War and Reason: Domestic and International Imperatives

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Prisoners of war and detainees protected under international humanitarian law

The final reason most frequently offered for getting out of the intervention business relates to its costs, both direct ones—the lives lost and damaged, the dollars borrowed and spent—and opportunity costs. It is increasingly clear that China and Russia represent the foremost challenge to the United States over the long term and that the competition with them has begun in earnest.

Here, too, a dose of subtlety is in order. After all, the George W. A major terrorist attack on U. Unless the United States chooses to give up its global role and instead focus only on Asia and Europe, it must engage in great-power competition while attending to other security challenges in other areas.


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Every possible intervention, past and future, raises difficult what-ifs. If presented again with a situation like that in Rwanda in —, lives in peril and the possibility that a modest foreign military effort could make a difference—would the United States once again avoid acting? Should it have stayed out of the bloodbath in the Balkans or intervened earlier to prevent greater carnage? Should it have left Qaddafi to attack Benghazi? Pursued al Qaeda after the attacks on the U. In such discussions, the gravitational pull of the Iraq war bends the light around it, and for obvious reasons.

What started as a war to eliminate weapons of mass destruction found none. The impulse to liberate the Iraqi people from tyranny pushed them into a civil war. The desire to open another front in the war on terrorism created far more terrorists than it eliminated.

A war that some U.

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Almost everything that could go wrong in Iraq did. After the invasion, politics and a resistance to suggesting that American sacrifices were in vain kept such observations private. That, in turn, may have helped usher in the blunt anti-interventionism so prevalent today. Washington needs a subtler alternative to it. As a result, there are no precise rules about when leaders should and should not use force.

Context matters, and human judgment always comes into play. Yet it is possible to sketch out several principles, informed by the experience of recent decades, that should guide the general conduct of U. The first guideline is to avoid overlearning the supposed lessons of past interventions. Sometimes, they draw the right lessons, but sometimes, they do not.


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Hoping to avoid a Vietnam-style quagmire, when the George H. Bush administration fought the Gulf War, it sought to limit its objective to the specific aim of restoring Kuwaiti sovereignty. But because Saddam was left in power, the Iraq problem festered. The second Iraq war was supposed to finish the job—but it showed how a purportedly short conflict can lead to an indefinite occupation.

To prevent that from happening in Libya, Obama decided to use airpower to help oust Qaddafi but keep American boots off the ground; he was thus unable to contain the chaos that followed. And so in Syria, Obama and Trump would fight terrorists without attempting to remove Assad. Sticking to rigid lines based on prior errors can easily lead to new and different pitfalls.

Another guideline is to pick interventions that meet clear conditions and commit to those that are chosen. The United States should generally undertake interventions only when political leaders—namely, the president and a majority of Congress—believe that force is necessary to attain a clearly stated objective. They should have a reasonable expectation that allies, especially those in the region in question, will join the effort, and they should make serious efforts to enlist them. They should conclude that the benefits of a military intervention over the long run are reasonably expected to exceed the costs.

And they should undertake military interventions in which they are prepared for the possibility that U. Guidelines such as these cannot possibly supply all the answers policymakers might need, but they can point to the right questions. Requiring decision-makers to clearly define the objectives of the possible intervention, for example, will force them to distinguish between managing a problem such as preventing Afghanistan from becoming a terrorist safe haven and solving it such as rendering that country a Taliban-free modern democracy.

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Enlisting allies in the effort should involve an honest assessment of their strengths and weaknesses, whether those allies are someone in the nature of Afghan President Hamid Karzai , or exiles in Iraq, or European troops in Libya, or the Syrian Democratic Forces. One traditional way of thinking about intervention is represented by the Powell Doctrine, developed by General Colin Powell during the Gulf War, which emphasizes the importance of using decisive force, having a clear exit strategy, and mobilizing U.

But the opposite has proved at least equally important in recent wars: there will be cases in which the employment of modest force over an open-ended timeline will be the better strategy.

war and reason domestic and international imperatives Manual

Had the United States not frantically sought an off-ramp in both Afghanistan and Iraq, for instance, its prospects for success in both conflicts would have been brighter—and, paradoxically, the wars might have ended sooner. Even many years after the initiation of those conflicts, sustainable, low-cost, and long-term American engagement is preferable to unconditional withdrawal. There are no precise rules about when leaders should and should not use force. A new set of guidelines would also take a more nuanced approach to determining whether an intervention is politically sustainable.

The usual model holds that presidents should paint a picture of the threat for Americans and then elicit their support for war, hoping to wind down operations before the public grows weary of the conflict. Instead of suggesting that ultimate success is just around the corner, policymakers should articulate the case for an enduring engagement and then work to lower the human and financial costs associated with it.

Perhaps the most difficult guideline is to rigorously estimate the long-term costs and benefits. Although the need to run a cost-benefit analysis seems patently obvious, recent experience suggests that it is not. In the run-up to the Iraq war , for example, U. During the deliberation over intervention in Libya, it appears that policymakers ignored the lesson that would-be nuclear proliferators might draw in watching the United States topple a leader who had previously turned over his weapons of mass destruction.

To be sure, no global war has occurred since , but that has been mainly owing to the presence of nuclear weapons, not the evolution of human character. What is more, the end of the cold war and collapse of the Soviet Union have removed a source of some stability in the wider international system. Hence, the victory of American foreign policy over our principal world rival has, ironically, created fresh problems for peace.

In sum, the management of peace and avoidance of war therefore remain at the top of the diplomatic agenda for our own nation and others.

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Three recent books attempt to address these ancient questions from very different perspectives. A popular teacher and erudite scholar with firm convictions, he has produced a book that is both academically respectable and accessible to a mass audience. No such prospect exists for the other authors, however, whose challenging books will not be discussed outside the academic community.

In combination, these other two scholarly works provide an abstract, sometimes stimulating contrast to the descriptive, historical approach, but one is left wondering how much they add to the clarity of insight offered by Kagan. Kagan focuses on four major wars in history-the Peloponnesian War B. He does not attempt to force these case studies into a universal explanatory framework according to some abstract, formalistic, or mathematical set of variables.

War and Reason: Domestic and International Imperatives

Rather, he exploits both the intuitive and empirical skills of a perceptive historian to Spring I Review Essays draw lessons of universal relevance from particular examples of human folly. But the author, in my judgment, is unduly harsh in judging Kennedy. Nikita Khrushchev, after all, was a political and diplomatic gambler.


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  • While Washington was certainly guilty of both strategic blunders in the Bay of Pigs and a lack of clarity in communicating the unacceptability of offensive nuclear missiles in Cuba, Khrushchev might well have found the bold missile stroke too tempting to pass up in any case. Publisher: Yale University Press , This specific ISBN edition is currently not available.

    View all copies of this ISBN edition:. Synopsis About this title In this landmark work, two leading theorists of international relations analyze the strategies designed to avoid international conflict. From the Back Cover : Using a combination of game theory, statistical analysis, and detailed case histories, two leading theorists of international relations here analyze the strategies designed to avoid international conflict. Buy New View Book.

    Other Popular Editions of the Same Title. Search for all books with this author and title. Customers who bought this item also bought. Stock Image. Seller Rating:. Published by Yale University Press New Hardcover Quantity Available: 2. Published by Yale University Press.

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