The U.S. Presumption of Quick, Costless Wars

Since the early 1980s the presumption that the United States must end future military conflicts quickly and at minimum cost has achieved almost the status of orthodox dogma. That military operations must be brief and efficient in terms of the human and economic price paid is not merely desirable, but held to be necessary in order to maintain the support of the American public. Whether explicit or implicit, this presumption shapes policy pronouncements by leaders of the defense establishment, formal statements of military doctrine, analyses made by civilian strategists, and informal conversations throughout the armed services, In 1333 Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney argued that in “regional conflicts” where the nation’s “stake may seem less apparent,” the American response must be “decisive, requiring the high quality personnel and technological edge to win quickly and with minimum casualties.” The U.S. Army’s central doctrinal statement, Field Manual 100-5, Operations 0993), echoes such sentiments in its characterization of the American View of War: “The American people expect decisive victory and abhor unnecessary casualties. They prefer quick resolution of conflicts and reserve the right to reconsider their support should any of these conditions not be met.” In a similar vein, the oft-cited civilian strategist Edward Luttwak stresses that “the prospect of high casualties, which can rapidly undermine domestic support for any military operation, is the key political constraint when decisions must be made on which forces to deploy in a crisis, and at what levels.” More bluntly, as recently recounted in Parameters, the quarterly of the U.S. Army War College, a military conference audience applauded when a young officer remarked that the U.S. military may someday suffer defeat in spite of its superior preparation and equipment because “the American people have lost the warrior’s edge.“’

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