Why Can't We Win?

  • by Pete O'Brien
  • 09-12-2021

There is a wonderful scene in the movie “the Wind and the Lion,” a fictionalized account of the kidnapping of Ion Perdicaris by Mulai Ahmed el Raisuli, Emir of the Jebala tribes, that asks an important question. At the very end of the movie, the Raisuli (played to perfection by Sean Connery) has lost his play for power and sits on a horse on a beach as the sun sets, talking to his good friend, the Sharif of Wazan. His friend the Sharif asks him: 

"Great Raisuli, we have lost everything. All is drifting on the wind as you said. We have lost everything.” 
Raisuli answers: “Sharif, is there not one thing in your life that is worth losing everything for?”

      Like many, I have spent a good deal of time trying to analyze why the US has not won a war in a long time.
      But before we begin, we need to be accurate.

The US fought the Cold War with Russia - a war that was decidedly hot several times, and did win that one; the Soviet Union is gone. To those who object that Russia is still here, yes, that’s true, But we weren’t fighting the Russians, we were fighting the Soviets. The distinction is critical and gets to the heart of our issue. In World War II we fought German NAZIs and Italian Fascists and Japanese Imperialists; we were fighting an ideology. And we beat back those ideologies. 

Did we eliminate them? No. To do so would require not simply killing everyone who harbored those beliefs, but also destroying the idea. As long as people believe in centralized, dictatorial governments, the roots of Nazism, Fascism and Imperialism remain. With the Soviet Union it was, and is, different; the ideology of Communism not only remains, it thrives, under different names to be sure, progressivism being the most popular currently, but the idea of a central government that controls most if not all the major elements of our society remains a bizarre “utopian” dream for many, to include many in Washington, on Wall Street, in Silicon Valley, throughout academia, and Hollywood. Any place where you can find people who honestly believe that they know better how others should live AND that therefore those others ought to be made to live that way, you have a de facto fascist.

So what has that got do with the United States not winning any wars since? Because in World War II we believed in our ideology, we believed in our civilization. And we had the will to fight for it.

We didn’t win in Korea, but we did achieve a desirable result: Southern Korea, the Republic of Korea, is alive, free, vibrant, well off, and a nation with a fair judiciary, that is, the law applies to everyone equally. Sadly, more than 20 million Koreans living north of the DMZ remain in the hell that is the socialist workers paradise of the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea. For more than six decades they have lived horrible oppressed lives because we didn’t win that war.

We didn’t win in Vietnam… About which thousands of books and tens of thousands of papers have been written. And then there are all those little wars, scattered all around the Third World.

Winning a war is not about technology, it isn’t about wealth, it isn’t about numbers or organization or doctrine or training. It isn’t about tactics, or operational art, about doctrine and SOPs, about training and maintenance and equipment. It isn’t even really about strategy or even “grand strategy.” Strategy is necessary, but it is not sufficient. The rest are barely necessary. That which comes before, and follows after, that which underlies all your efforts, the very foundation of victory, is will.

Doubtful? How much wealthier is the US than the Taliban? Are they better organized? Do they have a cohesive doctrine? Is their training better? Do they have more men than us? Better information warfare doctrine than we do? A better cyber warfare doctrine than ours?

Consider Somalia. Did Mohammad Farad Aideed have better weapons than we? Or supplies? Or organization? We had dominant battle space awareness and precision delivery and focused logistics. We lost. We left.

Then we went back. We’ve been back in Somalia for more than 10 years. Somalia, a country of 246,000 square miles (about the size of Texas), with a population of 16 million, and a GDP of about $6 billion (1/4000th of the US), Somalia is one of the poorest places on the planet. And after a decade we still haven’t defeated Al Shabaab.

The Taliban are in control of Afghanistan right now, and al Shabaab has essentially fought us to a stalemate. Because, in the end, they have will, and we do not.

Our guys are tough and strong and dedicated and all those good words. But so what? Sergeant Major Smith and Master Chief Jones might be tough but it doesn’t matter. Because their will isn't what counts. For the average Sergeant Major, for the average Master Chief, for the Ranger or Marine or SEAL, they not only know what they are fighting for, they believe in it. They believe in the Soldier or Sailor or Marine to their left and right, and even though many might have trouble articulating it, they believe in the American way of life, they believe in Western Civilization, in freedom of thought, and limited government, as something superior to other civilizations and therefore worth fighting for, worth defending at any cost.

But what about the will of the folks in Washington, the policy makers and the folks who influence them? Many of our politicians, our academicians, our movie stars and celebrities, will tell you that every culture is of the same value. For them, there is nothing “worth losing everything for.” But that sort of thinking means that virtually everything is at risk. Because if you believe that everything is the same, or even, as some suggest, that America, and Western Civilization, is among the worst of the world’s civilizations, than there is no reason to commit to defending it above all others. 

The truth is, you’ll only fight to the death for what you believe in, what you love. 

GK Chesterton noted Rome wasn’t loved because she was great, she was great because she was loved. Yesterday President Biden said that what makes America strong is that we are united. But what unites us, or what used to unite us, was a love for that which made us unique, a love for that idea captured in the preamble to the Constitution.

Presidents of the past, Reagan, FDR, Lincoln, and others, believed in the US, believed in “We the people…” believed in a nation of “one out of many,” not a nation of an ever expanding list of divisions and antagonisms, of government figures labeling those on the other side of the aisle as extremists and the enemy.

This nation needs to be able to defend its freedoms, and, when it fights, to win its wars. And that requires the will to defend our values. And that requires that we once again embrace the values that made this nation great. A first step in that process would be for President Biden to take to heart his own words and put an end to the Democrats’ war against 75 million Americans.