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Zero-Sum Victory

Zero-Sum Victory

What We're Getting Wrong About War

by Christopher D. Kolenda

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

366 Pages, 6.00 x 9.00 in, 15 charts

  • Hardcover
  • 9780813152769
  • Published: October 2021



Why have the major, post-9/11, US military interventions turned into quagmires? Despite huge power imbalances, major capacity-building efforts, and repeated tactical victories by what many observers call the world's best military, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq turned bloody and intractable. The US government's fixation on zero-sum decisive victory is an important part of the explanation why successful military operations to overthrow two developing-world regimes failed to achieve favorable and durable outcomes.

In Zero-Sum Victory, Christopher D. Kolenda identifies three interrelated problems that have emerged from the government's insistence on a zero-sum victory. First, the US government has no organized way to consider successful outcomes alternative to decisive military victory and, thus, selects strategies that overestimate the prospects of such a victory. Second, the US is slow to recognize and modify or abandon losing strategies. In both cases, US officials believe their strategies are working even as the situations deteriorate. Third, once the US decides to withdraw, bargaining asymmetries and disconnects in strategy undermine the prospects for a successful transition or negotiated outcome.

By making powerful historic comparisons and drawing from personal experience, Kolenda draws thought-provoking and actionable conclusions about the utility of American military power in the contemporary world.