America no longer knows how to win wars, but it continues to start them

How can we explain this yawning gap between intention and outcomes? Fundamentally, a pronounced infatuation with armed might has led senior civilian officials, regardless of party, and senior military leaders, regardless of service, to misunderstand and misapply the military instrument. Force is good for some things, preeminently for defending what is already yours. Not content to defend, however, the United States in recent decades has sought to use force to extend its influence, control and values.

In a world divided between haves and have-nots, between postmodern and pre-modern, and between those for whom God is dead and those for whom God remains omnipresent, expecting coercion to produce reconciliation, acceptance or submission represents the height of folly. So force employed by the United States in faraway places serves mostly to inflame further resistance, a statement that is true whether we’re talking about putting “boots on the ground” or raining down Hellfire missiles from the heavens.

What then is to be done? That which Washington is least capable of undertaking: Those charged with formulating policy must think anew. For starters, that means lowering expectations regarding the political effectiveness of war, which is demonstrably limited.