The basic trajectories of events in the two American campaigns chronicled in Why We Lost are strikingly similar, and equally disconcerting. First in Afghanistan and then in Iraq, U.S.-led coalitions light on numbers but heavy on advanced technology and lethality crush the enemy regimes in a matter of a few months. In displays of astonishing naiveté, “major combat” is blithely declared at an end by the Bush administration. In fact, the wars have just begun.
Nasty and protracted insurgencies break out, spearheaded by a jumble of jihadist extremists, warlords, and sectarian militias. Caught off guard and unprepared, the Americans and their coalition partners struggle to cobble together massive aid and re-construction programs, establish stable governments with dependable clients, and train indigenous armies and security forces to carry on the fight for the long haul.