The United States no longer knows how to win wars, but it continues to start them.
That pretty much summarizes the American experience with war since the end of the Cold War. By common consent, when it comes to skills and gadgets, U.S. forces are in a league of their own. Yet when it comes to finishing the job on schedule and on budget, their performance has been woeful.
Indeed, these days the United States absolves itself of any responsibility to finish wars that it starts. When we've had enough, we simply leave, pretending that when U.S. forces exit the scene, the conflict is officially over. In 2011, when the last American troops crossed from Iraq into Kuwait, President Obama proudly declared that he had made good on his campaign promise to end the Iraq war. Sometime late this year, when the U.S. terminates its combat role in Afghanistan, he will waste no time consigning that war to the past as well.
Yet the Iraq war did not end when the United States withdrew. Even with Washington striving mightily to ignore the fact, the violent ethno-sectarian struggle for Iraq triggered by the 2003 U.S.-led invasion continues. In recent days, events such as Al Qaeda's ferocious welcome-to-the-new-year assault on the cities of Fallouja and Ramadi — roughly the equivalent of a Confederate army laying siege to Gettysburg sometime during the presidency of Ulysses S. Grant — have made it impossible to pretend otherwise.