HOW WARS END by Gideon Rose


Why We Always Fight the Last Battle: A History of American Intervention from World War I to Afghanistan
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Foreign Affairs editor Rose (co-editor: Understanding the War on Terror, 2005, etc.) finds that American military conflicts of the past century have often ended badly.

In this sharp overview of the late stages of modern wars, the author calmly examines the options facing American leaders and concludes that they “rarely if ever closed out military conflicts smoothly and effectively.” Focused on defeating the enemy, writes Rose, leaders often find it difficult to switch gears and construct a stable political settlement. Looking at the endgames of six conflicts, the author observes that the United States was generally unprepared to end the war: In World War I, President Wilson failed to understand how difficult it would be to achieve his ambitious goals. In World War II, America lacked backup planning for the breakup of the Allied alliance, which led to world instability rather than harmony. In the Vietnam War, Nixon was unable to extricate the country from a mess created by his predecessors. In each instance, Rose details the key machinations of belligerents late in the war and shows how, through combinations of factors, U.S. leaders failed to achieve their political goals. He blames much of this failure on the “flawed” clear-division-of-labor approach to war, in which civilians deal with political matters and military leaders with military matters. National policy must inform all aspects of war, he writes. As for the Iraq War, the United States stumbled into postwar turmoil “woefully unprepared for the aftermath.” In all these conflicts, U.S. leaders failed to think through clearly in advance what the war was supposed to achieve. They simply did not plan ahead. Nor did they consider the advice of Carl von Clausewitz, the Prussian military theorist who addressed such matters at length. Without careful planning and precisely defined goals, writes Rose, military leaders find themselves at the mercy of events, often playing it by ear.

Essential reading for national policymakers.

Pub Date: Oct. 12th, 2010
ISBN: 978-1-4165-9053-8
Page count: 432pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2010


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