Hubris: Exaggerated pride or self-confidence

The original of this article by George Friedman, entitled "John F. Kennedy and the Origin of Wars Without End," is at Geopolitical Futures and is currently behind a pay wall. I was able to read it because Porter is a subscriber. A few quotes won't do it justice (though you'll get them anyway), but I was able to find the same article here at, so you can check it out for yourself, at least for now.

Friedman's basic idea is that John F. Kennedy sealed the fate of future American military action in his inaugural address:

“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.”

This view of America as the the world's police force, making the world safe for democracy, was not new, of course. It was President Woodrow Wilson who led us into World War I with that phrase about democracy. In World War II, President Roosevelt considered the United States as the world's savior, but "carefully calculated the cost." Eisenhower calculated the risks and benefits and wisely refused to send American troops to Indochina.

Kennedy wrote a blank check from his country. ... In assuming the burden, he assumed the cost of war if needed, and he did not ask the question of whether our hardships would bring success or failure, and at such a price that the nation might not be able to bear it militarily, financially or morally.

There were three wars following Kennedy’s stated principles that lasted for many years and were unsuccessful: Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. But they were only the long and agonizing cases. The United States used military force in Iran during the hostage crisis but failed to achieve its desired outcome. The United States invaded Grenada. It succeeded, I suppose. The United States sent troops to Beirut and withdrew when hundreds of Marines were killed by explosives. The United States succeeded in Desert Storm. It conducted an extended bombing campaign in defense of Kosovo. And it has sent troops into Libya, Syria, Chad and northern Africa.

I am no pacifist, but the tempo of operations imposed on the U.S. military and the widely varying environments it went into, frequently with a mission that was opaque, made little sense. In World War II, there was a clear moral and geopolitical reason for combat, a clear if flexible strategy that would withstand reversals. Most important, the military was configured for this war. Training a force takes time, and a force cannot be trained for “whatever comes up.” Having been trained to face the Soviets in Germany, the U.S. military was then unreasonably asked to fight limited wars in the jungle, the desert and so forth. In other words, it was asked to go anywhere to fight any foe and protect any friend. So that’s what it did.

If you go into combat without an appropriate force, and with a sense of invincibility, you may not lose, but you won’t win. And if you go in unprepared for the terrain, weather and horrors of the battlefield, the failures will mount, the politicians will deny any failures, the machine will pump more soldiers into the war, and the public will rightly determine that the war was a horrible failure. And then the soldiers who broke their hearts trying to win will feel betrayed by their nation.

Kennedy’s doctrine, then, should be expunged from our minds. That doctrine leads to endless war and continual defeat. War is not an action designed to do good. It is the use of overwhelming force against an opponent that threatens your nation’s fundamental interest. War is not an act of charity for deserving friends, not even an act of vengeance for a vicious enemy.

A fundamental foundation for peace is an unsentimental understanding of geopolitics, the discipline that distinguishes sentiment from necessity, capability from boast, and the enemy who matters from the one who doesn’t. ... Kennedy assumed that the U.S. could afford to fight any enemy anywhere. It can’t. And Washington better be certain that the next war it fights can be won, and that the next enemy is actually an enemy.

Note that this article was written in September 2021, almost six months before the United States became involved in yet another, very costly, war to make the world safe for democracy.

Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, September 23, 2022 at 7:54 am | Edit
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