The Key Reason Why the USA Keeps Losing Wars

In a word, dishonesty. That’s the key reason why America keeps losing its wars of choice, whether in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, or elsewhere.

Dishonesty is nothing new, of course. Recall the lessons from the Pentagon Papers in the Vietnam War. U.S. leaders knew the war was lost, yet they lied to the American people about seeing lights at the end of tunnels. Recall the Iraq war and the “fixing” of intelligence to justify the invasion. Today the newspeak for Afghanistan is “corners,” as in we’ve turned yet another corner toward victory in that 16-year conflict, according to military testimony before Congress this week.

About those “corners,” here’s a concise summary from FP: Foreign Policy:

Afghanistan turning a corner. Again.Or still? After 16 years of war, the United States and its Afghan partners “have turned the corner,” and Kabul’s battered forces are “on a path to a win,” the top US general there told reporters on Tuesday.

But FP’s Paul McLeary notes that we’ve heard this before. American generals have been seeing victory on the horizon since at least 2007, and “Gen. John Nicholson is at least the eighth top commander in the last decade to forecast a pathway to victory in a war that has dragged on nearly all century, and his optimistic forecasts contrast starkly with deteriorating Afghan government control and a resurgent Taliban.”

The military and our leaders can’t even level with us on the number of troops deployed in Syria. Consider this report today, courtesy of FP: Foreign Policy:

The Pentagon is good at a great many things, but they can do absolutely magical things with troop numbers. The U.S. Central Command announced this week that it was pulling 400 Marines out of Syria, where they had been providing artillery support for the Syrian Democratic Forces battling ISIS.

The number is remarkable given that the military continues to insist there are only 503 US troops in Syria overall. And somehow, that 503 number has managed to remain exactly the same even after the Marines left. Recently, a general running US special operations in Iraq and Syria said there were 4,000 US troops in Syria. He quickly backtracked, saying the number was around 500 and holding steady, despite all actual physical evidence to the contrary.

Do we have 500 troops in Syria, or 2000, or 4000? Who are our generals trying to fool? Our rivals and enemies know how many troops we have in their regions and countries. Why can’t the American people have a full and honest accounting of what “our” troops are up to in places like Syria?

Whether from the Executive branch or from the military, the dishonesty keeps coming. This is exactly why we fail.

Why are we so persistent in our folly? For several reasons. Some people come to believe their own lies, their own happy talk. Careerism plays a role; so does politics. Money is a big concern, since there’s so much of it to be made in war. Some people even think it’s OK to lie if it’s for the “right” reason, i.e. better to project an image of dumb strength than one of pacific wisdom. America must never appear “weak”! For some, that means never quitting a war, no matter how foolish. Better to lie about “progress” than to admit problems that should lead to dramatic change.

Deception is at the heart of war, but we’re supposed to be deceiving the enemy, not ourselves. We’ve allowed public relations – driven by dishonesty – to rule our thinking and reporting on war. But, to paraphrase a saying of Richard Feynman with respect to the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster,

To wage a successful war, reality must take precedence over public relations, for the war gods cannot be fooled.

And to borrow from the penultimate sentence of his report (using the Pentagon in place of NASA): The Pentagon “owes it to the citizens from whom it asks support to be frank, honest, and informative, so that these citizens can make the wisest decisions for the use of their limited resources.”

Imagine if our leaders were frank, honest, and informative about our wars and their costs? But they prefer dishonesty instead – and that is why they (and we) fail.

William J. Astore is a retired lieutenant colonel (USAF). He taught history for fifteen years at military and civilian schools and blogs at Bracing Views. He can be reached at wastore@pct.edu. Reprinted from Bracing Views with the author’s permission.

  • surrealistodefierros

    We have turned enough corners to reflect a polyhedron. Don’t be surprised when it takes on the appearance of a circle.

    • BrotherJonah

      Stellated Icosohedron. Pointedly. Twenty points in fact. I learned that in Tech School not from the Air Farts overloads but because my Sister The Sergeant sent me a kit to make one so I made it in spare time between dorm guard duty. I haven’t yet read the next several comments. I’m sure they’ll at least once mention that the Financial/Merchant/Manufacturing segments make a shoat-lid of money sellin’ the Army the tools of the trade. There are toys far beyond the GI Joe and his brother-in-law Ken and the kind of cap pistols that would get a kid shot down by cops nowadays. Teach the young to want to make their wars down the line. They’ve got an Erf (can you see I’m almost avoiding definition of character lawsuits?) machine gun. Like the ones used in WW1 with water cooling and belt fed ammunition. And a snipern Erf rifle. They make money selling the real thing, the toy things, dead people everywhere and of course they sell the next series of wars to the youngest generation.

      Bang bang, bang bang, my baby shot me down…

      And to think they used to say the old fashioned cap guns and Cowboys and Indians outfits were brainwashing the rug rats to support war and other killing… how absurd, right?

      And the same people are the only ones who make money from the war on all levels. All the rest of us have to pay for it or else. It’s just a coincidence of course.

  • jetme

    America has little reason to win wars. We fight them to push our weight around (which we can effectively do even when we eventually lose), to make arms contractors filthy rich, to destroy countries who in an organized for might prevent us from doing what we want to (if they are nothing but rubble we can do pretty much what we want), and to intimidate others (they don’t want to oppose us even if they might eventually win).

    Up till now our physical isolation from most warring countries has kept us from suffering no losses on our homeland but that may change.

    did you ever wonder why with all the problems and lawlessness Mexico has, we pretty much leave them alone (aside from wanting to build a wall)? Because military action in Mexico would spill over into our homeland. There would be war dead at home. And we can’t have that. So Mexico gets very special treatment.

  • David Moore

    I’m a Viet Vet and about 10 years was translating for the Pentagon. One report was an analysis on why the “German Army” for over 100 years consistently created 50 percent more casualties–no matter who the adversary was–in attacking and defending. For one thing, hazing was stopped in officer training and schooling. This is because their officers issued a mission order, leaving how to proceed up to the officer tasked. We use order tactics, with higher officers meddling all the time. I can give many examples a colonel told a captain what to do against the latter’s warnings, resulting in many Americans killed unnecessarily. Another criminal example is how generals become involved in weapons. Rhodesia developed great MRAPs in the 70s, yet generals insisted on up-armoring HumVees, which contributed to 100 of needless deaths and amputations. Amazing how an E-4’s life and limbs are worthless to a general who receives a payoff.

  • polistra24

    We keep losing them because we keep starting them. That’s all.

  • E_Conegliano

    Losing wars keeps enough fear afoot for foreign nations to welcome or tolerate American bases, weapons and NGOs in their countries’ land, waters, airspace or governments.

    Without these losing wars, the American empire, plutocracy and financial markets and would shrink.

  • vietvet1968

    Congress, the WH, the Pentagon and Corporate contractors are corrupt while 99% of the American people remain ignorant or just plain don’t give a damn as long as they have Wal-Mart, cellphones, sports and TV to entertain them

  • cuyana

    We keep losing wars — in a word — because of IGNORANCE, that is, the collective ignorance of the American citizen — in percentages uncomfortably large — who do NOT understand nor appreciate our FOUNDING American values, and, who, in turn, do NOT elect representation which promotes and protects the same.

    Until this ignorance is remedied — to some meaningful extent; I am not concerned particularly with the “tipping point” — our corrupt and immoral USA involvement in war, in international relationships, in national internal matters and everything else … will remain corrupt and immoral.

    Our “experiment in democracy [Constitutional Republic]” REQUIRES an educated electorate; where such has been recognized since our inception. Unfortunately, what we have now — again, in percentages uncomfortably large — are way too many young citizens, currently in our govt school systems — and way too many older citizens, already distracted — which continue to be brainwashed by the underlying and stifling anti-American [read: anti-freedom] leftist-globalist agenda; where this evil agenda is 180-degrees at cross-purposes to our Founding American values.

    The “job” is up to us: the freeborn freedom-loving American citizens. Unless we change our voting habits — that is, get out of our collective stupor and change our voting DEMANDS — the self-serving corrupt politicians will continue to DUPE the brainwashed American public; by which the will get into high public office [with their grubby hands on untold TRILLIONS of our tax dollars] and continue to wreck their self-serving havoc. … whether such havoc is made nationally or internationally.

    This should be clear to all reasonable people: the motivation of the freeborn citizen, who has a “free and fair” govt which supports their God-given rights, for each and every one of them, is interested only [primarily?] in growing his/her family and building ones community; whereas, the elected politician — of the variant which WE chose to elect — is motivated primarily by self-serving craven desires … to build their fiefdoms and to get reelected.

    Electing continually, these immoral and corrupt politicians MUST stop if we are to regain our Constitutional Republic; where, the achievement of this goal — which remains in OUR hands, by virtue of the FACT that We The People do maintain our voting rights — is TOTALLY up to us. Which will it be? Will we remain CITIZENS … or transition to being SUBJECTS?

  • antiwar7

    The top people in charge don’t want to “win”. They want to control, and to destroy whatever they can’t control. The poor dupes below them aren’t aware.