The Rise of Alien Warfare

February 25, 2015 Topic: Security

The Rise of Alien Warfare

From the War of 1812 to today’s campaigns in the Middle East, both Washington’s enemies and the local populations have become steadily less familiar in terms of language, religion and social traditions. 

IN 2011, the United States launched a new television show in Afghanistan called Sesame Garden. It was an Afghan-themed version of Sesame Street designed to win local hearts and minds. Unfortunately, the producers had to cut the Count von Count character because Afghans had not heard of Dracula and could not comprehend the fangs.

The fate of the Count epitomizes the new Age of Alien Warfare—defined by U.S. military operations in culturally unknown environments. From the War of 1812 to today’s campaigns in the Middle East, both Washington’s enemies and the local populations have become steadily less familiar in terms of language, religion and social traditions. Alien warfare reached its apogee with the post-9/11 mission to refashion Afghanistan—a landlocked country seven thousand miles away, with a largely unknown culture and a literacy rate lower than that of America in 1650.

The rise of alien warfare has crippled America’s capacity at both waging war and making peace. Paradoxically, as U.S. power grew, the nation’s record on the battlefield deteriorated alarmingly. From 1812 to 1945, the United States had a miniscule peacetime army but won most major campaigns. After World War II, Washington constructed the most expensive military machine that ever existed, yet it suffered an era of military reverses. Reeling from battlefield failure, Washington was forced to negotiate a way out of the quagmire. But alien warfare impeded effective diplomacy and prolonged difficult campaigns. In culturally unfamiliar environments, the United States could neither win wars nor end them.


OVER THE last two centuries, America’s major wars have become increasingly alien experiences. By major war, I mean operations where the United States deploys over twenty-five thousand troops and there are at least one thousand battle deaths on all sides combined. Alien warfare refers not only to the unfamiliar nature of the environment, but also to the degree of direct engagement with another culture. Conventional interstate wars, where Washington faces the uniformed military of an enemy country, tend to be less alien experiences because there is only limited interaction with the adversary’s culture. The combatants meet on a defined battlefield and try to destroy each other’s forces. By contrast, nation building and counterinsurgency, where Washington seeks to create order within a foreign society, tend to involve much greater engagement with foreign cultures. The goal is to win the loyalty of the people by creating new power structures, overseeing elections and building infrastructure. Therefore, the most alien kind of war involves a culturally distinctive environment and sustained nation building.


America’s major wars can be divided into three phases. The first era, from 1812 to 1914, was a time of neighborhood wars, where conflicts were relatively familiar—both in terms of the opposition and the character of the contest. The War of 1812, the Mexican-American War and the Spanish-American War were all conventional interstate campaigns, where U.S. troops met opposing forces on a defined battlefield. The Civil War was a de facto conventional interstate war where the Union effectively fought against another country. In all these operations, the fighting mainly occurred close to home in the Western Hemisphere. Opponents, including Britain, Mexico, the Confederacy and Spain, were predominantly Christian countries, like the United States. In two of these conflicts—the War of 1812 and the Civil War—the enemy also spoke English. Indeed, the defining contest of the era was the least alien of all America’s campaigns: the Civil War, where American fought American.

An exception to this pattern was the campaign to suppress the Filipino insurgency after the Spanish-American War. Here, the United States struggled to quell its guerrilla opponent in a foreign society, and over four thousand American soldiers were killed, mostly from disease. It was a harbinger of the conflicts to come.

The period from 1914 to 1945 was the era of the world wars, including World War I and World War II. In important ways, conflict became a more exotic experience for the United States. American soldiers fought in unfamiliar environments far beyond the Western Hemisphere, including Europe, North Africa and East Asia. The fascist states of Germany, Italy and Japan in World War II had radically different political systems. Many Americans saw the Japanese in particular as utterly foreign and almost subhuman.

But in other respects, the world wars represented a familiar brand of conflict. The United States and its opponents were all advanced capitalist societies, and had previously been major trading partners. Millions of Americans were of Italian, German or Japanese descent. These campaigns were also conventional interstate wars that required limited direct engagement with the enemy’s culture. Indeed, the World War II doctrine of seeking unconditional surrender minimized contact with the opposing leadership.

The third phase, from 1945 to the present, is the era of alien wars, where conflict became a far more exotic undertaking. During this time, Washington fought five major wars: the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, the war in Afghanistan and the Iraq War. Every campaign occurred at least five thousand miles away from the continental United States. The climate and terrain were starkly different from those of the United States, from the thick jungles of South Vietnam to the barren moonscape of Helmand Province in Afghanistan.

For most Americans, the new battlefields were cultural terra incognita. Adversaries, including North Korean, Chinese and Vietnamese Communists, Iraqi guerrillas and Afghan insurgents, had vastly different religions, traditions, ethnic politics and languages. Unlike former imperial powers such as Britain, the United States lacked preexisting colonial networks. Washington was flying blind.

In 1950, most GIs had never ventured outside of the United States. Suddenly, they were thrown into the ancient culture of Korea. A decade later, during the 1960s, only a handful of American universities taught Vietnamese history or languages. By 1968, over half a million U.S. soldiers were deployed in South Vietnam. Later, in 2006, at the height of the violence in Iraq, there were about one thousand U.S. officials in the Baghdad embassy; a mere thirty-three of them spoke Arabic, and only six were fluent.

In addition, American troops engaged more directly with alien societies through counterinsurgency and nation building. Campaigns from 1812 to 1945 were predominantly conventional interstate campaigns. After 1945, three out of five major wars—Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan—involved extensive guerrilla fighting. Washington tried to mold unfamiliar societies by creating new institutions, overseeing elections and building infrastructure.


WHAT EXPLAINS the rise of alien warfare? Many different forces shaped America’s experience of conflict, including domestic politics, economic pressures and presidential personalities. But the fundamental answer is that U.S. power spurred interventionism just as the nature of war changed—with civil wars becoming much more frequent than interstate wars.

During the nineteenth century, the United States expanded from sea to shining sea. The era of the world wars further entrenched America’s global power advantage. By 1945, the United States bestrode the world like a colossus. Its economy was three times bigger than that of its closest rival, the USSR. In 1941, Henry Luce, the publisher of Time and Life, proclaimed the “American Century.”

Power tends to broaden a country’s horizons and trigger greater interventionism. “A man armed only with a knife may decide that a bear prowling the forest is a tolerable danger,” wrote Robert Kagan. “The same man armed with a rifle, however, will likely make a different calculation.” In a similar vein, a weak country may conclude it can live with an aggressive rival, whereas a strong state may see the same danger as unacceptable.

After World War II, America’s newfound capabilities transformed how Washington viewed the threat posed by the Soviet Union and international Communism. Emboldened by unprecedented material strength, Americans came to see distant conflicts as vital for U.S. security, requiring direct intervention. And American power also unleashed an underlying missionary streak in U.S. culture. An ascendant United States could shape the world in its own image. In 1961, John F. Kennedy promised to “pay any price” in order “to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” Could intervene easily became should intervene.

After the end of the Cold War, American power reached its zenith. With the Soviet Union consigned to history, the United States began spending almost as much on defense as every other country in the world put together. Washington engaged in more major wars in the fifteen years after the Cold War (the Gulf War, Afghanistan and Iraq) than in the previous forty-five years (Korea and Vietnam).

Meanwhile, American military campaigns also became more alien because the proportion of global conflicts that were civil wars rose dramatically. As a result, U.S. opponents were increasingly guerrillas rather than countries.

After 1945, interstate wars became a rarity. Indeed, great powers have not fought each other since the Korean War. There are a number of reasons for this happy outcome, including globalization, international trade, nuclear deterrence, memories of the world wars, the spread of democracy and the rise of international institutions like the United Nations.

As the tide of interstate warfare receded, civil war became the predominant kind of conflict. After World War II, the collapse of the European empires produced a wave of internal conflicts in newly established countries. The end of the Cold War and the disintegration of the Soviet Union triggered civil wars in Yugoslavia and elsewhere. The Arab Spring in 2011 produced another uptick in violence in Syria, Libya and Iraq.

Today, nearly nine out of ten wars are civil wars. For Washington, foreign internal conflicts have become a major security challenge, producing humanitarian crises, refugee flows and terrorism. The 2002 National Security Strategy asserted, “America is now threatened less by conquering states than we are by failing ones.”


THE RISE of alien warfare has severely eroded America’s performance on the battlefield. If we define victory as the achievement of core aims with a favorable ratio of costs and benefits, before 1945, the United States won most of its major wars. The War of 1812 returned the belligerents to the prewar status quo and can be classified as a draw. The bloody suppression of the guerrillas in the Philippines was also an ambiguous outcome. Meanwhile, the Mexican-American War, the Civil War, the Spanish-American War, World War I and World War II can all be counted as U.S. military successes. The costs of these campaigns were sometimes staggering, with around 750,000 American fatalities in the Civil War alone. But the benefits were also colossal. The Civil War saved the Union and emancipated the slaves. World War II ensured the survival of liberal democracy in Western Europe. Therefore, the overall tally from 1812 to 1945 is five victories, two draws and no defeats.

By contrast, since 1945, most major U.S. wars have ended in stalemate or defeat. Washington achieved a successful outcome in the Gulf in 1991. Korea, however, was a grim stalemate, in which nearly thirty-seven thousand Americans died to restore the prewar status quo. Cartoonist Bill Mauldin called it “a slow, grinding, lonely, bitched-up war.” Vietnam was an even more punishing experience, where the United States faced outright military defeat for the first time in its history. Despite the deaths of fifty-eight thousand Americans, South Vietnam still fell to Communism.

In 2001, the United States swept aside the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. But the Taliban recovered, setting the stage for today’s stalemated conflict. After a dozen years of tough fighting, with over two thousand Americans killed and twenty thousand wounded, and the expenditure of hundreds of billions of dollars, the campaign has been far too costly to be considered a success.

Meanwhile, the Iraq War was a clear failure. The conflict killed 4,500 Americans, injured over thirty thousand, presented Al Qaeda with a new battlefield, strengthened Iran by removing its nemesis Saddam Hussein, and triggered a spike in anti-Americanism. Overall, the United States has only won one of its five major wars since 1945.

The combination of culturally unfamiliar environments and sustained nation building and counterinsurgency proved toxic. The first problem is that Americans do not understand the local country. Washington often projects a simplistic global image onto complex regional conflicts. During the Cold War, U.S. officials saw Communism as monolithic and Vietnamese leftists as mere pawns of Moscow and Beijing. But Vietnam has resisted Chinese influence for two millennia. After Vietnam unified in 1975, Vietnam and China soon went to war.

Similarly, the George W. Bush administration lumped Iran, Iraq and North Korea together into an “axis of evil” despite the lack of any real alliance between these states. Meanwhile, the “war on terror” frame presented Al Qaeda and the Taliban as fundamentally identical, even though Al Qaeda’s goals are international and revolutionary whereas the Taliban’s goals are mainly restricted to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Furthermore, U.S. soldiers were strangers in a strange land. Cultural incomprehension was a much greater problem for the United States in counterinsurgencies than in interstate wars. When Washington fights an unfamiliar country, like Japan in World War II, mutual misunderstandings produce errors on both sides that may cancel themselves out. The Japanese thought that Americans lacked the necessary resolve to win. U.S. troops were told the Japanese were half-blind and could not fight. On balance, neither side benefited from these mistakes.

But when Washington wades into a distant civil war, cultural differences damage the United States far more than the insurgency. The two sides battle for the loyalty of the people, but the rebels understand this prize much better than the Americans. The United States needs accurate intelligence to separate the guerrillas from the people. Washington, however, has limited knowledge of local social dynamics.

In South Vietnam, for example, Washington attempted an ambitious nation-building program, which involved creating a civil service; building hospitals, roads and telecommunications; and training police. But, as Frances FitzGerald described, there was a culture clash between the individualistic and capitalist West and the communal Confucian-Buddhist Vietnamese. U.S. soldiers “knew everything about military tactics, but nothing about where they were or who the enemy was.” Senator J. William Fulbright said Westerners were “alien to their culture, and where the French failed, we will fail.”

The second problem with alien warfare is that the local people do not understand Americans. For the indigenous population, Americans are the aliens. U.S. soldiers descend from nowhere and start reordering their society. America’s destructive machines of war may seem like the Martian tripods in H. G. Wells’s War of the Worlds. Armed to the teeth and shouting in a strange tongue, American soldiers can be a terrifying sight. U.S. intervention may provoke an antibody response as the local people rally against the threatening intruder, creating what counterinsurgency expert David Kilcullen called “accidental guerrillas.”

Alien warfare runs headlong into the most powerful political force in modern history: nationalism. The idea that every nation should decide its own fate free of external compulsion is now widely accepted—and is even inscribed into the UN Charter. After 1945, national self-determination was the insurgents’ ace card. During the Cold War, Communist insurgents combined nationalism and Marxism in a “national liberation movement.” More recently, the Taliban fused together nationalistic appeals against the foreign occupier with calls for stricter forms of Islam. As the United States found in Vietnam, trying to hold back the tide of nationalism can be a futile endeavor.

The third problem with alien warfare is that Washington failed to adapt to the new era of conflict. In conventional interstate wars, the United States developed a playbook for victory: overwhelm enemy countries with mass production, logistics and technology. At its peak capacity in World War II, American industry churned out a new aircraft every five minutes and forty-five seconds.

After 1945, U.S. military campaigns shifted from interstate war to counterinsurgency, but Washington clung to the same set of tactics. William Westmoreland, the U.S. commander in Vietnam, said the solution to the insurgency lay in one word: “Firepower.”

This approach, however, proved disastrous in civil wars. Counterinsurgency is a different kind of campaign from interstate war and requires a specific skill set. Defeating guerrillas means winning hearts and minds, developing networks of human intelligence and enhancing the legitimacy of the host regime. Indiscriminate firepower causes collateral damage and may create more enemies. One study, for example, found that areas of South Vietnam bombed by the United States tended to shift over to insurgent control.

During the early years of the Iraq War, Washington also failed to follow the basic principles of counterinsurgency theory. The George W. Bush administration pursued a “small footprint” invasion plan that lacked sufficient troops to stabilize the country following regime change. U.S. soldiers hunkered down in forward operating bases far removed from the Iraqi people. With too few forces to permanently clear areas of insurgents, and with American troops isolated from the Iraqi people, violence quickly escalated.


THE EMERGENCE of alien warfare also undermined Washington’s ability to negotiate effectively with opponents. Given America’s struggles on the battlefield, it often became imperative to parley an end to war. But cultural unfamiliarity triggered prolonged and frustrating negotiations in Korea, Vietnam and Afghanistan.

The peace talks that resolved the War of 1812 were a model of civility. The British and American negotiators met in Ghent, in modern-day Belgium, in the fall of 1814. They all spoke the same language. The British offered to meet the Americans at their hotel but the Americans preferred to talk at the British residence. By December 1814, the discussions were wrapped up and the two sides agreed to return to the prewar status quo.

Since 1945, negotiating an end to deadlocked wars has proved to be far more tortuous. From 1951 to 1953, Washington spent two years discussing a truce in Korea, even as brutal attritional fighting continued. An armistice was eventually signed in 1953, but the negotiators barely even acknowledged each other’s presence. According to the London Times, “There was no pretense at an exchange of courtesies, or even of civility.”

When negotiations began to resolve the Vietnam War in 1968, the U.S. diplomatic team made hotel reservations in Paris for a week. By contrast, the North Vietnamese leased a chateau for a year, and said they would sit in Paris until the chairs rotted. In the end, the Communists were more realistic about the timescale, as the talks dragged on until 1973.

Negotiations in Afghanistan have been a similarly wearying tale. For a decade after the fall of the Taliban in 2001, the opposing sides barely talked to each other. Washington was unwilling to engage the patrons of Al Qaeda. The Taliban refused to negotiate directly with Kabul, and labeled Hamid Karzai as a puppet of the United States. In 2010, Karzai appointed Burhanuddin Rabbani as chair of the High Peace Council, with a mandate to engage the rebels, but the insurgents killed him with a suicide bomber.

Finally, in early 2011, Hillary Clinton, the U.S. secretary of state, publicly endorsed peace talks for the first time. In January 2012, the Taliban agreed to open a liaison office in Qatar. But shortly afterward, the Taliban suspended discussions, describing the United States as “shaky, erratic, and vague.”

In the era of alien warfare, negotiators sit across a vast sea of cultural difference. After 1945, America’s enemies usually exhibited a Communist or Islamist worldview. By contrast, U.S. negotiators saw issues through the lens of a democratic and rights-based society. One recent survey asked foreign officials to describe the American negotiating style. Officials from very different countries consistently gave the same answers, depicting U.S. diplomacy as a combination of businesslike pragmatism, a lawyerly concern with precise commitments, a superpower’s tendency to impose terms and a moralistic style—along with an American penchant for using incomprehensible sports terminology like “slam dunk.”

Culture shapes all sides’ core assumptions about the conflict, communication style and perceptions of the adversary. Ignorance is sometimes bliss. During the Korean War peace talks, for example, Communist envoys referred to the U.S. negotiators as “dog food”—a vicious insult in East Asia that fortunately passed over the heads of the Americans.

More often, however, alien warfare proved a major impediment to effective negotiation. Each side saw the other as ruthless, sanctimonious and doctrinaire. General Matthew Ridgway described the Communists in Korea as “treacherous savages.” On one occasion, the opposing negotiators in Korea sat in silence for over two hours. During this time, the North Koreans exchanged notes among themselves—containing insults about the Americans and South Koreans in large, visible letters.

One French observer described the negotiations in Paris to end the Vietnam War as a “dialogue de sourds” or a “dialogue of the deaf.” Hanoi spent much of the time lecturing Americans about imperialism while avoiding any substantive discussions. Henry Kissinger called his opponents “tawdry, filthy shits.”

In Afghanistan, a chasm exists between American political ideals and the Taliban’s belief system, which favors sharia law and an Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. Today, many Americans see the Taliban as a faithless enemy and any prospective deal as an illusion.

Negotiating peace is particularly challenging during a civil war. Most internal conflicts end in a decisive victory for one side rather than a peace treaty. When two countries stop fighting, their armies can pull back to recognized borders. But after resolving a civil war, the combatants are often supposed to live and even govern together. Why would the rebels give up their guns if they fear the regime will renege on any deal? Even the basic logistics of talking to insurgents are difficult. The enemy may not speak English. It may not have a home address. And its envoy could be a suicide bomber.

It is also more difficult to reconcile with opponents after an alien war. Of course, reconciliation is not always an appropriate goal—especially if the adversary is truly extreme like Al Qaeda. But with most enemies, a modus vivendi or even a durable peace is possible. After all, every single U.S. opponent in a major war from 1812 to 1945 is now an American ally: Britain, Mexico, the Confederacy, Spain, the Philippines, Italy, Germany and Japan.

Rapprochement with culturally dissimilar opponents after 1945 has been a far more challenging proposition. After the United States fought China in Korea, it took over a quarter of a century to normalize relations with Beijing. Washington was slow to recognize the Sino-Soviet split that emerged in the late 1950s and early 1960s, and continued to believe in the theory of monolithic Communism. Finally, in 1979, the two sides established diplomatic relations. Chinese premier Deng Xiaoping arrived in the United States on a goodwill visit and famously donned a Stetson hat at a rodeo—symbolically bridging the cultural gulf.

Reconciliation after the Vietnam War was a similarly tough road. The United States and Vietnam share a core national interest in checking a rising China. Flush with victory, however, Hanoi bungled the process of rapprochement by demanding billions of dollars from the United States in “reparations.” Meanwhile, Washington resisted détente by helping to propagate the myth that Vietnam was secretly holding American prisoners of war. Finally, in 1995, with the support of Vietnam veterans like John Kerry and John McCain, President Bill Clinton established diplomatic relations with Hanoi.

Rapprochement with China and Vietnam was relatively straightforward compared to the challenges of reconciling with North Korea. Even sixty years after the Korean War, there has never been a peace treaty, and the United States has yet to grant full diplomatic recognition to Pyongyang.

Peacemaking involves the creation of new narratives that emphasize common bonds. This task is much easier when the former enemies share mutual values. After the War of 1812, for example, Britain and the United States highlighted the broader Anglo-Saxon English-speaking family. But cultural overlap is missing with alien adversaries. No American enemy since 1945 aspires to copy Western humanism and democracy. What shared values exist between the United States and the Taliban?


ARE AMERICA’S future wars destined to become even more alien? The answer is probably no. For the United States, alien warfare may have peaked.

First of all, the tide of U.S. interventionism is likely to ebb. In one sense, there is nowhere to go but down. Trying to mold the clay of Afghan society represents the most alien military endeavor imaginable. How can the United States match this kind of ambitious project?

Furthermore, in the coming years, Washington will probably avoid sustained nation building in distant lands. Negative memories of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have triggered an “Iraqistan syndrome”—a popular aversion toward prolonged stabilization missions. In addition, the shift to a multipolar international system, with the rise of China, India and other countries, could introduce new international checks that temper American adventurism.

Warfare will also become less alien because of greater information flows about foreign countries. Globalization, communicational change and technological innovation provide new sources of knowledge about international allies and opponents. We live in the Age of Information: a time of NSA snooping, Wikileaks and Facebook. In 2002, there were about five exabytes of data online. Today, this amount of data is created every two days. As a result, Americans will probably know more about Afghan society in 2030 than in 2000.

But this raises a puzzle. The spread of information did not begin with the Internet. Technological and communicational change has heightened the flow of knowledge about foreign societies for centuries. Americans had far more data available about Afghanistan in 2001 than they did in 1901—when they might have struggled to even locate the road to Kabul.

If Americans grew steadily more knowledgeable about foreign countries, why did U.S. wars become increasingly alien experiences? The answer is that American interventionism expanded more rapidly than the flow of information. In other words, the last two centuries saw a race between globalism and globalization—and the decisive winner was globalism. American GIs leapt into distant conflicts more quickly than information flows could narrow the gulf of ignorance.

American interventionism is now likely to pause for breath—allowing information flows to catch up. If Washington displays more restraint, the spread of knowledge will make conflict less alien. All else held equal, greater awareness of adversaries should produce more effective military and diplomatic strategies. But the ebbing of alien warfare is unlikely to herald a return to the glory days of military victory. For one thing, conflict will likely remain dominated by civil wars, where Washington often struggles on the battlefield, rather than interstate wars, where the United States usually wins decisively.

In addition, communicational and technological change may have other effects that serve to help U.S. opponents. For example, globalization provides guerrillas with new opportunities to transmit their messages to foreign audiences and win external support—which is vital for the success of an insurgency. Meanwhile, the spread of information could itself spur a revival of American interventionism. Global news coverage and the profusion of social media make it more difficult to ignore conflicts on the far side of the globe. Therefore, the pendulum may swing back and Americans could adopt a more bellicose posture, triggering renewed alien warfare.


AMERICAN MILITARY history is the story of the rise of alien warfare. Over time, U.S. campaigns occurred in more distant lands, adversaries and allies became more culturally dissimilar, and conflicts evolved from interstate war to counterinsurgency, requiring greater engagement with foreign populations. Today, as the United States battles the Islamic State, there are signs of a new alien war, with Americans unable to even agree on the enemy’s name. In this increasingly unknown military environment, Washington has struggled both to wage war and to make peace.

The solution may seem obvious: less war and less nation building. And indeed, Washington should set a higher bar before using force. Two of America’s alien wars—Vietnam and Iraq—should never have been fought. Given America’s recent experiences, we should rarely, if ever, willingly start a major counterinsurgency campaign.

But renouncing all forms of nation building is unrealistic. In a world where nine out of ten wars are civil wars, American troops are bound to engage in some form of stabilization mission. For example, peacekeeping has a fairly successful recent record at preventing civil wars from restarting—provided the combatants consent to the presence of foreign troops. During the 1990s, the U.S.-led peacekeeping operations in Bosnia and Kosovo stabilized the war-torn Balkan provinces with zero American casualties. Indeed, it is precisely because entrenched insurgencies are so intractable that it may be worth deploying troops to prevent a civil war from breaking out.

Furthermore, trying to sidestep alien wars with a “small footprint” invasion plan is especially dangerous. The George W. Bush administration, for example, realized that U.S. intervention abroad can trigger an antibody response, and deliberately sent minimal forces into Afghanistan and Iraq. But small footprints may produce the worst of all worlds: enough U.S. boots on the ground to trigger a nationalist backlash but not enough to provide security. In the rare cases where the United States must occupy an entire country, Washington should provide sufficient forces to win the peace.

The United States should also prepare for a world of complex civil wars by prioritizing cultural training and language skills within the U.S. military and diplomatic corps. Since indigenous soldiers usually know more about local values and norms than American troops, the United States should step up its capabilities at advising and enabling allied forces.

Finally, Washington should take advantage of enhanced information flows about foreign societies. For decades, U.S. interventionism expanded more quickly than the world contracted. A pause in interventionism would be a valuable opportunity to learn more about the world before the United States embarks upon its next alien war.

Dominic Tierney is an associate professor of political science at Swarthmore College, a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute and a contributing writer for the Atlantic. His new book, The Right Way to Lose a War: America in an Age of Unwinnable Conflicts, will be published by Little, Brown and Company in June 2015.

Image: Flickr/Official U.S. Air Force/CC by-nc 2.0