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Ending Endless War

A Pragmatic Military Strategy

Coffins of U.S. military personnel are prepared to be offloaded at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware, May 2004. HO NEW / REUTERS

During the Cold War, the United States preferred to husband, rather than expend, its military power. The idea was not to fight but to defend, deter, and contain, a cold peace infinitely preferable to nuclear cataclysm. When U.S. policymakers strayed from this principle, attempting to unify the Korean Peninsula in 1950 or deploying combat troops to Vietnam in the 1960s, the results proved unhappy in the extreme.

Husbanding did not imply timidity. To impart credibility to its strategy of containment, the United States stationed substantial forces in Western Europe and Northeast Asia. For allies unable to defend themselves, U.S. garrisons offered reas­surance, fostering an environment that facilitated recovery and development. Over time, regions deemed vulnerable stabilized and prospered.

Beginning in the 1990s, however, official thinking regarding the utility of force changed radically. The draft “Defense Planning Guidance” prepared in 1991 under the aegis of Paul Wolfowitz, then U.S.

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