How Wars End: Why We Always Fight the Last Battle

In This Review

How Wars End: Why We Always Fight the Last Battle
By Gideon Rose
Simon & Schuster, 2010
432 pp. $27.00
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The past decade has provided painful confirmation of the truism that it is easier to start wars than conclude them. The U.S. engagements in Afghanistan and Iraq have lasted longer than each of the two world wars, and neither promises anything as satisfying as a clear-cut victory. The classic conclusion of a war, with the enemy surrendering in the wake of the unequivocal defeat of its forces, appears to have given way to messier outcomes, dependent on managing complex political processes. Except that, as Rose points out in his review of 100 years of American experience, successfully ending wars has always involved far more than military victory. Starting with World War I and ending with the Iraq war (and with clear implications for the war in Afghanistan), Rose shows how confused political leaders often are about exactly what they are trying to achieve in the coming peace. This can create the conditions for future wars; there had to be two against Germany and two against Iraq. He also shows how leaders tend to correct for the mistakes of the previous war; in the Gulf War, for example, the goal was to avoid another Vietnam. As Rose is the new editor of this magazine, it is comforting to note that he writes extremely well and knows how to hold a reader's interest while never losing sight of his serious purpose.