Thanks to Thomas E. Ricks for his Oct. 27 Sunday Opinion piece, “Can the military learn from its mistakes?” I am glad such a prominent voice on military affairs is raising the question of the United States’ lost wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. However, Mr. Ricks missed the forest for the trees.

The U.S. military has failed to win because it has engaged in civil wars whose causes and meanings are absent any U.S. concern; Iraq, of course, is a civil war of our own making. There is no strategy, and certainly no general, capable of winning a war whose foundations were as morally rotten as the wars in Vietnam or Iraq, or a war in which success requires the funding and fortification of a corrupt and illegitimate government such as the regime in Kabul.

We can continue to argue about troop levels, deify or defrock generals and debate strategies, or we can own up to the reality that war is a failure. Until we do, lives will continue to be shattered without gain.

Matthew Hoh, Raleigh, N.C.

The writer is a senior fellow with the Center for International Policy.

In questioning the military’s sclerotic leadership, Thomas E. Ricks argued that the military must “fix itself” with or without help from Congress and the executive. This is the wrong approach. Not only would the absence of civilian leadership advance the “stab in the back” narrative in which civilian leaders are blamed for military failures, but it would also enable military leaders to avoid examining their mistakes. If the system really discourages adaptive leadership, as Mr. Ricks asserted, how can it be relied on to produce a critical appraisal of its performance without external pressure?

Daniel Acheson, Gaithersburg