U.S. Department of Defense


Date of this Version



APOJ 16-5 26 January 2016


While the character of any war is unique to its context, Prussian theorist Carl von Clausewitz gives us three observations about the enduring nature of war that apply to the war against ISIL and anticipate the conflict’s course. First, war cannot be considered separately from the political purpose which animates its combatants. Second, war is interactive and even the weakest of opponents has the opportunity to strike back. Third, we cannot count on war to give us a final result; instead, what we can count on is a new strategic challenge to confront in place of the former one. As the debate over America’s approach to war with ISIL continues, advocates on both sides would better serve the American public to consider these points before promising quick, decisive solutions that come without cost, trade-offs, or risk. To do otherwise would be a failure to see war with ISIL for what it is, “neither mistaking it for, nor trying to turn it into, something alien to its nature.”1