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U.S. Army soldiers during a ceremony marking the end of the U.S. military mission in Baghdad, Iraq, Dec. 15, 2011 (AP photo by Khalid Mohammed).

How the United States Could Lose a War

Friday, Oct. 5, 2018

The U.S. military doesn’t spend much time thinking about how America could lose a war. Neither do America’s political leaders and security experts. Whether described in operational plans, strategic wargames or even fiction, the pattern mirrors the Civil War or World War II: Things are hairy at first and defeat even seems possible since an aggressor struck first, but then the United States gets serious, turns the tide and fights its way to victory. In the collective American memory, armed conflicts that have not followed this script—Vietnam, Korea—are largely forgotten or attributed to political ineptitude. Victory is still considered the norm.

While optimism is a laudable characteristic, it can be dangerous if not tempered by cold realism. The United States should plan and hope for victory in war but also needs to think about how it could be defeated. After all, America’s potential adversaries are certainly doing so. ...

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