WASHINGTON — The death of former President George H.W. Bush has ironic timing for those wondering if the U.S can again win another war.
Bush was commander-in-chief during the 1991 Gulf War, in which the ground and air tactics were waged along historical wartime tactic lines in which the Pentagon excels.
Today, the talk is more of gray zone warfare and non-state conflicts against entities such as those against ISIS and al Qaeda. The tactics and weapons used by the U.S. and allies to win in World War II and the 1991 Gulf War just do not apply to what is today the new normal of warfare, analysts say.
The issue is like to be vocal Tuesday when the Senate Armed Services Committee holds a hearing on the nominations of the new commanders for U.S. Central Command — which oversees fighting in Afghanistan, Yemen and Syria — and U.S. Special Operations Command, which is active into regions of Asia and Africa.
“One could say we haven’t clearly ‘won’ a war since 1945,” Earl Tilford, a military historian, author and former director of research at the U.S. Army’s Strategic Studies Institute, told TMN. “This gets to the heart of what war is all about. I would argue we ‘won’ World War III—the Cold War—when the Soviet Union collapsed. That was as much a ‘total’ war in objectives as one can get.”
The United States has had troops in Afghanistan since 2001 and Iraq since 2003. The objectives in those conflicts keep shifting, victory has been declared around the corner, and now endpoints seem apparent.
“This is not going to be won militarily,” Gen. Austin Scott Miller, commander of force in Afghanistan, told reporters recently. “This is going to a political solution.”
Such a political solution would depend on the other side cooperating. In Afghanistan, that would mean the Taliban — the group ousted by the US in 2001 and 2002. That hints the objective in Afghanistan has changed.
Congress has declared war only five times: War of 1812, the Mexican War of 1845, Spanish American War in 1898, World War I and World War II. The other conflicts, including the Civil War, were not declared.
The National Defense Strategy Commission of 12 former national security officials and experts reviewed U.S. military prowess and progress over the past year and concluded the U.S. is hurting.
Not only does it has little if any advantage in gray-zone war, it still does not seem to mesh militarily with irregular warfare supported by entities like Iran, the commission concluded.
“I think there’s been a disposition to believe that we spend so much money on defense (that) we should be able to deal with all comers,” Eric Edelman, former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy and commission co-chair, told CBS News. “But what I think people have lost sight of is that the international environment has just become so much more complicated.”
Defense Secretary James Mattis has said that”America doesn’t lose wars, it loses interest.” He has said that the U.S. does not “understand our enemy” and the “violent jihad is gaining, not losing ground.”
Mattis made those comments in January 2014, speaking to the Jamestown Foundation, between the time he left the military and before he became Defense Secretary 2017.
“First think how we are going to end the fight before getting involved in wars,” Mattis said then. “Democracies don’t know how to end wars. How much longer will there be public support for the war? American are not war-weary, but rather are confused.”
Now he and others will be asked to answer those and other questions. He approached it over the weekend in an interview with Fox News.
“I’m not paid to be optimistic or pessimistic,” Mattis told Fox. “I maintain a military that is second to none with the fervent hope that we won’t have to employ it, but I have no doubt about the outcome if we must.”