The White House’s Seven Deadly Errors

When a country enjoys tactical military success as consistently as the United States, responsibility for strategic success must rest primarily with those who make strategy. The American military could be held culpable for recent strategic setbacks were it highly influential in the crafting of strategy. But its influence under the Bush administration was much more limited, and under the Obama administration its strategic advice has largely been ignored.

A review of America’s military interventions since 2001 reveals that seven broad errors account for America’s inability to turn tactical successes into strategic victories. In every instance, the error was the direct result of presidential decisions on policy or strategy. These errors include: excessive confidence in democratization, poor selection of local allies, haste in counterinsurgency, over-reliance on surgical strikes, refusal to commit a military footprint, refusal to maintain a military footprint, and signaling of retrenchment.

Incompetence, in the form of bad judgment and disorganization, contributed heavily to the mistakes of both the Bush and Obama administrations. Reliance on flawed theories, which could be attributed to ideological fervor as well as incompetence, also hurt both administrations. Theories on democratization made Bush and Obama overly optimistic about the prospects for intervention in certain countries. President Obama’s adherence to McGovernite ideology fueled an undue aversion to the use of American military power. In addition, preoccupation with domestic politics and personal popularity guided many of Obama’s ill-fated strategic decisions.

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