In This Review

After the War: Nation-Building From FDR to George W. Bush
After the War: Nation-Building From FDR to George W. Bush
By James Dobbins, Michele A. Poole, Austin Long, and Benjamin R
RAND Corporation, 2008, 188 pp

When asked about his plans for postwar Germany, Winston Churchill frequently cited an old recipe for jugged hare: "First, catch your hare." Winning the war was the most important task; once caught, the hare could be cooked at leisure. This study of U.S. nation-building efforts in Germany, Japan, Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Iraq both challenges and confirms Churchill's approach. On the one hand, it seems clear from these experiences that postwar planning is best begun well before the end of hostilities and that, in an ideal world, war fighting would take more account of the postconflict stage. At the same time, the most important lesson of history seems to be that the only thing more vital than catching your hare thoroughly is catching the right one. The reconstruction of Germany and Japan, the authors note, was successful not only because both countries had been thoroughly defeated but also because they had strong economic and social foundations on which to rebuild. More recent efforts at nation building have been challenged either because the hares were not completely caught (Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq) or because, caught or not, the hares were not suitable for jugging (Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, Afghanistan). The astonishingly poor quality of the planning processes for Afghanistan and, even less excusably, Iraq exacerbated the difficulties of what would have been difficult missions anyway.