Why have we been in Afghanistan twice as long as the Soviets? Why did Saddam Hussein reign for a dozen more years after defeat in the Persian Gulf War? This study of the clash of military and civilian cultures goes a long way toward answering such questions.
By many reckonings, the United States has not been at peace since the atomic bombs fell on Japan in 1945. There is good reason for that: politicians like war, and they have been able to co-opt plenty of military people to press their cases, even as professional soldiers recognize war as a last resort. By freelance military affairs journalist Perry’s (The Most Dangerous Man in America: The Making of Douglas MacArthur, 2014, etc.) account, in the last three decades especially, “the brilliance of our battlefield leaders has not been matched by those in Washington who are responsible for making certain that our soldiers, sailors, and airmen (and women) not only have what they need to win, but are backed by strong leaders who speak their minds.” It is this last matter that occupies much of the book, for the military is made up of two classes of officers: politicians who often migrate into the enemy (read: administrative or legislative) camp and actual combat leaders who have little use for politicians but still follow their orders. The author observes that the politicians among the soldiers, usually at the very apex of leadership, rarely say no to their civilian bosses: only Colin Powell did, and then only over the matter of gays in the military, which was less problematic of itself than as a symptom of Bill Clinton’s “rookie mistake” tendency to tell the Pentagon what to do. The overarching result is that field officers often actively conspire to frustrate political ambitions, particularly to resist directives at nation-building, which is not the military’s mission.
A book that does much to explain quirks of foreign policy, providing a military context for them—and one that makes one wonder who’s really in charge.