The title of Frederick Kagan’s Finding the Target represents the U.S. military’s increasing ability to find targets and destroy them with precision an...moreThe title of Frederick Kagan’s Finding the Target represents the U.S. military’s increasing ability to find targets and destroy them with precision and accuracy. Yet as Kagan points out in his conclusion, “war is not about killing people and blowing things up. It is a purposeful violence to achieve a political goal. The death and destruction, through the most deplorable aspect of war, are of secondary importance.” This quote summarizes Kagan’s overarching argument. His book shows that the American military has improved greatly at tactical and organizational levels. Nevertheless, it has failed to progress—and perhaps has even regressed—at a grand strategy level. Kagan recaps innovations and breakthroughs in military strategy since the atomic age, with a special interest on the military transformation of post-Vietnam 1970s. He uses the more recent examples of American armed conflict, Afghanistan and Iraq, as telling examples of America’s failures in strategy. In each theatre, American forces excelled at executing tactical maneuvers and in destroying targets. In each case, however, political goals were not simply left unachieved, they were never considered by strategists. In short, Kagan’s book is a reminder to strategists of Clauswitz’s famous dictum that war is meant to be an extension of politics.(less)
China & Iran is a history of the foreign relations between these two nations as well as their interactions with the United States. Garver, a profe...moreChina & Iran is a history of the foreign relations between these two nations as well as their interactions with the United States. Garver, a professor of International affairs at the Georgia Institute of Technology, begins by showing how Persia and ancient China were both highly influential regional powers but were also both overshadowed with impending imperial infiltration into the region. Both nations share a disdain for attempts at western hegemony. Both nations experienced violent revolutions in mid-twentieth century. Yet both China and Iran played the superpowers surprisingly well, maintaining some semblance of autonomy in their respective regions throughout the Cold War. Garver’s book shares an American policymaker’s bias, but curiously the author never focuses on the United States’s role in these affairs. Gavin’s book, at times, sides a bit too strongly for American sensibilities to the point of selective exclusion. For example, one would imagine that a book partially focused on Iranian political history would take into account the Iran-Contra affair and the Reagan administration’s role in bolstering Iranian weaponry during the 1980s. Iran has long been an important piece in the American struggle for a stable middle east—one that, of course, remained sympathetic towards western hegemony and hostile to communism. A comparative analysis that included an Iranian or Chinese perspective, would be more insightful; Gavin’s inspection remains myopically sympathetic with American interests. Garver states that “China is both a partner and a rival of the United States” and “in effect, China has decided not to oppose the United States in the Middle East” as if it were a welcome responsibility passed over. (281, 283) China & Iran speaks only to the amorphous policy decisions of these two nations. Iran and China share something of a common past in their opposition to western imperial motives. Perhaps more than any other commonality, what these two nations share is the ability to frustrate and confuse American policy-minded intellectuals. They defy models of political science and IR theory, and their shifting governments remain firmly rooted in real politic while idealists in the current White House struggle to place these nations a black and white world, one that has only good and evil participants. (less)
Organizational culture is central to John Nagl’s comparative study of counter-insurgencies. Born out of his dissertation, Nagl’s title borrows from T...more Organizational culture is central to John Nagl’s comparative study of counter-insurgencies. Born out of his dissertation, Nagl’s title borrows from T.E. Lawrence, who noted that fighting guerilla warfare was slow and difficult—like “learning to eat soup with a knife.” Both the author’s historical research and personal experience in Iraq confirm this idea. Nagl compares British and American experiences with counterinsurgency—in Malaya and Vietnam respectively—and discovers that flexibility in organizational military culture makes a difference. American forces in SE Asia approached insurgency with tried (and until then true) methods of total war. By relying heavily on firepower and tactical intelligence, American forces blasted away at an enemy that never relented. Conversely, the British in Malaya succeed in a situation very similar to America’s quandary in Vietnam. The British were victorious by employing a political campaign to win the hearts and minds of Malayans. In short, fighting insurgency is a political as well as a military campaign. Nagl implores military leaders to give locals reasons to want democracy and stability; in time they will quit supporting insurgents.
Nagl is a true student of military theory and history, one that has taken Clauswitz’s dictum that war is an extension of politics. Learning to Eat Soup has a clear political message. It implies that the United States needs to reflect on its failures in Vietnam, no matter how painful. The American military must learn from its mistakes—as well as British military history—to have any chance of successfully stopping insurgents in modern day Iraq. Although Nagl contends that military culture is slow to evolve, his work should be scrutinized by a U.S. Military staff that currently finds itself in quite a quandary. Nagl’s book, however, never speculates beyond the technical and organizational levels of warfare, and certainly the American military’s current state of affairs in the Middle East has something to do with Grand Strategy. While the initial military thrust into Iraq was extremely successful, for any long term stability to take hold in the region policymakers must think beyond the almost certain successes of conventional warfare.
Nagl’s arguments could be bolstered by some cultural analysis. Bridging the divide between counterinsurgents and civilians—a central point in Nagl’s argument—requires more nuanced understanding of a region and people’s continually torn apart by imposed nationalistic borders and neo-imperialist designs. Regardless of the U.S. military’s good intentions in Iraq, it must be difficult (if not impossible) for those living in war-torn Iraq to view the actions of the western military powers as altruistic. In short, Nagl’s book is a must read for those on the ground dealing with insurgents, but should also be read by policymakers who need to consider the time, resources, and historical understanding needed to fight insurgents successfully. (less)
I really like this book. It's divided up into short, easily digestible chapters, which is a must when you are detailing the formation of nascent nucle...moreI really like this book. It's divided up into short, easily digestible chapters, which is a must when you are detailing the formation of nascent nuclear strategy. Trachtenberg shows how the earliest nuclear strategists were not historically minded scholars or military men, but instead economic theoriests who were heavily influenced by Game Theory. Today, these are common facts, but before History & Strategy, thinkers like Bernard Brodie were not getting the due they deserve. While primarily focused on nuclear strategy, this book also examines more particular instances of strategy in history, including the days leading up to WWI and the Berlin Crisis. (less)
Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision is an extremely well-written historical snapshot that utilizes the available secondary sources on one of the most d...morePearl Harbor: Warning and Decision is an extremely well-written historical snapshot that utilizes the available secondary sources on one of the most devastating attacks in U.S. history. Wohlstetter utilizes a remarkable amount of available sources to comprise a look back on the Pearl Harbor attack only twenty years after its occurrence. She concludes that the pieces available to those in positions to anticipate or deter an attack were too decentralized for any administrative body to make a coherent recommendation. Implicit in this argument is that Pearl Harbor prompted the wholesale restructuring of the U.S. intelligence services. She concludes that warnings of surprise attacks remain ambiguous and uncertain, and this reality is unlikely to change. Nevertheless, pursuing perfect information in intelligence is a goal worth striving for if American is to have any chance of correctly anticipating a surprise attack. Wohlestetter shows that many American politicians and military leaders understood that the possible repercussions of its oil embargo against the Japanese empire in 1941. Most of these leaders anticipated either an attack of sabotage on Oahu or a more likely surprise attack elsewhere in the Pacific, not at Pearl Harbor. Wohlstetter’s also devotes much of her book to revealing the motivations for policies on both sides of the Pacific. Japan seemed unable to hold back on its territorial land and sea grab in the face of national honor. America, conversely, was unable to divert its attention away from the European theater long enough to consider an outright attack on Hawai’i. Finally, Wohlstetter shows Japanese estimates of American forces and explains the rationale for attacking the then dormant American military machine. Japan hopes that coordinated attacks throughout the Pacific would deter a full scale retaliation by American forces. Pearl Harbor was not the only notable surprise attack of 1941. That year Nazi forces invaded the Soviet Union. Blatantly defying a non-aggression pact, Hitler hoped that his surprise attack would give him an advantage over history—as in Napoleon’s famed retreat from the Russian winter. This miscalculation decimated Napoleon’s forces and marked the beginning of the end for the French emperor. Hitler’s army would meet a similar fate despite the German dictator’s obvious technical advantages. Comparisons between Japan’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor and Hitler’s invasion are notable. Since both the United States and the U.S.S.R. would endure these military attacks and ultimately be victorious, historians should note similarities between these two invasions. The most obvious similarity comes from the ideas of Alfred Mahan, who noted with certainty that global hegemony could never be attained due to geographic realities. In short, distances can dictate military victors. Of course technology may shorten such distances, but to maintain a military presence over vast stretches of land or sea are difficult endeavors. Both the United States and the U.S.S.R. had (and still enjoy) these distances which make any full scale invasion difficult. Scholars of the post-9/11 era should revisit Wohlstetter’s book on America’s (first) most devastating surprise attack. Of course, since the 1940s U.S. intelligence capabilities have increased considerably. Technology has aided in America’s never-ending quest for better intelligence, and the consolidation and corporatization of the U.S. intelligence agencies improves effectiveness. The temporary backlash and wariness of the CIA in the 1970s has since given way to an even more bureaucratized Department of Homeland Security after 9/11. It seems that with every surprise attack the need for fluidity of information across departments increases. Pearl Harbor differs from America’s intelligence challenges today. The United States currently battles not an empire, but an ideological foe, a scenario that arguably the Cold War has prepared America well. In short, contemporary readers can read Wohlstetter’s book today and note that even with technological advances and managerial restructuring in the field of intelligence, it seems that when it comes to intelligence, the more things change the more things stay the same. (less)
Rhodes third book in his 25 year long trilogy about the making of Atomic Weaponry (see all THE MAKING OF THE ATOMIC BOMB and DARK SUN: THE MAKING OF T...moreRhodes third book in his 25 year long trilogy about the making of Atomic Weaponry (see all THE MAKING OF THE ATOMIC BOMB and DARK SUN: THE MAKING OF THE HYDROGEN BOMB) is a somewhat hurried affair. The book begins with a recap of the tragedy at Chernobyl and follows with a brief sketch of Gorbachev's early life and his rise to Soviet Power. Then, Rhodes summarizes atomic weaponry and strategy--really his first two books--in the matter of a chapter. Then, he moves on to the precarious relationship between the Superpowers in the Reagan Era. Here, Rhodes takes a decidedly pro-Gorbachev/Anti-Reagan stance on the Anti-nuclear discussions at Reykjavik. More precisely, he singles out Richard Pearle as stumping the negotiations for complete and total disarmament. He concludes by noting that the arms race did little to leave any society on earth safe and quotes Carl Sagan's numbers in stating that nuclear dollars might have been used to feed, clothe, and give health insurance to everyone in America if not the globe. In sum, his is a leftist, pro-disarmament view of the arms race.
The book acts as a good primer for those unfamiliar with the intricacies of the arms race, but this is a decidedly left-leaning book--which means, of course, those of the right should certainly read it. Even those who were (or remain) pro-disarmament might find Rhodes arguments too sweeping, his conclusions too clear cut. He certainly does not paint a pretty portrait of President Reagan (those interested in Reagan should probably look at either Lou Cannon's THE ROLE OF A LIFETIME or Francis Fitzgerald's WAY OUT THERE IN THE BLUE). Rhodes views Reagan as a simple-minded movie buff who refused to budge in the face of Gorbachev's pleas to give up SDI...which, I think, might essentially be true, if less than nuanced. But right-leaning politicians, such as Alexander Haig or Pat Buchanan, would agree with these arguments, all within the most positive of lights. Overall, ARSENALS OF FOLLY reads more as a polemic against neo-conservative politics and nuclear strategy and less as a history of a complicated and dangerous era. But for those curious about the events at Reykjavik in 1986, this is a must read. (less)
In this update of the Ernest May original, Graham Allison and Philip Zelikow’s Essence of Decision offers three different models through which to inte...moreIn this update of the Ernest May original, Graham Allison and Philip Zelikow’s Essence of Decision offers three different models through which to interpret the Cuban Missile Crisis. The first model, the Rational Actor Model (or RAM), provides a paradigm that describes rational actors’ methods to maximize political and diplomatic utility. The second model, the Organizational Behavior Model, accounts for the influence of organizations and institutions on decision making processes. The third and final model, which focuses on governmental politics, examines how separated institutions share power and the effects of group processes on decision making. Each of the book’s three sections begins by explaining a particular model and then finishes by applying that model to the events of October 1962. The result is a thought provoking but inconclusive look at the most dangerous thirteen days of the atomic era. Allison and Zelikow never take a firm stance on the correct method of analysis for the crisis. The end result is a book meant to inform and advise policymakers on how to read this historic event that never actually does so. What the book does make clear is the influence economic theory has had on IR theory and policy decisions. For example, the first chapter’s use of the Rational Actor Model is clearly based on the homo economus givens used in nearly all economic models. The connections that Allison and Zelikow fail to make, however, provide a more interesting analysis than the book’s contents. Put simply, the authors never explicitly recognize how their models are based in a western economic tradition. These models rely heavily on the maximization of utility and the minimization of threat or danger. The minimax theorem, as first formulated in 1944 by John von Neumann and Oskar Morgenstern, seems to have influenced all policy decisions of the Cold War. Keynesian economics of government intervention, combined with Chandler’s insights into the rise of the managerial class, combine with game theory to provide an almost fatal mistake of nuclear proportion. Von Neumann and General Curtis LeMay both endorsed a first strike against the Soviet Union at early points in the Cold War based on such logic. The authors also never effectively show how both sides of a nuclear balance require equal information of the effects and repercussions resulting in a first or second strike. MAD establishes this balance. Put simply, they pronounce their biases of political and diplomatic theory by espousing models based in western economic logic. Yet these models are applied to a situation in which the other side, the USSR, based its political ideology in opposition to such western based economic theories. Why is this divide never examined? How stable was the balance between the nuclear superpowers if each side based their diplomacy on completely different ideologies? In all fairness, these critiques do not address the book on its own merits. Yet these comments reveal an unforeseen argument inherent in Essence of Decision: It is a work that offers no conclusive advice on how to approach policymaking, yet Allison and Zelikow have utilized modernity-based models and economics to endorse a sort of post-modern inconclusiveness. If nothing else, the book shows just how lucky the superpowers were in escaping nuclear war in October of 1962. (less)