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How to Lose a War: A Primer

[by Mark Safranski a.k.a. “zen“]

Since Pakistan is now attempting to get its victory over the United States in Afghanistan formally ratified, now seemed to be a good time to reflect on the performance of American statesmen, politicians and senior generals.

It has occurred to me that we have many books and papers outlining how to win wars. Certainly the great classics of The Art of War, The History of the Peloponnesian War and On War are the foremost examples, but there are also other useful classics in the strategic canon, whole libraries of military histories, memoirs of great commanders and an infinite number of PDFs and powerpoint briefs from think tanks and consultants. Strangely, none of these have helped us much. Perhaps it is because before running this war so few of this generation’s “deciders” read them en route to their law degrees and MBAs

We should engage in some counterintuitive thinking:  for our next war, instead of trying to win, let’s try to openly seek defeat. At a minimum, we will be no worse off with that policy than we are now and if we happen to fail, we will actually be moving closer to victory.


While one of these principles may not be sufficient cause for losing an armed conflict, following all of them is the surest road to defeat.

1. War is the Continuation of Domestic Politics:

The point of politics is to acquire, hold and enjoy using power. When we lose sight of this fact due to romantic notions of “national interest” or “duty” and spend too much attention prosecuting a war against foreign armies then our real enemies – the political opposition – can take advantage. What good is overseeing a global victory over an epochal tyranny if the result is you get immediately voted out of office like some hapless loser? While on the surface, it might seem wise during a war to staff a government with able statesmen, experienced generals, capable diplomats and other experts, the truth is that if you do so you will have very few plum jobs left with which to reward the cronies, ideologues, campaign consultants, activists, wealthy grafters and partisan hacks who got you into power in the first place. Without their continued support, you will not be long for political office.

The fact is that the nation can survive many lost wars far longer than your career will survive lost elections.  Once you view the war solely through the prism of how any action might impact your fortune in domestic politics, you will have a marvelous clarity that the war is the best pretext upon which to expand your power at the expense of the opposition and the people.

2. Policy is the True Fog of War:

Having a clearly defined, coherently articulated policy based upon vital interests and empirical facts that sets a few realistic objectives in a way that makes possible shared understanding and broad political support is no way to go about losing wars.

Keeping in mind #1, the point of war policy is to generate a set of politically compelling slogans that remain ill-defined enough to serve as an umbrella  under which many contradictory and competing agendas can cohabit until some of them can be opportunistically realized. These agendas may not be realistic – in fact, it is easier to put them forward as attractive fantasies for the public if your administration is unburdened with officials with genuine expertise in warfare, economics, foreign cultures, history and other inconvenient information that the media and the political opposition will only be too happy to seize upon. The more abstractly and arcanely expressed the policy the harder it is for critics to demolish and the  better it is for losing wars. “Unconditional surrender” for example, is bad because it is too concrete and easily evaluated – either an enemy is totally defeated and in your power or he is not. “Make the world safe for Democracy” by contrast,  is better as it is more ill-defined and subjective, permitting a larger range of politically tolerable bad outcomes.  “Responsibility to Protect” and “War on Terror” are even more abstract, being essentially unlimited, open-ended, process goals that do not have any point of “victory” whatsoever and can thus not only potentially bring about losing wars but very long ones.

3.  Strategy is a Constraint to be Avoided:

Strategy is about lining up Ends-Ways-Means to construct a theory of victory. While that might give us hope of prevailing over an enemy in an armed conflict, forging a strategy – any strategy -comes with a severe cost: namely the discipline of the government adhering to a strategy requires choices be made about the use of limited resources rather than keeping “all options open” to react  to transient and trivial political concerns on a moment’s notice. Strategy for the nation equates with diminished political flexibility and mobility for the politician.

In other words, having a strategy might require elected officials expend their precious political capital in order to pursue it without getting anything in return that might expand their powers or further their personal careers.  Doing strategy would mean prioritizing winning the war over other possible objectives and putting key decision-makers in the uncomfortable position of having to say “No” or “Not now” to powerful and influential people or factions. Worse, having a strategy also implies that the results can be quantified and evaluated for success, costs, failure and ultimately, personal accountability for leaders.

Obviously locking ourselves into a strategy is something to be avoided if we wish to stay in power, so “strategy” is only invoked rhetorically to mean a wide and confusing array of other non-strategy things – tactics, goals, operational art, planning,  public relations, nation-building,  diplomacy, policy, routine procedures, withdrawal dates, theories, fantastical pipe dreams and so on.  When “strategy” means anything and everything it ultimately means nothing.

4. All Lost Wars are based on Self-Deception: 

It is not enough to avoid strategy, there must also be a collective political determination to avoid reality enforced from the inception until the bitter end.

Wars have real and physically destructive consequences for the people who fight them, but unless you are engaged in a desperate struggle to repel a foreign invader, chances are the battlefield is far away from your home territory. This gives political leaders wiggle room to manipulate perceptions – most importantly their own – to political advantage by controlling information about the war and shaping the ideological boundaries of acceptable public discourse. This will eventually lead to a vicious cycle of bad decisions as misinformation and deceit corrupts the OODA Loop, but political leaders will maintain their political advantage over their critics, at least until the day of reckoning arrives.

Here we must begin with an insistence of a position of firmly held ignorance regarding the prospective enemy, their military capabilities, economic resources, the geographic characteristics, their cultural attitudes toward conflict and their history as a people. Should such information become widely known, it might result in popular skepticism about the wisdom of the entire enterprise, the difficulties that might be encountered and the prospects for success. If you wish to lose a war ignominiously, the less you know the better.

Likewise, once war has begun, the initial jingoistic overconfidence that greeted the war will quickly fade unless actively sustained by preventing an honest analysis of  events and providing a steady stream of rationalizations for the gullible public. It would be a good idea to ban discussion that accurately characterizes the form of warfare  or the nature of the enemy, though these things alone will not be sufficient. The intelligence process itself should be corrupted when possible to provide the “right” answers and censored or circumvented when it is not; while public assessments should use irrelevant metrics divorced from their  context so that they will not have to be gamed later.  Critics, truth-tellers, whistleblowers and those not towing the party-line should be retired, fired, demonized and punished.

5. Isolate the War and those Fighting it from the People: 

A war forgotten by the folks at home is a war that is much easier to quietly lose.

At the outset of the war, ask no sacrifice of the people because that will give them too much of a stake in a victorious outcome and raise expectations about your own leadership. Neither raise their taxes (at least not for the war at any rate) nor conscript their sons. Do not even issue a national call to the colors for volunteers, instead encourage people to be at ease and go about their business. Supplement your small regular army that increasingly feels itself a caste apart with highly paid mercenaries and foreign paramilitaries while neglecting the needs of your own troops. Speaking of the troops, always lavish the soldiers with superficial public pieties about service, sacrifice and heroism, but cynically break faith when it comes to your obligations to look after their interests.

6.  Complexity= Opacity and Micromanagement= Power

Most things in war are simple, but they are not easy. By deliberately making everything incredibly complicated, war can also become impossible too

While adding superfluous complexity does not help win wars, it does offer a number of immediate benefits for the political class. First, in real life the consequence of increasing complexity in any governmental endeavor (not just war) is that you will have more jobs and contracts to hand out to followers as bureaucracy and regulations require new inspectors, secretaries, managers, clerks, lawyers, advisers and in a military context, also new commands, staff officers, promotions, headquarters, increased budgets and so on. Chances are, most of these new jobs will continue on, if not forever, for a very long time.

Secondly the sheer complexity and number of offices, bureaus, agencies, departments, teams, commands, commissions and committees offer excellent “cover” for carrying out unpopular or illegal actions “under the radar” and with diffusion of responsibility, should these antics come to light.  If everyone is in charge, then no one is.  So if your military, intelligence agencies, diplomats, cultural advisers, aid and development people and senior administration officials talk and behave as if they are all hailing from different planets, you are well on your way to losing the war.

Third, the control of people at the top is reinforced by excessive complexity because the initiative of lower levels is strangled by micromanagement. If every idea from the field ( or even basic actions) requires two, three or more levels of command approval with consultation with lawyers at each step the answer is always going to be “No” or a very delayed “Yes” long past the point of being useful. This, plus making examples of those who exercise initiative and act without orders, teaches everyone in the system to eschew risk, value passivity, play it safe and wait for higher-ups to spoon-feed them instructions. With modern, networked online communications every colonel, brigadier to three-star can play company commander while the President of the United States can ride virtual shotgun on SEAL team raids.

7.  Enormous Tail, Tiny Tooth: the Worse the ROI the Better

When you regularly use hundred million or billion dollar platforms to kill illiterate tribesmen with AK-47s and RPGs and build food courts in the Hindu Kush, something is eventually going to give.

Generally, a reasonably well governed country at war can afford to employ either a massive military force for a short campaign or a small, “light footprint“, force for the long haul. What few nations in history can afford, unless it is Persia under Xerxes, is to field a massive force disproportionately composed of rear echelon support troops and what used to be called “camp followers” and “auxiliaries” for years on end. There are two ways this can bring you to defeat.

First, obviously, fielding an enormous army for too long can lead to bankruptcy as costs of the war exceed tax revenues and the state begins to rely on various forms of credit, foreign bankers and debasing the currency to carry on. This does not guarantee an economic collapse or hyperinflation as war can also greatly stimulate production and other variables are always in play, but the risk of dire negative economic effects is significantly increased.

The second issue is that if you are moving your armed host into a desperately poor region to wage war against an impoverished enemy, the passage and encampment of your own military introduces the economic surplus to the local economy the enemy needs to afford to wage war. You are like a red hot iron in a bucket of ice water. Through bribery, extortion and theft the enemy will siphon from you money, arms and contraband and eventually, corrupt your own officials and officers.

 8. Cultivate Hatred and Contempt:

If you wish to lose a war, be hated but not feared.

While most principles of losing a war  are political, strategic or operational in nature and therefore the province of incompetent politicians and generals, cultivating contempt and hatred in all observers can be done at anytime by anyone regardless of rank, experience or status. Technology has revolutionized this sphere of losing warfare: where once undermining an entire war effort could only be done by an arrogant national blowhard, today any grinning idiot on a battlefield with a smart phone is only a tweet away from an international media firestorm.

It is import in cultivating hatred to remember that mere violence, an inevitable part of all wars, is not sufficient. One can respect and admire an honorable but fierce opponent. Conveying a bullying attitude of casual cruelty to all onlookers by mistreating prisoners and civilians, especially if you humiliate and abuse them is a surefire goad to hatred while also alienating allies and neutrals, especially when doing so contradicts the nation’s deeply held values.  Hatred can also be stirred in less dramatic ways, from posing with Nazi flags to widespread ignorance of and expressions of disdain for local customs and mores. Disrespect has legs.

Contempt by contrast, is earned more by exhibiting moral weakness and truckling appeasement of the enemy and his sympathizers. For example, have your own PA and diplomatic organs in speaking to the media, repeat enemy propaganda against your own soldiers and abuse the military justice system to prosecute soldiers for splitsecond combat decisions in order to appease these critics. Loudly trumpet the “culturally appropriate meals” to the guys you are going to waterboard and appoint enemy sympathizers as “cultural advisers” and “liaisons” to government security and law enforcement agencies. Do nothing as your own heavily infiltrated host nation “ally” repeatedly frags your soldiers.

9. Protect that Which is Most Unimportant:

Organizations signal what they really value not by what they say, but what they spend time and money on.

Make sure that as the war is steadily being lost that top brass and their civilian overseers frantically emphasize politicized trivialities and institutional martinet nonsense. Reflector belt mania, giving everyone and their brother breathalyzer tests, cultural sensitivity training, counterproductive regs for MEDEVAC helicopters, promoting the gender equality of foreign societies and gender-neutrality of our own should bump out boring, old training exercises for future combat deployment in terms of priority. Remember, the military is not really there to win wars – it is a captive social engineering project for things the wackier members of Congress wish they could impose on their constituents were it not for those damned free elections.

10. Level the Playing Field: Paralyze Your Own Tactical Advantages.

While a war is often lost by having a bad strategy or no strategy at all, the power of crapping away your tactical advantages to no purpose ought not be underestimated. There are thousands of ways to do this but if you are cutting the enemy repeated breaks you can’t go wrong.

First and foremost, you wish to avoid bringing all of your combat power to bear on the enemy’s weakest point in a combined arms assault because he very well may break and then where the hell will you be? You can hardly lose a war if the enemy dies or surrenders first.

Treat your combat arms, services and host nation military as separate, autonomous and almost unrelated units, each with their own objectives and set of ROE guidance more restrictive than required by the Laws of War (while mixing in allied and host nation forces of varying levels of capability and different ROE). Make it difficult for fire support, armor and air to work with your infantry commanders dealing with unforseen circumstances, who you should also spread thin over remote operational areas the size of, say, Iowa to maximize their vulnerability. If a battalion is needed, send a company. If a company is called for, send a squad. Allow the enemy to have safe havens in adjacent countries whose military power is dwarfed by your own by many orders of magnitude. Make sure that your intelligence and public diplomacy services are shorthanded on personnel  fluent in the languages used by the enemy, whom you allow to practice perfidy without punishment.

Remember, there are no guarantees in war. No matter how badly you screw up, the enemy might still be more poorly led and less adaptive than are you. That said, if you practice these ten principles you can become a master of the art of defeat.

49 Responses to “How to Lose a War: A Primer”

  1. Mr. X Says:

    All of the above (ok most of it) would apply to Civil War 2.0 if our elites are so inclined. Fortunately I think they’re made of vastly wimpier stuff than their forebears on both sides of the Mason Dixon in the 1850s and hence, maybe we can just settle for a nice big standdown and peaceful change ala 1989. But they’re darn good at cultivating the hatred part or trying their best to have the media push it for them. Ditto for paper pusher tail to tooth ratio.

    Doz vidanya Afghan

    Going out just like our predecessors…maybe we can time it for February 15, 2014 for the 26th anniversary? 

  2. Marshall Says:

    Well, that neatly catalogues the contemporary moment. Nicely done.
    A question for the readership: are some of these principles more likely to specifically inflict harm on the chances of victory of modern democracies than other forms of governance? (#5 perhaps?) I ask because Mark brings in elections and retaining power in a few places. I’m inclined to think that the general principles outlined here apply to all, though some systems of governance or specific nations might be less susceptible to some elements (who else besides the US can even conceive of #7 today?).
    Mark, have you read Strauss and Ober’s _The Anatomy of Error: Ancient Military Disasters and their Lessons for Modern Strategists_? It’s out-of-print, but you can find used copies pretty easily. It’s all about losing wars. They use their case studies to show the policy-strategy gaps, but also spend time on knowledge, self- and assumptions about the enemy. It’s a quick read, and the historically knowledgable will have some quibbles here and there (they aren’t aiming for nuance), but it is a nice way into strategic discussions.
    They cover, though not nearly as systematically, many of your topics and how they played out among the Greek, Persian, and Roman wars.
    Professionaly, I deal with #8 on a regular basis. Oh, does this matter! Despite being “soft”, disrespect/respect matters immensely for success in any endeavor. There are some basic principles of human behavior around respect, contempt, accountability, and humiliation that can be articulated and then enforced in organizations to improve your chances of winning. When organizations fail to recognize that this is even possible, they fall into relationships that poison the very atmosphere around them.

  3. Kumail Says:

    I loved this.

    But I think you’re oversimplifying Pakistan, both in terms of its role and the options the US has. Firstly, contrary to some assumptions, experts and trends indicate Pakistan does not want to see a return of the Taliban in Kabul. This is understandable given that Pakistan now has a serious Taliban threat on its side of the border that will only worsen if the Taliban establish another government in Afghanistan.

    There is no evidence that Pakistan provided direct support to anti-coalition forces in Afghanistan. Pakistan can be accused of being indifferent to groups operating against the international mission in its territory but that is more likely a consequence of Pakistan’s inability and unwillingness to go through the trouble for what she (correctly) perceives to be a temporary alliance. 

    The US provided Pakistan with approx. 15 billion USD in economic and military aid in exchange for its support in the war. The US/NATO forces in contrast burned up more than 400 billion USD operating in the same demographic and geographical terrain yet failed to achieve the same objectives they expect of Pakistan. Militants striking Afghan and international forces took refuge in Pakistani territory but militants striking Pakistani forces have also increasingly taken refuge in Afghan territory (and Pakistan has no drones). 

    Point being, I don’t think expecting Pakistan to tear itself apart (more than it already has) for 15 billion USD represents is sound strategic judgement. I don’t think seeing Pakistan as an enemy is strategically advisable either. The US is militarily superior by many magnitudes but that does not mean it can afford another war with Pakistan (a country with 200 million people, a capable army, powerful allies, a lot of people who hate America and nuclear weapons). Moreover, attacking Pakistan would mean saying goodbye to any hopes of eliminating Islamic militancy in the region and beyond. 

    I agree with all the strategic mistakes you mention, except for Pakistan. The US should’ve better understood Pakistani thinking and grounding realities instead of assuming all strategic relationships operate in a ‘with us or against us’ dichotomy.

  4. prbeckman Says:

    As I mentioned in my Tweet this is a very thought-provoking post. I’ve been thinking about it all day especially when I went out for a meditative browse at my favorite used book store. (#bibliomaniathegentlemadness indeed)  But here’s the thing:  what if it is not possible for us to run a war significantly better? We could write a post like this for every war we’ve ever fought, especially the victories, where winning has a way of obscuring the deep flaws in policy- & strategy-making. We can all imagine that things CAN be done better, but what if they WON’T be?

  5. David Woodward Says:

    Interesting article, but a bit off from what evidence shows, IMHO, as to why the war rolls on. It was done so to make mercenary corporations rich. Look at it from that point of view and you can see why it was fought the way it was.

  6. zen Says:

    Greetings Gents,
    Mr. X – I agree that a lot of today’s elite are much softer than their 19th C. forbears, which is probably a product of frontier life and rule of law resting very lightly on a foundation of custom. Even Lincoln had a reputation as a successful streetfighter and wrestler while men like Andrew Jackson and Thomas Hart Benton simply killed the men who insulted them ( they nearly killed each other before becoming close allies). 
    Marshall – much thanks and I agree with your assessment that this can be generalized to non-democratic regimes but with local variance ( a member of the politburo falling from power in the USSR did not look like a caudillo falling from power in Latin America, or for the same reasons). I have not heard of Anatomy of Error – sounds great BTW – but I enjoyed Tuchman’s The March of Folly and Thinking in Time by Neustadt & May. Regarding #8, a while back, if I recall correctly, Charles did an excellent post on “dignity” and what that term actually meant (unless I am totally misremembering – Charles, does this sound familiar?)
    Kumail – Glad that you enjoyed the post. Pakistan and the United States are much like a couple in a bad marriage with poor communication and much resentment that nevertheless steadfastly refuse to seek a divorce. My point is not that Pakistan’s leaders should have won the war for America – that’s what American leaders should have been doing, Pakistan’s rulers should be expected to pursue Pakistani interests – or that the alternative is then for the US to now declare war on Pakistan. Rather, American leaders failed to frame the strategic problem correctly from the inception in order to seek a real victory in 2001-2002 which is why sanctuaries existed and then were subsequently tolerated (sort of). The war should have been long over and resolved in a regional settlement by now. Instead when the US leaves in 2014, the Karzai regime will rapidly collapse and Afghanistan will revert to warlordism with a much larger number of Iranian, Indian and Russian proxies competing with the ISI supported Taliban and Haqqanis than pre-2001
    prbeckman – You have a couple of important points there. For the first, I would say that time, scale of objectives and complexity are frequently detrimental to success. Compare the rapid German campaign in the West in 1940 with Operation Barbarossa, Gulf War I vs. Iraq War, Japan’s lightning expansion into SEA vs. it’s debacle of a war in China or attacking the USA. “Biting off more than you can chew” and/or “Now what?” wars I think are inevitably going to go poorly compared to decisive use of force for very limited objectives. Secondly, you are right that success often but not always excuses errors but failure is often “baked into the cake” occasionally rescued by overwhelming advantages held by one side or a stroke of luck (the Tsarina dies scenario)

  7. Charles Cameron Says:

    I suspect the post on dignity that you’re thinking of would be David Ronfeldt’s guest post on Dignity and Democracy.

  8. zen Says:

    Gracias Charles – that is it!

  9. Teri Says:

    Typo. First sentence. “…attempting to get it’s victory…” it’s ==> its
    Just so you know.

  10. Nathaniel T. Lauterbach Says:

    Hi Mark.  Interesting and throught provoking post.
    I’m nearly at the point of utterly dismissing concepts of victory and defeat above any but the most tactical level, since we Americans, and especially our elites, have no narrative or context with which to define those terms.  At the most tactical level, I think it might be possible to discern such concepts–sometimes.  But even then, our lenses are colored less by military considerations and more in terms of personal considerations–whether we and our buddies survive.
    Even things that are often assessed as “victories”, after all is said and done and time ticks on, really look like defeats (i.e. Desert Storm).  The reverse is also true (Korea).
    All this adds up to the fact that there is a perverse logic to actualy undertaking wars as you describe them.  Yes!  Aim for defeat.  Align your interests accordingly.  It’s more likely you’ll “win”.  Oh, sure–not win in any real “military” sense, but personal gain?  Absolutely.  And to the victors go the spoils!
    Recall the Ricky Gervais principle.  Today, there are the Losers, the Clueless, and the Sociopaths.  Which category do our elites fall into?

  11. Grurray Says:

    #5 has actually been bugging me lately.
    The BRAC closings demilitarizing the rust belt may have been committeesim’s triumph over porkbelly spending, but it was one of the contributing factors in the current red state vs blue state dichotomy. 
    Would we have all the problems with crime & violence in Chicago if a Fort Dearborn was revived or if Great Lakes was moved down to the South Shore?

  12. PeaceKee[er Says:

    We lost this war because our military–constrained by both political parties’ arbitrary policies–were unable or unwilling to implement all the merciless and morally horrific things necessary to win a large-scale conflict. Think Hiroshima, Nagasaki, the decimating of Dresden, the bombing of Berlin. 

    Was our purposeful restraint an attempt to not enrage and provoke the other side into smuggling A-bombs into JFK Airport and the LA harbor? Sort of an “I won’t poke you in the eye if you won’t poke me”?

    But was this effort wasted on such a callous and amoral enemy? Remember the videoed beheadings and other atrocities that occurred to our troops and Western civilians. If the enemy could have smuggled in nukes, does anyone think that our “moderated warfare” deterred them? Does anyone really think the enemy held themselves back in any small way? Or that, if we had been more callous, they would have been yet more callous than they were?

    No. We lost the PR War long ago when we started paying attention to media tripe, “international opinion,” and normal human sensitivities. 

    If diplomacy can avoid war, go to all possible diplomatic lengths short of appeasing and encouraging the despots and tyrants. Because once war begins, only beastly and inhuman tactics will truly win it. 

  13. T. Greer Says:

    Nathaniel’s comment reminds me of a passage from the Wuzi:
    “Now being victorious in battle is easy, but preserving the results of victory is difficult. Thus it is said that among the states under heaven that engage in warfare, those that garner five victories shall meet with disaster; those with four victories will be exhausted; those with three victories will become hegemons; those with one victory will become kings; and those with one victory will become emperors. For this reason those who have conquered the world through numerous victories are extremely rare, while those who thereby perish are many.”
    Wuzi, chapter 1 in The Seven Military Classics of Ancient China. trans Ralph Sawyer. (New York: Basic Books). 2007. p. 208

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  19. Marshall Says:

    Charles, thanks for pulling up that bit on dignity. Very good and relevant.

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  24. Gian Gentile Says:


    Loved it,

    Mr Spock with a goatee (you know, alternative universe).


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  27. Madhu Says:

    This is one of the most brilliant–and painful–examples of satire I have ever come across….
    Time to get a copy of This Town:
    Here it is, Washington in all its splendid, sordid glory: the pols, the pundits, the Porsches. Plus the hangers-on, the strivers, the image makers and the sellouts, all comprising what Mr. Leibovich calls “a political herd that never dies or gets older, only jowlier, richer and more heavily made-up.”  – NYT (review of  Mark Leibovich’s book)

  28. zen Says:

    In reverse order….
    Hi Doc Madhu,
    Much thanks Doc Madhu. Satire is not my usual style of writing but I am tired of lecturing. The book sounds all too accurate, will put it on my list.
    Hi Gian,
    Thank you very much colonel.  “If you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth. ” 
    Hi T. Greer,
    I think Polybius said that there were more men who knew how to win than knew how to make use of their victories but the Wu zi carried the point further.
    Hi PeaceKee[er,
    I think we can prosecute the war or a war with sufficient vigor and remain within the Laws of War. The truth is, whatever opinion one has of Nagasaki or Dresden in moral terms, they were a) perfectly legal by the standards of the time and b) reciprocal and proportionate due to Axis conduct that gratuitously and with premeditation engaged in war crimes and crimes against humanity on a scale then unmatched in history and this specifically includes the Japanese whose abominable and savage behavior is underrated only because the Nazis were more methodical in their crimes. We are no where near using our military power at the limits set by the Laws of War – if we were B-52s would have carpetbombed FATA into dust ten years ago. Instead we have tied ourselves in legal knots as some form of political hair shirt. Beyond the laws I would not go and swift and severe punishment of the enemy should not prevent charitable and humane treatment of the weak or helpless.
    hi Grurray, 
    #5 bothers me too. It was a motivating factor for the post. We have –YET AGAIN– let our veterans down and there are defense industry lobbyists and bureaucrats scheming to cheat our injured vets out of the medical care they have earned because they want the money earmarked for something else. It makes me sick to my stomach. 
     Hi Nate,
    Many of our leaders are, if not sociopaths, suffer from Malignant narcissism. We should be glad that as a class most politicians have a neurotic need for attention and love or they would all behave like Robert Mugabe.
     Your diagnosis of the elites not having “a narrative context” is spot on.

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  31. Madhu Says:

    I wasn’t going to post anything or even click over here because it’s one of those early working days already, but I accidentally clicked on something instead of what I was supposed to be writing and saw this:
    “I’ve spent a lot of time in Those Towns, and observed some of the great movements of the last 40 years through them. I had a grassroots view of the rise of the religious right in the late 1970s while covering George McGovern’s last Senate race in ’80. I watched people running in the parking lot of a California mall to sign a Perot-for-president petition in ’92, and saw others crying at Obama events in rural Iowa in ’08. Anyone who was paying any attention to Flyover Country in the early 2000s knew that Tea Party antipathy to business-as-usual had been brewing long before it was given a name.

    Yet so many of the big stories in Flyover Country are happening irrespective of what D.C. does. Detroit went bust, despite a thriving auto industry that not long ago needed a federal boost. North Dakota’s energy boom is spilling into neighboring states despite the lack of a coherent national energy policy that merges the economy and the environment, and people there think the boom is going to last. Despite lingering pockets of drought and Congress’ struggle to come up with a new farm bill, the Farm Belt is about to deliver a potentially record corn and soybean crop this fall. On farm radio stations, Brazilian soybean yields or Japan’s latest wheat purchase are as important as anything out of Washington.”
    Pundita wrote something incredibly similar a few years ago and I said, “that’s it. That’s my childhood. We explored the US as if explorers,” culturally anyway.
    But both are probably true, it’s no use saying one or the other is the correct view, these things feed off of one another and the reason there is space to go about things is because of the way in which it was all conceived in the very beginning.
    I have lost my taste for reading about military affairs except for very specific things. They are lost, and I am sorry for it. But things change. They never stay the same.

  32. Madhu Says:

    But who am I kidding? I will return to the topic and to the places online that I know no matter how hard I try to leave. And I want to leave too, so much.
    I have so few good qualities. Persistence is all that I have:

  33. Charles Cameron Says:

    Dear Madhu, you rock.

  34. The Council Has Spoken!! This Week’s Watcher’s Council Results | Nice Deb Says:

    […] place  *t* with 1 1/3 votes -Zenpundit-How to Lose the Next War   submitted by GrEaT sAtAn”S […]

  35. The Council Has Spoken!! This Week’s Watcher’s Council Results – 08.02.13 | askmarion Says:

    […] place *t* with 1 1/3 votes – Zenpundit – How to Lose the Next War submitted by GrEaT sAtAn”S […]

  36. Thoughts On How To Lose A War | ROK Drop Says:

    […] While one of these principles may not be sufficient cause for losing an armed conflict, following all of them is the surest road to defeat. [ZenPundit] […]

  37. Thoughts On How To Lose A War | IPOPSOS Says:

    […] While one of these principles may not be sufficient cause for losing an armed conflict, following all of them is the surest road to defeat. [ZenPundit] […]

  38. Trevor Loudon's New Zeal Blog » The Council Has Spoken!! This Week’s Watcher’s Council Results – 08/02/13 Says:

    […] place *t* with 1 1/3 votes – Zenpundit – How to Lose the Next War submitted by GrEaT sAtAn”S […]

  39. The Council Winners | Says:

    […] place  *t* with 1 1/3 votes -Zenpundit-How to Lose the Next War   submitted by GrEaT sAtAn”S […]

  40. Primer on Losing Says:

    […] by Frank Hoffman · in Hasty Ambush Our colleague Mark Sanfranski at Zenpundit has a strategically cynical posting of major […]

  41. carl Says:

    This is a good piece, a very good piece.  Maybe you have said more than people seem to be crediting you for.  What you have described is not only an American war fighting culture that is fatally flawed, it is one that is absolutely firmly established.  We have been fighting like this and reinforcing the pattern for a very long time.  This is how the Americans will fight.  It doesn’t matter what we did in the past or that local variations allowed some small success (Bing West said the troops won whatever we won in Iraq, the troops, not the big commanders), this is how we fight and will fight.
    If things don’t change, we will be in for a very hard time.  We forget I think, what a hard time really is because we have never had a big post-defeat hard time.  A hard time involves prisoners coming back ten years after the war’s end having done slave labor in the interim, if they come back at all.  A hard time means reparations, big ones, over years and years.  It means loss of territory, the extent depending upon the whims of the victor.
    So with all this in mind, I have a question.  Do you, or anybody else, think we can change before the next big war or big conflict and have these hard times inflicted upon us?  Things might change afterward.  Things changed for Prussia after Napoleon beat them up, but they had the Brits and Russians around to help them take advantage of the changes.  We won’t.  Change may avail us nothing then.  We have to change before the next big test comes.  Do you think we have any chance of doing it?

  42. zen Says:

    Yes, at one time, as recently as WWII we had generals who knew as Southerners from stories told by their parents and grandparents, what life was like for a conquered people. No more.
    Do you, or anybody else, think we can change before the next big war or big conflict and have these hard times inflicted upon us? “
    Yes. A significant political shift of a magnitude on par with 1932-1933 could make that happen or at least allow it to come to pass. 

  43. Carrier Calculus: How Many Do We Need? Says:

    […] to develop good strategic habits in senior decision makers.   A recent “pundit” satirically captured the strategic problem that too many carriers informs: Strategy is a Constraint to be Avoided… […]

  44. The Razor » Blog Archive » The Council Has Spoken: Aug 2, 2013 Says:

    […] place  t with 1 1/3 votes -Zenpundit-How to Lose the Next War   submitted by GrEaT sAtAn”S […]

  45. LFC Says:

    Re the comment @28: As you seem to acknowledge, laws and norms of war change over time, and I doubt that carpet-bombing the FATA w B52s wd be regarded as being within the current laws of war, nor do I have the sense that it wd be esp. effective. Wouldn’t it simply kill more civilians than the drone attacks are currently doing without any additional mil. benefit? Plus, of course, the FATA are within the sovereign territory of a nominal (emphasis on that word) ally; the CIA drone strikes in Pakistan, though the Pakistan govt officially denounces them, cd not be carried out without some tacit cooperation by Pakistani authorities ISTM. Whereas a B-52 bombing of the FATA wd count as a full-scale military attack on a country with which the US is not officially at war, hence cd not be seen as anything other than a clear violation of intl law. Not an international lawyer, but that wd be my reading. I do think the US shd have found a way to pressure Pakistan to take more vigorous action vs the safe havens but given the constraints and complexities of the situation I’m not sure how much blame can be placed on US policy here. The Obama admin saw expanded use of drones as the least bad option, but it was not a very good option. OTOH, given the remoteness of the FATA and NW frontier regions and their location in the territory of a country whose cooperation the US needed to supply its soldiers in Afghanistan, I’m not sure what other options were available. Except a regional negotiated agreement betw India, Pakistan, Afghanistan (to incl the Taliban) but prob. too late now for that.   
    Re the orig. post: haven’t read every word of it. Agree w some of it, not all. The swipe at Walter Cronkite seems rather gratuitous. His editorial on that occasion had some impact but I wdn’t exaggerate it. But I don’t want to refight the Vietnam War as that wd not have much pt and neither of us wd persuade the other.   

  46. Don Bacon Says:

    Excellent. Also–
    11. Ally with your enemy to the point of inextricable linkage. The U.S. allied with and funding the neighboring country (Pakistan) which is supporting the people (Taliban) who are killing Americans.

    General McChrystal’s Report, Aug 30, 2009:
    ‘Afghanistan’s insurgency is clearly supported from Pakistan. . .and are reportedly aided by some elements of Pakistan’s ISI [Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence ]. . . .Indian political and economic influence is increasing in Afghanistan, including significant efforts and financial investment. In addition, the current Afghan government is perceived by Islamabad to be pro-Indian. While Indian activities largely benefit the Afghan people, increasing Indian influence in Afghanistan is likely to exacerbate regional tensions and encourage Pakistani countermeasures in Afghanistan or India.”

    Nevertheless, President Obama, three months later,   December 1, 2009 at West Point: . . .”Third, we will act with the full recognition that our success in Afghanistan is inextricably linked to our partnership with Pakistan.”
    And then you send billions of dollars to the enemy to which your “success” (losing the war) is inextricably linked.

  47. Chicago Boyz » Blog Archive » The Darkness behind Colonel Nightingale’s Two Great Truths Says:

    […] The seven ingredients of  highly adaptive and effective militaries   The there are two great truths about the future of war. The first is that it will consist of identifying and killing the enemy and either prevailing or not. We can surmise all sorts of new bells and whistles and technologies yet unknown, but, ultimately, it comes down to killing people. It doesn’t always have to happen, but you always have to prepare to make it happen, and have the other guy know that. The other great truth is that whatever we think today regarding the form, type, and location of our next conflict, will be wrong. Our history demonstrates this with great clarity. Well then, how do we appropriately organize for the next conflict if both these things are true? There are a number of historical verities that should serve as guides for both our resourcing and our management. In no particular order, but with the whole in mind, here are some key points to consider that have proven historically very valuable in times of war. The historic degree of support for any one or all within the service structures usually indicated the strengths and shortfalls of our prior leadership vision, preparation, and battlefield successes or failures at the time….. Read the rest here. . Nightingale goes on to explain the important variables of technology, intelligence, personnel quality eccentric or maverick thinkers, linguistic and cultural expertise, deployability and leadership. His points are sound and I recommend them with general agreement. . One area I wish he had spent more time expounding upon was the part “prevailing or not“. We face a major problem here in that the current generation of  American leaders, our bipartisan elite, our ruling class – call them whatever you will – do not seem to care if America wins wars or not. […]

  48. larrydunbar Says:

    “because before running this war so few of this generation’s “deciders” read them en route to their law degrees and MBAs”

    Right on! Before natural birth, the fact they have a MBA should exclude them from the position as POTUS.

  49. larrydunbar Says:

    There should be three things that disqualifies from the job as the POTUS. First, if you are a born-again Christian, including Mormons; if you hold a MBA or a doctorate in computer science; and third, if you are not “natural” born.

    It is hard enough to follow the teaching of Christ and those who came after him in the Middle East, than to extend Christ into the Americans. Do we really want to put the USA into a position that is equal to the one Israel holds, as the promise land?

    Do we really want the person holding the job as the POTUS to be also qualified to run Walmart?

    And finally, the environment writes the rule-sets that defines “is”. Do we want to give it another sub-folder other than born in the USA?

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