In sum, the classical rules of existential conflict rarely apply in the nuclear age, which explains why so often war becomes chronic and stalemated. Of course, in the future there may well be aberrations like Grenada or Panama or even Kosovo, or existential wars such as we’d see if North Korea launched a nuclear war or mounted a conventional invasion of South Korea — such conflicts would resolve fairly quickly one way or another. But the idea that the United States can customarily win a war quickly without using its full power or marshalling public support remains difficult. And it’s very rare that the U.S. faces existential threats prompting the full use of U.S. military superiority and earning the determination of an aggrieved public to purse unconditional surrender at any cost.

A final irony?

Our enemies know these paradoxes as well as we do. By design, they seek to involve the United States in conflict on their terms. September 11 aside, they seek to avoid posing a perceived existential threat that might provoke an infuriated American public, fueled with the military power to finish any war they enter.