Re October 20, 2015 Foreign Policy podcast
The E.R.: ‘We Fail Better’ Should Not Be the Motto of the U.S. Military David Rothkopf, Rosa Brooks, Kori Schake, and Tom Ricks wrestle with America's recent legacy in the Middle East and what's broken with the last superpower's armed forces.
In the podcast, among other things, Tom Ricks said that he disagreed with exit strategy requirement of the [General Colin] Powell Doctrine. The Powell Doctrine provides that:
Military force used as last resort
Clear-cut military objective
We can measure that the military objective has been reached (end state)
Military force should be use in overwhelming fashion
The Powell Doctrine was subsequently renounced by the
For example, Secretary of Defense Les Aspin concluded that such constraint
would limit the military usefulness in “achieving policy objectives”. It “could
lead to the military becoming like nuclear weapons in the Cold War - important,
but not useful”. Successive administrations concurred. Clinton
Isn’t an exit strategy exactly what is necessary to determine whether a military objective has been reached, the end state?
Von Clausewitz observed that:
Since war is not an act of senseless passion but is controlled by its political object, the value of this object must determine the sacrifices to be made of it in magnitude and also in duration. Once the expenditure of effort exceeds the value of the political object, the object must be renounced and peace must follow. Book One, Chapter Two, p. 92.
Sun Tzu illustrates the consequences of failure:
Victory is the main object in war. If this is long delayed, weapons are blunted and morale depressed. When troops attack cities, their strength will be exhausted. The Art of War, Book II, Par. 3.
When the army engages in protracted campaigns the resources of the state will not suffice. (The Art of War, Book II, Par. 4)
Hence, what is essential in war is victory, not prolonged operations. And therefore the general who understands war is the Minister of the people’s fate and arbiter of the nation’s destiny. The Art of War, Book II, Par. 21.
Gulf Conflict. The Powell Doctrine was given full effect during the 1990-1991 Gulf War; and it was a great success militarily and its clearly stated and limited political objectives:
must get out of —nothing
more was required of Saddam Hussein.
Politically, some argue that it was a failure because we did not pursue
the Iraqi Army into Kuwait
proper; thus allowed Saddam Hussein to survive and requiring our greater effort
at a later date. In responding to the issue, I defer to
Modifying Condition 3: In War the Result is Never Final
Lastly, even the ultimate outcome of a war is not always to be regarded as final. The defeated state often considers the outcome merely as a transitory evil, for which a remedy may still be found in political conditions at some later date. It is obvious how this, too, can slacken tension and reduce the vigor of the effort. Book One, Chapter One, § 9, p. 80.
The fact remains that this was a very successful American military operation the likes of which have not been repeated since—as the podcast discussion clearly addressed.
Moreover, we could not formulate an end state (much less an exit strategy) because we did not, and still do not, understand the complexity of the environment. As a result, the Bush as well as the Obama administrations have been unable formulate realistic military and political objectives.
“In both cases, the Bush [and the Obama] administration showed little regard for the complex cultural settings, deeply rooted ethnic rivalries generating conflicts within conflicts, dangerously unsettled regional neighborhoods (especially involving Pakistan and Iran), and the unresolved territorial disputes, al of which severely complicated US actions in Afghanistan and Iraq and ignited wider regional anti-American passions.” (
The Powell Doctrine needs to be reexamined in light of our largely unsuccessful expeditionary military operations into areas where our vital interests are clearly not involved.