Why can't the US win any wars anymore?

WWII was the last slam dunk.

Korea: Maybe you could call it a draw. South Korea is probably better off today due to our involvement. North Korea still exist though.

Vietnam: We lost

Gulf War I: Kicked ass initially. Final objectives eluded us

Gulf War II: Kicked ass initially, Final objectives eluded us

Afghanistan: Kicked ass initially, Final objectives eluded us. Taliban probably gonna take over again soon

Grenada: Well we did win that one.

Conventional war vs. irregular war. The US excels at defeating conventional nation states with a well defined military.

What objectives eluded us in the Gulf Wars? First one’s objective was to restore Kuwaiti sovereignty, which we did. Second one was to remove Saddam Hussein, which we did.

Warfare has changed since World War II, specifically, the invention of “the bomb”. The US could handle a large military power that is kind of similar to itself, such as WWII Germany.

But these days any such challengers (such as Russia or China) are nuclear powers. The US typically goes to war with smaller nations, such as Vietnam or Iraq, which couldn’t possibly match the US in the field. As a result, they must use guerilla warfare. Guerillas beat Napoleon in Iberia, beat the US in Vietnam and at minimum confused the US in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Militarily defeating Vietnamese communists didn’t really work, not when the other alternative (supporting the undemocratic South Vietnamese dictatorship) wasn’t any better. Dropping bombs on Vietnam, unsurprisingly, did not win hearts and minds. And then the US ran into a problem: continuous warfare means continuous US military funerals. The loss of life was lesser but this wasn’t a massive struggle against evil like World War II, furthermore the war was never going to end.

Afghanistan was worse in some ways. The war lasted two decades. That’s practically a generation. And in a generation the country was still filled with people who think destroying girls’ schools is okay. How many generations was the US going to occupy Afghanistan to stop violent misogyny? Hearts and minds were not won, and probably cannot be won. The cultural gulf is simply too massive. You can’t use bullets to fix a cultural gulf.

Because we won WWII by killing hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians. It may be argued that dropping The Bomb was justified, but none of the wars since WWII posed an existential threat to the United States that would justify mass civilian casualties. We don’t do that anymore.

Because it’s easier to win a war militarily than to maintain control of a situation or people politically.

Then why did the US stay there so much longer? The US invented reasons to continue the war. They may be good reasons, but there were new reasons, and those victory conditions could not be achieved.

I assume you mean “clear victory,” and not “easy victory” (which is how I usually see slam dunk used)

You’ve gotta admit though that our faint saber rattling has kept Canada in check.

I believe the problem in VietNam and Afghanistan was that the governments are corrupt, and the military can’t win a war on their own. Isn’t seen to be worth Amrican lives and treasure to propt those countries up.

Because that’s what you have to do after you conquer a nation? We beat Germany in a “slam dunk” victory in WWII, and our troops are still over there.

Note that I’m not in anyway defending the decision to invade Iraq, which was likely a war crime. But I don’t see any way to claim we didn’t win that war.

Definitely not an easy war, but it basically enabled full industrialization of the United States economy, as well as a massive expansion of political influence, which it used to expand its economic markets. Not that different from Rome’s conquests in North Africa.

But as Rome found out after it crushed Carthage, the fruits of war are soon replaced by the maintenance costs of the inevitable complexity that follows. We gained wealth and influence, but that also incurred complexity in the form of expensive political competition with the Soviet Union and now China. And of course, not everyone living under the umbrella of American influence has particularly liked it, which in turn leads to things like terrorism.

We’re on the downward side of the imperial lifecycle.

If we achieved our objectives in Gulf War I they would be no need for Gold War II. If we achieved our objective in Gold War II, we wouldn’t have troops there for 20 years.

Our objective in the first Gulf War wasn’t, “There’s never going to be another war in the Gulf,” our objective was, “Kick Iraq out of Kuwait.” We met that objective. Maybe we should have had some other objective, but that’s what we went there to do, and that’s what we did.

By that standard, we didn’t meet our objectives in WWII, either.

Germany was a western democracy before the Nazi takeover. In fact the Nazis won a minority government (twice) before it stopped being a democracy. Afterward Germany (except East Germany) became a western democracy again. The cultural gulf was not so large.

Maybe I missed some info (since my interest in World War II pretty much ends with the defeat of Germany) but I don’t believe Allied soldiers had to protect girls’ schools from being attacked by acid-wielding terrorists or other such horrible political crimes. There were Allied soldiers there, but many had to be there to protect Germany from the other enemy (the Soviet Union), and are still there to protect Germany from Russia.

This is true. What has changed is that in the WWII days we were willing to use the military to both win the war as well as win the peace. Now we are only willing to use the military to win the war, and are no longer willing to use the military to win the peace. Take Japan at the end of WWII as an example. The goal was unconditional surrender. We went so far as to use atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. When the Japanese finally surrendered, we sent over Douglas MacArthur and made him the de facto ruler of Japan for a couple of years. He restructured their whole military, government, and society in the mold of a western nation, even going so far as to write the new Japanese constitution that is still in effect today.


Today we are no longer willing to take such steps. Imagine if, back in 1991, Bush Sr. had something like this to Norman Schwarzkopf. “Your orders are to conquer the country of Iraq and to demand Saddam Hussein’s unconditional surrender. Feel free to kill as many people as needed until the job is done. Once they surrender, your job is to lead and rebuild the country, American style. You are going to write their new constitution and form their new government. If anyone gets in the way, feel free to kill them.” This is basically what Truman told MacArthur. It would have succeeded in Iraq 46 years laters had we tried the same thing. The issue is that we no longer consider such a thing as being morally acceptable.

NATO troops not withstanding, I think Western Europe is happy with the way things turned out.

I don’t think it’s this simple. There are two reasons Germany and Japan didn’t cause any more trouble for America after WWII ended:

First, because both were exhausted. They’d been fighting a grueling war for years that left them wasted and broken. They had no more stomach or energy for continued fight.

Secondly, because there was an immediate new threat - the Soviet/Communist menace - that required them to ally together with America in a hurry.

That doesn’t apply in the Middle East. Had America taken a brutal approach towards Iraq in 1991 like you posit, then many Iraqis would still have had stomach for a fight, and there was no external enemy that should cause them to ally with America. You’d see the same brutal insurgency in 1992-2000 as you did from 2003-2010.

Because if the U.S. deposed Saddam, but then immediately packed up and left, then there would be a vicious power vacuum and civil war between Sunnis and Shias and eventually you’d see something like ISIS but now on an even bigger scale.

I’m not in favor of the 2003 invasion. But once it happened, the U.S. couldn’t just bail out.

It’s almost like the second Gulf War didn’t need to be fought.

I don’t think the Bush administration spent a lot of time thinking about what would happen after Saddam Hussein was defeated. If they did, they might have thought “things won’t get any better, and ‘fixing’ Iraq is nearly impossible, if by ‘fixing’ you mean making Iraq a western democracy”.