According to a Gallup Poll from a year ago, only 49% of Americans think the United States is the strongest military power in the world. To anyone who knows the first thing about the military capabilities of various countries, the statement is beyond absurd. It is like saying an Abrams tank is outclassed by a kid armed with a smurf ball.
The United States has conventional military capabilities much greater than any other country. The United States has conventional military capabilities much greater than all other countries combined. Qualitatively so, by several orders of magnitude.
|Saigon, 1975. The last 10 marines evacuate from the U.S.|
embassy as heliport ladder full of Vietnamese is kicked away
Because we can't seem to win a war, and we've been in plenty.
The United States has not won a decisive victory in any military conflict it has been directly involved in since we nuked Japan in 1945.
Starting with China in 1945-1949, through Vietnam to Afghanistan and Iraq, we've either been stalemated or downright defeated. The fiasco in Syria is just the latest installment.
Of course, there was the successful 1983 invasion of Grenada. But sending 7,500 troops to occupy a country of 90,000 people is not a war but a crime.
Nor can the first Gulf War (1990-1991) be considered a decisive victory. It was really one campaign is a war that is still going on, and that campaign was for a limited objective. Active U.S. military operations continued against Iraq afterwards, first in the air and then finally with Bush's 2003 invasion. And they continue to this day.
In fact, the United States has been continuously at war in the Middle East with active military operations for 35 years, since 1982. And there is no end in sight.
Why has the United States failed? Because war is the continuation of politics by other means. That includes political objectives like backing the State of Israel or making sure Persian Gulf oil keeps flowing to market, but that is not the main thing.
It also means that war is an intervention in the internal politics of the region. In this sense politics is about the different layers of the population, ideological currents, social classes, etc., their evolution, the alliances and enmities both within a given state and how these extend beyond its borders and also affect relations between states and the entire system of states in the region and the world.
The problem is that the United States does not realize that when it goes into a country like Iraq or destabilizes Syria, it is creating or qualitatively escalating internal conflicts within those countries and in the region that soon manifest as civil wars (Libya) or as a combination of a civil war and a war against foreign occupation (Vietnam, Iraq).
The United States recognizes the kind of problem it faces with its sporadic campaigns to "win the hearts and minds" of the population.
Sometimes the United States takes under its wing people from some minority nationality, this tribe or that religious group.
Initially, as the much larger intervention is being planned, this typically takes the form of support to exile circles that claim to have a lot of support inside the country but very rarely do (the CIA's 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba being a prime example). Then as the U.S. looks for some way to stabilize the country it will try to lean on some domestic leadership that has ideas and objectives that are different from and often contradict what the U.S. is seeking, or are just a bunch of corrupt opportunists looting American aid and the country's resources.
This kind of imposition from above of rule by some group or faction doesn't work because it produces a puppet regime that will quickly alienate whatever base of support it might have had.
At any rate, the United States does not start by looking at the actual politics of these places and its dynamics, but does so only after the invasion or intervention has gone into a crisis from rising opposition.
No amount of firepower, no increase in the number of planes, tanks or warships, nor tens of thousands of additional troops can provide a solution because the problem is political: the U.S. intervention is floating in mid air; it has no roots in the given society, and by the time the Americans get a clue, it is too late.