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End-Game: Why American Interventions Become Quagmires

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy

Why have the major post 9/11 U.S. military interventions turned into quagmires? Despite huge power imbalances, major capacity-building efforts, and repeated tactical victories, the wars in Afghanistan (2001-present) and Iraq (2003-2011; 2014-present) turned bloody and intractable. The inability to design and manage war termination is an important part of the explanation why successful military operations to overthrow two third-world regimes failed to achieve favorable and durable outcomes.
This thesis uses the abductive research method to develop three hypotheses to investigate these problems. Hypothesis #1: The failure to consider war termination heightens the risk of selecting a myopic strategy that has a low probability of success. Hypothesis #2: Cognitive obstacles, political frictions, and patron-client problems can impede the ability to recognize and abandon an ineffective or losing strategy. Hypothesis #3. When the United States tires of the war and decides to withdraw, bargaining asymmetries can undermine the prospects of a favorable outcome. These hypotheses are examined in the case studies and used to draw conclusions.
Three main findings emerge. First, the United States government has no organized way to consider war termination and thus selected strategies that overestimated the prospects of decisive military victory. Second, the United States was slow to recognize and modify or abandon losing strategies. In both cases, U.S. officials believed their strategies were working even as the situations deteriorated. Third, once the United States decided to withdraw, bargaining asymmetries and disconnects in strategy undermined the prospects for a successful transition or negotiated outcome.
Original languageEnglish
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Award date2017

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