons at a time when the German armies most needed thousands of tanks to replenish their losses on the Eastern front. The U.S. Army and USMC lost a *lot* of equipment in Afghanistan and Iraq, and much of that equipment is irreplaceable because the US has lost the ability to manufacture it.

    The end result is that yes, American military superiority *is* waning, and will continue to wane because the declining US economy is losing the ability to field a large well equipped military and small numbers of high-tech super weapons will not substitute for that ability. I’ve seen the war game results where the Chinese throw thousands of fighter jets at Taiwan and at the forward-deployed U.S. carrier task group in the Sea of Japan. The Taiwan and U.S. aircraft run out of missiles and ammunition and the carrier task forces run out of SAM’s before the Chinese run out of J8’s and J10’s, and the end result is that the cream of the U.S. Navy ends up at the bottom of the sea. Past a certain point, quantity has its own quality. A small number of super-fighters may indeed be invulnerable to being shot down, but they don’t have infinite bullets, and once their carriers are sunk, they end up at the bottom of the sea too when they run out of fuel.

    In short, if the U.S. got into a shooting war with China, the U.S. *would* lose. But not because of lack of tactical superiority. But, rather, because of lack of logistical superiority. Luckily China is not interested in military conquest at the moment, instead falling back upon the traditional Chinese tactic of turning barbarians into vassal states via economic and political means (despite Putin’s aspirations to be the new Tsar, it is far more likely that Russia will become a Chinese vassal state by the end due to the limitations of the creaky Russian economy and Russia’s overall demographic collapse, Russia is becoming more and more dependent upon China rather than the other way around). But if the U.S. ends up stuck on its own side of a big moat… perhaps the world would be better for that, I don’t know.

  43. Formerly T-Bear

    A late entry. It might be of interest to read Paul Kennedy “The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500 to 2000 [1987 ©]” noting the similarities in evidence at the decline of each period of domination by the power as well as the level of technology used to assert that power. An older book that has not lost its relevance a quarter century later.

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