THE RIGHT WAY TO LOSE A WAR by Dominic Tierney


America in an Age of Unwinnable Conflicts
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A manifesto that offers alternative stratagems to waging war in a changing geopolitical landscape.

Maybe the supercomputer in the 1983 film War Games got it right about war: “The only winning move is not to play.” But simply choosing not to fight isn’t enough in an age when America is already embroiled in two traditional conflicts, the blood bath of Syria, a proxy war with Russia in Ukraine, and the undying war on terror. In this natural follow-up to his previous book, How We Fight: Crusades, Quagmires, and the American Way of War (2010), Tierney (Political Science/Swarthmore Coll.) doesn’t just analyze, although there are plenty of examples drawn from ancient and modern history. Instead, he offers a cogent argument and concrete strategies for minimizing loss of life by assessing the risk–benefit ratio of a given conflict. “First of all,” he writes, “we must realize that the outcome of war is not a binary like victory or defeat—where only victory is tolerable….Achieving a draw rather than a catastrophic loss may be a profile in courage that saves thousands of American and allied lives.” His strategy rests on three central tenets: a “Surge” to undermine counterinsurgency and lessen the risk of a fiasco; “Talk,” which uses diplomacy and negotiation to effect an honorable exit; and “Leave,” exiting the conflict zone with a clear plan for political succession and healing of veterans. Hawks may view Tierney’s platform as defeatist. However, when he uses historical facts to illustrate the costs of what he calls “The Dark Age”—in which America has suffered embarrassing defeats and inexcusable human losses in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere—it’s hard not to think that there must be a better way, win or lose.

Tierney is clearly not optimistic about real change in the near future, but his useful book’s coda offers some interesting long-term strategies to avoid endless war in the future.

Pub Date: June 2nd, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-316-25488-5
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Little, Brown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 2015


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