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Failings of the Rumsfeld doctrine

Intense air power and small groups of troops didn't win in Iraq or Afghanistan.

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This month's devastating wave of suicide attacks in Afghanistan (including three attacks on Monday, which brought the total number to 69 since 2005) is a grim reminder that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, under fire for his role in Iraq, has been the architect of not one but two failing wars – and of a dangerous vision for how to apply American power.

August 2002 was Afghanistan's "Mission Accomplished" moment. Mr. Rumsfeld declared the military effort "a breathtaking accomplishment" and "a successful model of what could happen to Iraq." America had routed the Taliban, disrupted Al Qaeda, and set Afghanistan on a course for stability and democracy – and it had done it Rumsfeld's way, at little cost and with minimal loss of life.

But in reality, the mission was never accomplished. Five years after Sept. 11, America's efforts in Afghanistan, as in Iraq, are unraveling. The country's government remains weak and corrupt, and it faces daunting obstacles: dismal development indicators, an entrenched opium industry, and a reinvigorated insurgency.

How did things go so wrong so quickly? Certainly Rumsfeld and his team made tactical errors, but it's hard not to trace the mistakes to a more systemic problem: a dangerously naive notion of American power that was ascendant in Washington.

The Rumsfeld doctrine, in military terms, stresses reliance on high technology and air power and downplays large ground forces. Its corollaries are that America operates best when unencumbered by international institutions, that state-building is a distraction, and that force can accomplish political objectives with few long-term repercussions.


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