Worn out: a U.S. soldier in eastern Afghanistan, April 2009.
Liu Jin / AFP / Getty

For more than a decade now, U.S. soldiers have been laboring under a sad paradox: even though the United States enjoys unprecedented global military dominance that should cow enemies mightily, it has found itself in constant combat for longer than ever before in its history, and without much to show for it. Of the U.S. military actions in Kosovo, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, only the first can be counted a success.

Assessing this record is a particularly crucial task now, with U.S. defense policy caught between powerful opposing pressures. Frustration with unending war and with strong fiscal

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