Small Wars Journal

SWJ Book Review - The Day After: Why America Wins the War but Loses the Peace

Thu, 01/30/2020 - 12:50am

SWJ Book Review - The Day After: Why America Wins the War but Loses the Peace

Brandon C. Patrick


Lt. Col. Brendan Gallagher has dedicated much of his life to the study and practice of war.[1] Through decades of soldiering on the battlefields that defined our modern era of war, Gallagher has experienced the various outcomes of war firsthand: victory, defeat and the excruciating in-between. Coupled with his extensive study on the topic, it is this experience that Gallagher offers as the foundation for his new book, The Day After: Why America Wins the War but Loses the Peace. As the title suggests, The Day After examines the failures of modern postwar planning efforts and the recurring causes which underpin them. Gallagher predicates his case on the observation that, “…to the extent that we do think about [war], a fundamental ambivalence characterizes our approach to postwar situations and helps create bad outcomes.[2]

Lt. Col. Gallagher is well-qualified to make this case. In addition to his considerable (and ongoing) career as an infantry officer, Gallagher is an alumnus of the Strategic Studies program at Johns Hopkins SAIS and holds a Ph.D. in public policy from Princeton University. Gallagher has commanded soldiers at various levels, and his seven combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan resulted in, among other things, his receipt of the Bronze Star. Throughout most of his military and academic career, Lt. Col. Gallagher wore a Ranger Tab on his left shoulder[3]. Gallagher is a serious professional with serious credentials, and he aims his work at an equally serious, initiated student of the field.

In The Day After, Gallagher adopts an academic tone and method, with occasional shifts to a more personal voice when opportunities arise to present firsthand experience. Structurally, Gallagher relies on four case studies to demonstrate planning efforts of various quality. Gallagher examines these postwar efforts in Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya through the application of three Clausewitzian[4] questions which he believes best indicate the potential for postwar planning success or failure. Specifically, Gallagher first assesses to what extent, if any, a “…clear, achievable political goal[5]” was identified. Second, the book explores the effort to “…anticipate and attempt to mitigate the foreseeable postwar obstacles[6]” of each case study. Finally, Gallagher examines planners’ willingness to “…mobilize resources that are aligned with our overall political goal.[7]” When failure is noted in the fulfillment of a given criteria, Gallagher then categorizes the failure into one of four recurrent “pathologies” which he believes are often (or usually) at the heart of postwar planning failures. Gallagher lists these pathologies as wishful thinking, deficient learning, underuse of the National Security Council and “…the competing pressures on our leaders to promote democracy and to simultaneously bring the troops back home.[8]

Through the framework described above, Gallagher thoughtfully explores postwar planning as it has been executed in modern wars (those of the last twenty years, for the purposes of his book). Kosovo is offered as an example of modest success, where months of meticulous planning, coalition building, mobilization of resources and assignment of international postwar responsibilities led to a clear (though, as Gallagher admits, imperfect) path to sustainable peace. Libya’s calamitous revolution and subsequent backslide into civil war is held up as a quintessential failure, where all of Gallagher’s four pathologies conspired to undermine all three of the author’s primary criteria. The wars of Iraq and Afghanistan fall somewhere between the two.

The Day After’s greatest strength (and that which readers will most benefit by) is its introduction of new primary source material to the field. From the onset of the book’s first case study (Kosovo), Gallagher’s effort to collect interviews from the planning participants is evident. Equally useful is the level of detail that Gallagher achieves within these interviews: The Day After caters to policy enthusiasts, and Gallagher doesn’t shy away from what others might call “minutia.” Moreover, The Day After is more than an academic endeavor: Lt. Col. Gallagher has lived amidst the fallout of half-baked planning efforts. His experience as a soldier in command of ground forces lends his voice a kind of severe credibility, offering leaders an opportunity to understand the deadly ramifications of faulty planning at the intersection of boot and ground. In relying on both the academic and soldiering dimensions of his experience, Gallagher strikes a fine balance between both: he is personal while avoiding introspection and academic while avoiding sterility.

The Day After is not without its own shortfalls, however. Gallagher’s book is necessarily limited by the methodological structure imposed on it. To some extent, this is unavoidable. To the critically thinking audience whom Gallagher certainly envisioned, a three-criteria evaluation on a policy area as broad as postwar planning can often leave the reader with more questions than answers, or the feeling that conclusions are being rushed. Gallagher may be correct, for example, when he attributes certain aspects of the postwar debacle in Iraq to wishful thinking and a failure to learn from the previous (Clinton) administration’s lessons in postwar planning during the 1990’s. It may be equally true, however, that other factors played a much more significant role in Iraq’s postwar spiral, and such factors may not fit neatly into any of Gallagher’s three criteria (the decision to disband the Iraqi Army, for example). Gallagher’s decision to confine his study to the past twenty years is also somewhat problematic: while most of the postwar planning efforts of the last twenty years can be chalked up to failure, important exceptions lie in the twenty years preceding it. A wider study which included these earlier postwar efforts might have provided Gallagher more data with which to demonstrate the relationship between his criteria and the outcomes he attributes to them.  

 In a recommendation printed on the book’s dust cover, author Gideon Rose refers to The Day After as “…a searing indictment of American strategic incompetence.” Rose could hardly have been more wrong. Nothing “sears” in The Day After. But despite its shortfalls, Gallagher’s book is measured and thoughtful, brimming with real insight and curbed by the authenticity of the author’s personal experiences. With his scholarship, Lt. Col. Gallagher represents a model that we can all hope to see emulated in the postwar planners of tomorrow: a soldier-scholar, intimately familiar with the pitfalls of short-sighted plans and deeply passionate about the winning the peace.  

The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the United States Military Academy, Department of the Army, or Department of Defense, Johns Hopkins University or any of its affiliates.

End Notes

[1] Gallagher, Brendan R. The Day after: Why America Wins the War but Loses the Peace. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2019.

[2] Gallagher, Brendan R. The Day After.

[3] “LTC Gallagher Bio.” FortBenning.Army.Mil. United States Army. Accessed September 28, 2019. Gallagher Bio.pdf?07JUN2018.

[4] Von Clausewitz, Carl. On War. Edited and Translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret. Commentary by Bernard Brodie. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 1976.

[5] Gallagher, Brendan R. The Day After.

[6] Gallagher, Brendan R. The Day After.

[7] Gallagher, Brendan R. The Day After.

[8] Gallagher, Brendan R. The Day After. 

Categories: SWJ Book Review

About the Author(s)

Brandon C. Patrick was an Arabic Linguist in the U.S. Air Force before graduating from the University of Arizona with degrees in Arabic and Middle Eastern/North African Studies. Now a Doctoral candidate in the Strategic Studies department at Johns Hopkins SAIS, Brandon’s research focuses on Iranian military innovation in the “maximum pressure” age. Brandon also works as a defense analyst in the D.C. area, specializing in air forces and air defense capabilities in the MENA region. He lives with his wife in northern Virginia. Follow Brandon on Twitter @AirPowerAnalyst



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