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Capsule Review

Why America Loses Wars: Limited War and US Strategy From the Korean War to the Present

In This Review

Why America Loses Wars: Limited War and US Strategy From the Korean War to the Present
Why America Loses Wars: Limited War and US Strategy From the Korean War to the Present
By Donald Stoker
Cambridge University Press, 2019, 336 pp. Purchase

Since 1945, the United States’ experience of war has been a frustrating one, full of stalemates, setbacks, and only occasional victories. In this lively and opinionated book, Stoker pins a major part of the blame on muddled thinking about “limited war.” He is a scholar of Carl von Clausewitz and frequently turns to the Prussian general as his authority. Stoker believes that in wartime, leaders should first and foremost set proper political objectives (and reappraise them when necessary) and not let the means they are prepared to use dictate the ends. Time and again, from Korea to Vietnam to the war against the Islamic State (or ISIS), U.S. leaders have been either too vague about what they are seeking to do or unwilling to devote the requisite resources to achieve it. Theorists, such as Thomas Schelling, have contributed to the muddle by their readiness to talk about war as a form of bargaining. Stoker’s analysis of the United States’ failures is convincing, but his argument that better thinking would enable political leaders to set clear objectives and pursue them to victory is less so.

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