A Necessary Evolution: U.S. Military Strategy Goes Invisible

A Necessary Evolution: U.S. Military Strategy Goes Invisible

In the traumatic months after the attacks of Sept. 11, the United States struggled to understand the new world it faced and to redirect its security strategy away from "rogue states" relying on conventional military power to the shadowy and ambiguous terrorist threat. Some components of the new strategy, such as augmented homeland security and increased assistance to partner states, were obvious and fell easily into place. How to use U.S. military power in an offensive way against terrorism was not so clear.

The initial reaction of the Bush administration reflected the old saw that when all one has is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. America's hammer was a military force masterful at defeating other conventional militaries. The challenge was finding a way to apply this to terrorism. The Bush administration quickly found a solution: concluding that state sponsorship was crucial to terrorists. By fighting the armed forces of the states that sponsored terrorism, the U.S. military would be attacking terrorism itself. Thus the United States would go on the offensive by using its military to remove regimes that either openly supported terrorists, such as the Taliban in Afghanistan, or that theoretically might be inclined to do so at some future time, as in the case of Iraq. In a 15-month period, both of these regimes were destroyed by the force of American arms in quick campaigns of stunning brilliance.

Unfortunately, the eradication of Saddam Hussein and the Taliban did not have the intended strategic effect. To begin with, while removing regimes that either supported terrorism or might theoretically be inclined to do so was relatively easy, building a stable replacement willing and able to control extremism was hard and expensive. And as the monetary and blood costs of the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan mounted, public and congressional support declined. It became clear that such efforts could not be sustained long enough to attain a decisive outcome, even if that were possible.

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article by submitting your email address below. You'll also get access to three articles of your choice each month and our free newsletter:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having a personal curator and expert analyst of global affairs news. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of tens of thousands of articles.
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday.
  • Regular in-depth articles with deep dives into important issues and countries.
  • The Daily Review email, with our take on the day’s most important news, the latest WPR analysis, what’s on our radar, and more.
  • The Weekly Review email, with quick summaries of the week’s most important coverage, and what’s to come.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.

More World Politics Review