Why has the U.S. failed to see any conclusive strategic victories in any of its recent conflicts? Second, within the context of a changed global post-cold-war strategic order and a massive American globalized infrastructure in place to support military operations, is the inability of the U.S. to be successful a failure of the American way of war or a failure in strategy as it relates to the American way of war? Instead of trying to answer each puzzle, we seek to define the contours of it. We argue American strategy has become increasingly incoherent. This is the product of a stagnant American political system that led to an incredibly effective military, but one that is strategically incapable due to it being a global discount security shop.
The ultimate question begged by these musings is to consider what effect more than fifty years of trying to implement business management models into the American military has had? Are we more efficient and monetarily lean than ever before? It doesn’t seem so. We have the world’s most expensive military, with the costliest equipment and highest operating margins. It is difficult to draw a direct causal argument, despite the apparent correlation in time, and beyond the scope of this article to do so. The argument is simply that military effectiveness is a matter that ought not to be judged by monetary value (profit or cost-savings efficiency) of the services performed, and it is thus not appropriate for business management models. More bluntly, whenever a public organization (as opposed to a private one) is so conceived the result will be unavoidably perverse.
Thucydides’s account of the Peloponnesian War provides for a range of lessons about the nature of strategy applicable to a wide audience. The period demonstrates the inherent complexity in understanding the concept of strategy, a concept that remains devoid of a coherent, agreed, and universal definition. What the Periclean strategy does provide, however, is insight into the importance of understanding the implications of the political objective, strategy and military culture, and geography and operating environment and their influence on the nature of strategy.
Insurgency is an old concept. If you were to travel back to Iraq between 2334 and 2279 BC, you would find a man called Sargan. Sargan ruled a vast empire spanning from Southern Iraq to Southern Turkey, enforced by overwhelming military power. His Akkadian hordes, armed with high-tech composite bows and sophisticated logistics, laid waste to all before them. Their strategy was a simple one; ‘mass slaughter, enslavement, the deportation of defeated enemies, and the total destruction of their cities.’ For years their technological edge and brutal strategy allowed the Akkadians to dominate. When they inevitably fell, however, they did not fall to a superior empire. They were victim to a new phenomenon: a tireless, guerrilla-style attack from the unsophisticated barbarian hordes all around them. In 2190 BC the city of Akkad, near modern Baghdad, finally fell.