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Thread: Limited Wars Are Forever Wars

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    Limited Wars Are Forever Wars

    Limited Wars Are Forever Wars

    At least that is the way the US fights them. If you have limited goals, achieve them, and leave there is no problem. In Iraq and Afghanistan the US did achieve its initial goals; then shifted to nation-building and failure.

    Both terms are important to understanding the role of the U.S. military in the world, argues the military historian Donald Stoker in his new book, Why America Loses Wars: Limited War and U.S. Strategy From the Korean War to the Present. Stoker’s core argument is that while limited wars appeal to the public and to strategists, the idea is both deceptive and destructive. Limited war, he argues, is a largely meaningless term that’s used in order to gloss over changing political aims that are never accounted for; the vagueness of the definition and goals allows conflicts to continue indefinitely, with no chance to win the peace without a coherent plan of action.

    The book makes a clear and objective argument that post-Korea conflicts involving the United States show that limited war is at best a misnomer and at worst a path into quagmires that consume American lives and treasure while unleashing destruction on the countries they’re fought in.


    As Stoker explains, limited wars, rather than limiting conflict, create the conditions in which the United States is caught in a never-ending cycle of forever wars. That makes their actual outcomes the polar opposite of what limited war is supposed to achieve for U.S. interests.


    “If you don’t know what you want,” Stoker asks rhetorically near the end of the book, “how do you make a peace that will help you get it?”


    Stoker shows that, in practice, the illusion of limited war presents short-term gain but long-term pain as the strategic inertia created by locking into an inflexible view of limited goals leads to forever war, where the political objective of the conflict is ill-defined, unlimited, or too fluid to pin down.


    “Part of the problem is that we don’t know what we want,” Stoker told Foreign Policy in early June. “If there is a limited aim, then that aim is what we want, what we’re doing it for.”
    Molon labe
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    The ideological element in US behavior utterly escapes most "anti-war" folks. There is a fine line between cynicism and simply being unaware. Until they understand the role ideas play in foreign policy they are wasting their time. The OP makes the excellent point that this ideological element has become confused and probably too broad to make good strategic decisions but acknowledging it's part of what drives US policy is where we need to start.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mister D View Post
    The ideological element in US behavior utterly escapes most "anti-war" folks. There is a fine line between cynicism and simply being unaware. Until they understand the role ideas play in foreign policy they are wasting their time. The OP makes the excellent point that this ideological element has become confused and probably too broad to make good strategic decisions but acknowledging it's part of what drives US policy is where we need to start.
    Good points.
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    Wars should be fought for the total domination of the enemy or not at all.
    Gentlemen and ladies, I hate inflation, I hate taxes, and I hate Communism. Do something about it.” Ronald Reagan's instructions to his first assembled Cabinet.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Cletus View Post
    Wars should be fought for the total domination of the enemy or not at all.
    Often we don't have the objective of total domination. Our problem is not limited wars, it is the fetish to spread Jeffersonian democracy after we achieve our limited goals.

    A great example. Grenada. We went in to free our college students. Did it and left.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Peter1469 View Post
    Often we don't have the objective of total domination.
    Then we shouldn't go to war. If we want to eliminate a specific threat or achieve some short term goal, that should be done with specific targeted strikes.

    A great example. Grenada. We went in to free our college students. Did it and left.
    Grenada wasn't a war. It was a rescue mission.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cletus View Post
    Then we shouldn't go to war. If we want to eliminate a specific threat or achieve some short term goal, that should be done with specific targeted strikes.



    Grenada wasn't a war. It was a rescue mission.
    We often use military force for purposes other than a "war."
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    Quote Originally Posted by Peter1469 View Post
    We often use military force for purposes other than a "war."
    Of course we do, but that is not the topic of this discussion.

    If we commit forces to an actual war, that is to say, a large scale, sustained combat operation operation against a foreign power, our only objective should be the complete and total domination of the enemy. We should fight like Sherman and do whatever is necessary to destroy not only their ability to fight, but their will to do so. It should either be total war or no war. This doesn't mean we could not use military force to achieve specific short term goals (Your example of Grenada comes to mind), but those are not wars. We have been playing this "limited war" game for so long, we have forgotten what war really is and how to fight them.
    Gentlemen and ladies, I hate inflation, I hate taxes, and I hate Communism. Do something about it.” Ronald Reagan's instructions to his first assembled Cabinet.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Cletus View Post
    Of course we do, but that is not the topic of this discussion.

    If we commit forces to an actual war, that is to say, a large scale, sustained combat operation operation against a foreign power, our only objective should be the complete and total domination of the enemy. We should fight like Sherman and do whatever is necessary to destroy not only their ability to fight, but their will to do so. It should either be total war or no war. This doesn't mean we could not use military force to achieve specific short term goals (Your example of Grenada comes to mind), but those are not wars. We have been playing this "limited war" game for so long, we have forgotten what war really is and how to fight them.
    Agreed.

    I see not conflict between that and what I said.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Peter1469 View Post
    Limited Wars Are Forever Wars

    At least that is the way the US fights them. If you have limited goals, achieve them, and leave there is no problem. In Iraq and Afghanistan the US did achieve its initial goals; then shifted to nation-building and failure.
    I honestly believe that we enter into war too readily. Although I completely get Afghanistan 2 had it been handled as you suggest. Getting our troops out of a war zone has become a career long event!

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