Small Wars Journal

Book Review: War and the Art of Governance

Fri, 04/07/2017 - 7:15pm

Book Review: War and the Art of Governance by Robert H. Scales, Wall Street Journal

During the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, then commander of the 101st Airborne Division, turned to Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Rick Atkinson and said: “Tell me how this ends.” Mr. Atkinson, who was covering the division for the Washington Post, offered no reply. Nadia Schadlow offers one now, perhaps 14 years too late. “War and the Art of Governance” consists of a collection of case studies, beginning with the Mexican-American War and ending in Iraq. Each examines how the U.S. attempted, too often with only limited success, to translate battlefield victory into a lasting and beneficial political outcome.

At first glance, it seems odd that a book on war and governance would stretch so far across the historical landscape. Yet the approach makes a lot of sense. While technology has changed the art of war radically from muskets in Mexico to fighter jets over Iraq, the task of postconflict governance is primarily a humanitarian and political enterprise whose variables have not changed for millennia.

Ms. Schadlow’s case studies tell an often doleful story of America allowing victories to fall apart, leaving behind a suffering populace that should have been rewarded with a better peace. She asserts convincingly that postconflict governance can only be done well by soldiers. As battle lines move forward, only the Army retains the authority and the resources to keep the enemy from re-entering conquered spaces. Generals control the means of feeding and sheltering civilians who have been left suffering in the wake of war…

Read on.



Mon, 04/10/2017 - 12:57pm

In reply to by Bill C.

Well stated, and highlights the missing piece in most U.S. war strategies: the political objective. To be fair, most of our leaders wouldn't recognize a political war objective if it walked up and introduced itself. Too often, the objective is simply as "win", as if battlefield defeat renders an adversary completely open to suggestion.

Bill C.

Sat, 04/08/2017 - 11:43am

From the review of Ms. Schadlow's book above: "Soldiers believe that their job is to fight and win battles."

To this Ms. Schadlow would only seem to wish to add: "And to provide a baseline of governance and stability."

The problem with BOTH such lines of thinking is that these two items, quite obviously, do not -- in and of themselves -- provide for the accomplishment of the military's primary (and classic?) mission in war; which is, "to impose our will upon the enemy."

Thus, until such time as "our will" has been imposed upon the enemy (whatever that "will" might be), might we agree that the job of the military (to wit: "to imposition of our will on the enemy") -- and indeed that of military governor also -- that this such job has not been accomplished?

Bottom Line:

Neither the American way of war outlined by Ms. Schadlow above (to fight and win battles) nor Ms. Schadlow's suggested correction/addition to same (stay on to provide a baseline of governance and stability); neither of these it would seem -- taken separately or together -- adequately address the strategic requirement of war, which is, "to impose one's will (however this is defined) upon our enemy."

Thus to suggest that the proper criteria used to judge when a war is over -- and, thus, when a military and/or a military governor might be allowed to (a) transfer control and/or (b) "come home" -- that this such criteria would seem to be:

a. A positive determined that "our will" -- as defined by our political objective -- has been successfully imposed? Or that, in the alternative,

b. The enemy has successfully imposed his will upon us?