June 25, 2018
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How to end wars

Starting a war is fairly simple. Ending it can be tough, as we now are seeing in Iraq and Afghanistan. A new book, “How Wars End,” by Gideon Rose, editor of Foreign Affairs magazine, raises questions and ventures some answers about how they come to a close.

The basic point in all wars is that nobody thinks enough about an end game. Gen. Tommy Franks, beginning his command of the U.S. invasion in Iraq, said, “You pay attention to the day after. I’ll pay attention to the day of.” A State Department project to plan Iraq’s postwar governance was swept aside and ignored. After the first Gulf War, Air Force Cmdr. Chuck Horner, said, “Quite frankly, we were preoccupied with planning the war, and we felt that someone else was planning the peace.”

David Sanger, reviewing the book for The New York Times, recalled a White House briefing a month before the invasion. Saddam Hussein and the Baathist leadership would be removed, technocrats would get the country humming again, and the United States and its allies would become a “light-footprint peacekeeping force.”

“How long would this go on?” one adviser dared to ask. “Three days, three weeks, three months, three years?” That was nearly eight years ago, and it isn’t over yet.

Mr. Rose goes into fascinating detail on the two world wars. The first, with its punitive peace, laid the groundwork for the second. World War II, with the complication of relations with the Russians, set the stage for the Cold War. Then came Korea, with its extra cost of 124,000 deaths, including 9,000 Americans, while the two sides debated “forced repatriation” of military prisoners.

Vietnam became a war site before most Americans realized they were involved, U.S. leaders promptly said we had passed the point of no return and it was too late to get out. Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon, Ford and Johnson all kept on with their intervention in a civil war, under the false impression that they were fighting a threat of international communism. After “Vietnamizing” the war, Nixon and Henry Kissinger faced the pell-mell humiliating withdrawal in the nation’s first military defeat.

Will the ventures in Iraq and Afghanistan end with similar painful withdrawals? President Barack Obama is working and hoping for a better outcome.

The book is fine as far as it goes. But what about starting “bad” wars? Only World War II, and possibly the Korean war, the first Gulf War and Afghanistan could be qualified as good ones. Among the bad ones are Iraq, Guatemala, Grenada, Dominican Republic and the various other military interventions and planned or executed assassinations of foreign leaders.

Better than worrying about how to end a war is keeping out of it in the first place.

Carl von Clausewitz, still the ultimate specialist, wrote: “No one starts a war — or rather, no one in his senses ought to do so — without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it.”

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