Nations going to war often believe the fighting will end quickly. A lightning campaign or two, a few battles and the enemy will fold. Few nations plan for a long war. Despite this, long wars do happen, normally when the belligerents overestimate their own prowess and underestimate the determination and capability of their enemies.
For most of its history the United States worked on the same assumption, entering wars with the expectation that they would be short. The world wars and the Cold War were exceptions, but after the demise of the Soviet Union, Americans again believed all their wars would be short. Events seem to bear that out: Certainly there were long counterinsurgency and stabilization campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the wars against other conventional militaries were over quickly as inferior opponents crumbled in short order.
Unfortunately, though, the past may not portent the future. With China’s economic and military rise and renewed Russian aggression, combined with a shrinking U.S. military, the possibility of a major war may be as great as it has been since the end of the Cold War. This should lead Americans to consider whether they still have the stomach for such a conflict. Could the United States still fight a big war?