America’s strategy of failure comes to Ukraine

Jan 24, 2023
The US flag, Russian flag, Ukraine flag. Flag of USA, flag of Russia, flag of Ukraine. The United States of America and the Russian Federation confrontation. Russia invasion of Ukraine. Close-up

US mission creep in Ukraine follows in the fatal footsteps of ultimately failed war campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Since the failures of the US military missions in places like Afghanistan and Iraq – and many other Muslim nations like Libya – critics of the US mission in the “global war on terrorism” have lamented the lack of a coherent strategy.

As the tired line from Carl von Clausewitz goes, “war is an extension of politics through other means.” Warfare, therefore, is an inherently political act. More precisely, it is the use of violence by a state or non-state actor to affect a political outcome.

Thus whenever military force is used it must have clear ends set forth by the political leadership ordering the use of that military force. Those clearly defined political ends must be supplemented by reliable ways to achieve that realistic political objective. The means are the resources that must be brought to bear in order to accomplish the political end.

What’s more, those political objectives must be fixed into place by the political and military leadership. They cannot change mid-mission (this has nothing to do with being flexible at the tactical level).

One of the greatest failures of the last 30 years of US foreign policy interventions across the Middle East was what former secretary of defence Robert Gates called “mission creep.” This is akin to shifting goalposts in the middle of the game, making the game unwinnable.

As America’s failed operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria and so many others since 1945 have shown, mission creep can be catastrophic to both the prestige of the US military as well as its readiness to conduct its larger mission of deterring actual great state rivals to the United States, namely China, Russia, Iran and North Korea.

Afghanistan: the long loss

Once the base of operations for al-Qaeda and their Taliban allies, after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US, Afghanistan became the primary target of America’s justified wrath.

With a handful of Special Forces operators, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) paramilitary officers, loads of local tribal allies and judicious American airpower, the US military effectively deposed the Taliban and broke al-Qaeda’s stronghold on the country in about two months from October to December 2001.

Had it not been for shabby planning that December, it is likely the conflict would have wrapped up with the capture or death of Osama bin Laden as he fled American forces in the foothills of Tora Bora.

Even without having captured bin Laden, though, by the spring of 2002, the US forces in Afghanistan had accomplished what the American people had wanted them to: They had disrupted the terror networks in the country and brought to justice the groups responsible for 9/11.

Despite this fact, the Americans hung around for another 20 years, bleeding its troops, weapons stocks and treasury dry in the rocks of Afghanistan.

For what purpose? Initially, it was to avenge ourselves upon the culprits behind 9/11. Once that was mostly achieved, why did the US expand its footprint and commitment to the “Graveyard of Empires?” The lack of a coherent, concrete strategy was one reason.

Iraq: an idiot’s delight

In Iraq, the justification for war was clear: The George W Bush administration was convinced that Saddam Hussein had developed a massive, covert WMD (weapons of mass destruction, notably nuclear) program and had partnered with al-Qaeda.

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