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American Military: Indecisive and Manipulated by Politicians Resulting in Defeat in Afghanistan and Vietnam

A senior air warrior, graduate from the Staff College and a PG in military studies. He is qualified to write on war and allied matters.



America won the war of independence in 1776 and a federal Constitution was adopted. One of the cardinal principles which emerged is the supremacy of Congress and the civil administration over the military. Various checks and balances were incorporated to see that there could never be a takeover of the government by the Army.

In practical terms, the arrangement was a success till the Second World War. By and large, there was no interference from the civil administration in the plan for war against both Germany and Japan. The policy was of course laid down by the administration headed by Roosevelt and later Truman, but the nuts and bolts of its execution were left to the military.

The first differences emerged during the Korean War. With the United States and its allies hard pressed against an assault by the Chinese and North Koreans, the American Commander-in-Chief General Douglas MacArthur suggested the use of atomic bombs on the Yalu river -the border between Korea and China as well a few centers in China. The general had calculated that the half-life of an atomic isotope is 50 years. He informed President Truman that this would mean the Chinese would never be able to cross into North Korea for the next tens of years and peace would be secured. MacArthur, however, did not see things from the political angle, and the president though initially enthusiastic soon developed cold feet and in discussion with Sir Winston Churchill who was against the use of the atomic bomb backed away. He took the decision and sacked general MacArthur and appointed general Ridgway in his place.

Militarily MacArthur was correct but politically it would have been very damaging for the United States to have to use the bombs only against Asian nations. The next arenas of combat are the two wars of Vietnam and Afghanistan. In both these theaters of combat, the question of using the atomic bomb /nuclear weapons never arose because it was not required. Also because the areas involved were very small and it would have led to complete destruction of civilization. Another point was the Russians and Chinese had a credible deterrent and no American would've taken this risk.

Within the framework of the battle, the US military made a number of suggestions to the political leadership for the successful prosecution of the war in both Afghanistan and Vietnam. For some reason, this was ignored and the political leadership prevailed on the army to fight the war the way they wanted it and not from the military concept. In such a situation the battle was bound to be lost because the American army was fighting with one hand tied behind its back and obviously with mounting casualties and lowering of morale the battles could not be sustained. Blame must go to the military leadership which never presented its viewpoint forcefully to the political leadership. The top generals accepted the dictates of the political leadership and the wars were lost.


Analysis of the wars

The Vietnam war escalated when President Johnson stage-managed the Tonkin Gulf incident. He followed by ordering the bombing of North Vietnam. This bombing continued for almost 10 years but one has to regretfully say that the United States Air Force proved Guilo Douhet's theory of airpower as the instrument to win the war wrong.

President Johnson was facing world condemnation for the bombing of North Vietnam; at the same time, he was ready to hurt but not bleed, and in the bargain, half measures were taken which did not help the war effort. Basically, the US was supposed to be bombing only the military targets in North Vietnam but they never bombed the famous Ho Chi Minh Trail which carried the weapons from China into North Vietnam and further into South Vietnam.

Another facet of the war has been brought out by Field Marshall Barnard Montgomery in his History of warfare. He stated that no war can be won only by air power and it requires the infantry soldier to hold the ground. Despite the chief of staff's recommendations to expand the air war, the political leadership refused to give the go-ahead and the American army could only operate in South Vietnam. Failure to bomb the sanctuary's in North Vietnam, as well as the Ho Chi Minh Trail, proved to be the nemesis of the US Army. Casualties mounted and an anti-war movement built up in America and Nixon decided to throw in the towel.

In Afghanistan, something similar happened and it is one of the ironies of history that the political leadership never learned anything from Vietnam. The American army similarly in Afghanistan was fighting with one arm tied behind its back as the Taliban and all the leaders and soldiers could hit and run away to the sanctuary in Pakistan and for some strange reason, Americans never took Pakistan to task, and in the bargain lost 2500 soldiers.

There was a recommendation from the military to bomb the havens in Pakistan but Congress overruled it. The net result was that the war carried on for two decades. The military leadership must be blamed for this as they failed to project to the American political leadership the need to win the war, by all means, How can you fight a war when the Taliban soldiers escaped into the mountain areas of Pakistan where they were looked after very well with food and medicine. Even when Osama bin Laden was found to be in Pakistan and shot dead the American military and President Obama the chief executive did nothing and business continued as usual. Even at that time, I knew that America could never win the war in Afghanistan. I remember we had a study at staff College where the Brigadier of the directing staff brought out this fact and that was in 2012, that America can never win this war because the American political leadership lacks the will to win.

Like in Vietnam, where President Nixon made his so-called historic trip to Peking and paid homage to Chairman Mao, the same thing was carried out by Donald Trump when he started negotiating with a terrorist organization Taliban which had carried out the killing of more than 3000 Americans during 9/11 and also engineers the death of hundreds of American soldiers. Taliban is nothing but a Pakistani creation. The Americans then threw in the towel and a chaotic retreat that the Americans will not be able to live down for the next 50 years.


In conclusion, we can see that the American army lost the wars in both Vietnam and Afghanistan.

Seymour Hersh in his book has mentioned that during the 1971 war the CIA had a Mole in the form of a cabinet minister in the Indian cabinet. So when I suggest that there was somebody in the American think tank and that includes President Biden who could have decided to go soft in Afghanistan and leave the field to China for some untold benefits cannot be ruled out. Of course, this is speculation and there is no hard evidence available but the needle of suspicion does point to somebody in the political leadership. One can also see that President Obama when he became president really started the downslide. I wonder as a colored American how much loyalty he had to the American state.

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The world is now sitting up and realizing that America is not the nation that will stand by its allies and at the first sign of a ship sinking it will just run away. American credibility is low.


By Carter Malkasian Illustrated. 576 pp. Oxford University Press. $34.95.

Defeat and Memory - cultural histories of military defeat in the modern era by Jenny Macleod


MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on September 30, 2021:

Bill, I can understand your disgust. Now a US general has said the pact with the Taliban spelled uS doom, wonder why Trump went for it and Biden swallowed it. Let the US soldier down as you can read, the defeat was entirely due to the politicians and the Army fought well as it had one arm tied behind.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on September 30, 2021:

Thank you, Tom, It's always a pleasure to read your comment and interact with you. Yes, sexual assault is there to a high degree in the US Armed forces, one Sergeant was caught make films of female officers bathing and what not. The US Army is starved of manpower and is recruiting globally. Many Indians recruited on promise of US citizenship carrot. I have had Keralite airmen technicians, bloody good at their job and loyal to0. Not Muslims though. The Allies won WWII on the back of Russia, yes Macarthur only good general, his advice on Korea was correct but he got dismissed. What models do you have?

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on September 30, 2021:

I can barely stand to read articles like this one, not because of the writing quality, which is very good, but because it reminds me that we will once again enter into some nation, next year, or the next, and become embroiled in a military action we will not win, costing countless lives. I know it's not possible, but we would be better off an isolationist country. At least thousands of soldiers wouldn't have to die so that others can be rich.

tom on September 30, 2021:

since 1945bus lost all wars,two world wars allies won ,not us alone ww2 soviets destroyed 360 divsions,no more macarthurs now ,read years of macarthur 3volumes by clayton james ,beat inferior enemy iraqin 1990,sexual assault common,punjabi soldiers best recruits,even keralites in us military,no recruitable talent in us manpower,since korea us lost ,napoleon predicted rise of china ,i have read douhets books,but no indian politician has read it,check ,parliamentary debates of india,1977 macarthur movie,got new scale models

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on September 30, 2021:

Thank you, Col for your opinion. There is no doubt that the American military has suffered a bloody nose and irrespective of the fact that the politicians impose their will on the military the fact remains that in the ultimate analysis it is the American general staff that will be held culpable. I have studied world history and I have not come across such big defeats of any world power. I am surprised at the smugness of the American people whose last two presidents have taken them into the Well of no return.

Col Parduman Singh on September 30, 2021:

This is a nice article but now everybody knows that the Americans have been defeated. I just wonder how the American army must be feeling after this near thrashing. It is a big dent on America and I don't know how it can it be washed away.

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