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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Interesting arguments but too many directions
on January 6, 2012
I found this book to be very confusing to read. The initial premise seems sound: namely, the U.S. Military, after the Vietnam debacle, lost its way and is now confused as it relies on early 19th century Clausewitzian thinking which does not apply to the U.S. So far, so good, but then the author expands his argument: First, he defines a taxonomy of different kinds of wars and introduces the concepts of Offensive War; Defensive War; and Limited War. He then claims that America has a 300 year long successful streak of winning Offensive Wars that had been stopped by Vietnam. Further he claims that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are also Offensive Wars, but due to the U.S. Army abandoning its traditions due to Vietnam, it is now conducting the war in a wrong way and therefore is losing them - or, at least, not sure how to proceed with them.
These arguments are made in a relatively straightforward way and one can see the internal logic that the author has as he makes his case. The main point is that the U.S. won World War 2 and before because it understood what to do after the battles are over and prepared for it with thousands of troops dedicated to governance after the fighting; and a good method for re-establishing civilian societies once the active warfighting was over. By contrast, during the Iraq war, nobody planned for what to do after the fighting was over and we took over Iraq and consequently we left a huge power vacuum behind; lost the momentum; and were quickly seen as the aggressor occupiers who wanted to take over Iraq and therefore allowed and even encouraged the genesis of the insurgency that we've been fighting ever since.
As long as the author stays on that track, his arguments make sense and his various statistics and historical references and anecdotes contribute to the discussion. Assuming that what he relates about the lack of preparations for the aftermath of the war is correct, then it is a real black eye for the U.S. Army and the whole American government across multiple administrations. The author provides a set of recommendations that he believes will allow the U.S. Army to be better prepared to wage Offensive Wars and win their aftermaths.
Where I think the author loses his thread is in his constant harping about how the U.S. Army lost its way by relying on Clausewitz's writings. He points out that Clausewitz was theorizing about limited wars waged between European monarchies for limited objectives and that the way the U.S. fights its wars is different. But then he muddles that argument by pointing out multiple recent cases where the U.S. Army fought a war for limited objectives and succeeded. Even more confusing was that he states that relying on Clausewitzian thinking lead the U.S. Army astray at the same time that he tells us - repeatedly - that there is no power on earth that can stand and fight against the U.S. Army due to how strong it is and how well it fights. Citing statistics that show that the combat kill rations between the U.S. and its enemies has been 10 to 1 or better for over a century does not align with the argument that the U.S. Army lost its way by reading Clausewitz.
There is a further section that acts as a warning to Americans that the direction in which the military is moving is tending more and more towards becoming a professional force intent on carving out an American empire in the world. Good and thoughtful arguments are presented here with reliance on the historical antecedent of Rome and its fall from Republic to Empire and dissolution due to a similar move by the professional army of its time. This section is very interesting and illuminating, but one has to wonder what that has to do with the rest of the book?
For all these reasons, I find myself rather confused as to what it is that the author is actually trying to achieve? Hodgepodges of ideas - some of which contradict themselves - are thrown together. For these reasons I gave the book only three stars. Nonetheless, there is much in this book that is worth reading, pondering, and understanding.