Hugo Chavez is making news again, this time threatening war with Colombia (a U.S. ally) over the assassination of terrorist elements that have taken refuge in Ecuador. The facts aren't quite known, but it is alleged the Colombia sent military forces into Ecuador to attack members of the FARC, a terrorist group that has been staging attacks in Colombia and taking hostages (it is currently holding three U.S. citizens, for instance).
In what was considered a bizarre response, Chavez ordered several battalions to the border with Colombia and has threatened all-out war with the country. Ecuador is understandably upset, but many attribute Chavez's latest media-grabbing stunt as more saber-waving from a dictator who craves international attention for "standing up to U.S. imperialism." There are important reasons to take Chavez's threats at face value, but first some background.
United States Military Doctrine
Since the 1990s, the United States Armed Forces have held various iterations of a win-win doctrine. The current version of the doctrine (the 4-2-1 strategy) states that the United States will maintain the capability to "conduct two, overlapping 'swift defeat' campaigns… [and] the force must be able to 'win decisively' in one of the two campaigns". In layman's terms, this means the United States has set up its military to win two medium-sized wars simultaneously.
It is also important to note that the United States military debates its over-reaching strategy out in the open for the world to see. Not a single spy is needed to determine how we structure our military and with what aims in mind. A foreign agent can pick up any number of academic journals, surf the various public military and government websites, or read the many books written on the subject. No security clearance is needed. Other countries know full well what we design our military to do and conversely know what limitations we build into our system.
One can look at the current situation of the U.S. military and see how this strategy has worked (albeit not without bumps). The military is engaged in operations in both Afghanistan and Iraq and achieving successes in both countries. The only area where improvement has not been substantial is in the area of nation-building, particularly, getting the native populations to take responsibility for their own political destiny. The lack of will for U.S. imperialism has come at a price.
The current situation shows that the strategy can work and is working. Al Qaeda in Iraq is essentially no more. However, it has also shown that it engages a large proportion of the resources available to the United States military that can be used for war-fighting. The preventative operations still continue, sure, but it is less than clear that the United States could, without significant difficulty, engage in a third conflict; much less a fourth conflict.