US brings its rulebook for losing wars to Ukraine

While many on the pacifist left see Russia as hypocritical, modelling its actions in Ukraine on US aggression against countries like Iraq, it is once again the United States that seems to have brought faulty ideas about war and victory to Ukraine.

What kept causing defeat for the United States in foreign conflicts is not a weakness in its excellent military technology, but the intellectual bankruptcy of American leaders and strategists, many of whom are little more than dullards and thugs. For all their military might, such warriors don't understand what war even is.

Americans seem to regard war as nothing more than a shooting competition, getting overly fixated on acts of killing and talking about who they have killed. This may be because of the gun culture that the lives of most American military enthusiasts revolve around.

Killing the enemy

We saw the the trigger-happy approach on display by American leaders in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, where the mere deaths of insurgents or even civilians were portrayed as victories in the war. It was also a major weakness in the US strategy in Vietnam, which notoriously focused on body counts. Hence, attrition is always the main American goal in wars, despite there being no obvious end to it. It offers no threshold at which one can actually be calculated to win, or even any guarantee that the conflict will ever end.

American military leaders think war is defined as shooting the enemy, and victory is defined as the enemy being dead. The depth of their military thought goes no deeper than that. There is no thought to what happens next, and even less for any agency on the part of their targets.

In the American military mind, if you kill the enemy, and you keep killing the enemy, eventually they will all be dead and the war will be won. It does not matter what anyone is trying to do, or who goes where, as long as the enemy is being shot. Based on the reports bragging about the allegedly killed Russian generals and high Russian casualties, this idea is now being applied by American warmongers to Russian forces in Ukraine, even though Russians are far better equipped and able to defend themselves than other factions the US and its allies failed to defeat when applying the same philosophy.

No-one needs to die

Although it will surprise people who play computer games, making sure enemy soldiers won't go home to their mothers is not in tune with how wars are really won. No-one is keeping a score, and it is very often the loser that manages to achieve more 'kills' before losing (just look up deaths in the American Civil War or World War Two). This is because war is not even about killing anyone.

As Clausewitz famously stated, war is the continuation of politics by other means. And we also cannot forget Sun Tzu’s formulation, “He will win who knows when to fight and when not to fight”. In other words, winning wars is as much to do with not killing people as it is to do with killing them. For Russians to learn that they are being killed by American weapons will not make Russians think they live in a safe world where they do not need to apply military force, and should seek peace.

Imagine if the situation was reversed. This would mean Russia bragging about causing American troop deaths in a war, and expecting America to then withdraw from foreign conflicts and give up on military solutions to threats around the world. Imagine, also, that this foreign conflict is happening just across the border to the mainland United States, and could spill over into American cities or include artillery being fired at such cities, the way the war in Ukraine threatens Russian cities. Would Americans cave in to the pressure, maybe deciding that their military is not very good, and give up?

In fact, needlessly killing an enemy and threatening them with death is not only absolutely irrelevant to waging a war effectively but just complicates the ability to wage it by making the enemy double down, because now they are even more emotionally invested in the conflict and the war is more personal. This approach produces fiercer and more numerous people willing to fight, especially when the war is waged close to home, as the Ukraine war is for Russians.

Understanding how to win a war is all about defining victory, which is actually nothing to do with killing or dying and can be accomplished with no casualties (like Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea, which has no parallel in the pointlessly bloodthirsty history of the United States).

Russia brings rulebook for winning

From the start of its intervention, Russia took the opposite view to American warmakers, with no particular interest in how many people it would kill in Ukraine. Even just getting started in what may be a long war, Russia has been just as interested in rebuilding infrastructure as destroying it. The West, on the other hand, tells of Russian brutality and talks up the West's supposedly humanitarian approach to war, but this is drivel. Rebuilding the cities they destroy is something the US and UK never do, and would never do. People in the West are okay with Ukraine becoming a desolated boneyard, as we have no attachment to the country. It isn't our neighbour, we don't know anyone there.

The second reason the US cannot win wars is because it sets no realistic objective, resulting in 'mission creep' as politicians and military leaders continuously imagine how they can hurt their opponent, with no clear idea of where the process ends. This is already a criticism of the US approach to the war in Ukraine.

Defining victory

The objective of wars is to win them, not necessarily to kill anyone. This means putting the opponent at your mercy, whether now or in the future, and then negotiating the end of the war.

The Taliban, through superior endurance, put the American military and the American people at its mercy in Afghanistan and won. It did this not through might, but through endurance: America lost the will to go on, yielding to pressure, while the Taliban did not. It may take a long time, but the side that has the staying power will always win, and the other side will eventually be put at its mercy. Russia has the staying power to stay where Russia and Russians are, and Ukraine is a neighbour of Russia and home to 8 million Russians – more people than the population of Finland. The West's attachment to Ukraine and the need to prop the country's regime up is a recent scheme from 2014 onwards, as fake as our attachment to the cardboard cut-out Afghan regime that collapsed in Kabul.

The United States will lose for the same reason it always loses: disinterest in the people on the ground or the need to win their hearts and minds. The US is involved for its own glory and its need to kill people it sees as bad. US weapons will always kill people, but the end result will not be a favourable political outcome any more than it was in Vietnam, Afghanistan or Iraq.