The Limits of U.S. Military Capability
Lessons from Vietnam and Iraq
Publication Year: 2010
Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press
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This is a very personal book, though not in style, substance, or approach. It is per-sonal in the sense that the subject is immediate for anyone who came of age in the United States during the turbulent 1960s. This book would probably not have been written, however, but for a fumbled toast in August 2006 in a poor Viet nam ese village in Quang Ngai province. There, the âAmerican Professor and his wifeâ ...
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Few who achieve popular renown for a phrase are quoted (and misquoted) as often as George Santayana, who observed over a century ago that âthose who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.â The âpresentâ for this bookâ and principal focusâ is the half- dozen years of US military involvement in Iraq that commenced with a US aerial attack on Baghdad in March 2003 and culminated in the pullback of US combat troops from Iraqi cities on June 30, ...
2 Leveraging the Adversaryâs Forces: The Wars in Vietnam and Iraq
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In irregular warfare, the United States is confounded by an abundant variety of military limitationsâinappropriate US doctrines and capabilities, deficient and counterproductive capabilities, offsetting adversary capabilities, andâperhapsâeventual exhaustion. These limitations are featured in this chapter, first, in a look back at US combat in Vietnam, and then in an examination of the sources, evolution, and challenges of the Iraq conflict. The chapter recognizes ...
3 Leveraging the Adversaryâs Support Base: States, Populations, and Societies
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Given the challenges of influencing adversary leaders and maintaining domestic support for a US war effort, US policymakers understandably look to increase their leverage by turning to various âthird partiesâ that provide active or passive support to the adversary. This chapter assesses US efforts to leverage (a) border states or outside powers that supported US adversaries in Vietnam and Iraq, (b) the populations that fed the Vietnamese and Iraqi insurgencies, and (c) ...
4 Leveraging the Adversaryâs Leaders: The Balance of Resolve and US Exhaustion
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In asymmetric war, a combatantâs weapons or doctrines offset the overwhelming advantages of a qualitatively or quantitatively superior force. In âasymmetric conflict,â a variety of factorsâ including military capabilities and psychological or political âintangiblesââ could permit a combatant to thrive under adversity. Its strength lies in knowing, then, that a materially stronger opponent will accept an unfavorable compromise or defeat when it appreciates the costs of persevering....
5 Leveraging Host Governments: The Challenges of Institution-Building
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US officials knew that their success in Vietnam and Iraq ultimately hinged on the host government taking control of the conflict. They also knew that transferring âownershipâ was impossible absent security gains and stronger host- government institutions. Yet these officials came to recognize that by taking the lead in both conflicts, the United States gave host- government leaders reason to âshirk,â that is, to allow the United States to carry the security burden, to ...
6 Conclusions: Vietnam and Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Future
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One lesson from the Vietnam and Iraq Wars outshines all the others: any US victory in âasymmetric conflictâ is likely incomplete and may always depend on conditions that the United States cannot manipulate. With its finite capabilities and resolve, the United States is seriously challenged when its goals include winning in combat and maintaining and extending support for US policies at home and abroad. The challenges increase enormously when US goals ...
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Page Count: 312
Publication Year: 2010