- - Tuesday, May 2, 2017


By Nadia Schadlow

Georgetown University Press, $32.95, 344 pages

Most Americans like to think a war has ended when the last shot is fired or when the opposing army surrenders; these include politicians and senior military officers. In her excellent book, “War and the Art of Governance,” Nadia Schadlow argues eloquently that war is not over until battlefield success is translated into political victory. In doing so, she cites some weighty thinkers such as Carl von Clausewitz and uses case studies from American history to make her point.

Why then has the U.S. military failed to translate battlefield success into victory Afghanistan and Iraq despite having perhaps the best army it has ever fielded? To explain this, Ms. Schadlow cites what she calls the “American Denial Syndrome.” Simply stated, it is that Americans (civilians and soldiers alike) have a traditional antipathy for using soldiers to govern even on foreign soil, though only the army has the capacity to govern in the wake of the collapse of an enemy’s army and government.

The civilian distaste for getting the army involved in governing goes back to the American Revolution when Americans recoiled from the British use of soldiers as an occupying force. The reluctance of many military professionals to get involved in governance functions is a combination of a belief that when the fighting stops the military role ends and civilians, notably the State Department, should take over, as well as a military culture where many believe that civil governance is not the business of real soldiering.

Although not all wars end in the collapse of civil governance, 15 of this nation’s conflicts have resulted in the removal of a government that the U.S. finds distasteful or where the U.S. had moved to fill in a governance vacuum. The author uses these 15 case studies to examine how the American Denial Syndrome has impacted the army’s role in postwar governance. What she found is a mixed bag.

No matter how much soldiers and senior civilians would like to see the State Department handle post-conflict activities, the diplomatic service simply lacks the capacity to handle such activities. Sanitation, public works reconstruction and in-extremis policing are not taught at the Foreign Service Institute; however, these capabilities are inherent in sustaining a large military organization.

As Ms. Schadlow points out, despite its reluctance to govern, the army has had a remarkably good track record in this area up until 2003 because of a combination of the American talent for innovation and a desire to govern indirectly using local civilians wherever feasible. Up until World War II, most postwar military governance efforts were ad hoc afterthoughts to the conflict.

World War II was the exception. The Roosevelt administration realized that it was fighting against fascist/militaristic governments that would have to be totally replaced, and the army was the only short-term solution. Consequently, much thought was given to postwar interim governance. Army schools were founded to teach civil affairs and doctrine was developed.

In addition, there was no clear Phase IV (post-conflict) point. Soldiers were forced to govern areas as they were liberated while full-scale conflict went on only miles away. Although it was by no means flawless, the World War II Army was able to make the in-stride transition from combat operations (G-3) functions to Civil Affairs (G-5) relatively smoothly. Some Cold War contingencies such as Korea and the Dominican Republic were able to replicate the relatively smooth World War II experience, but somewhere along the line that institutional knowledge got lost.

The author explores a number of reasons for this. The aforementioned doctrinal development of the Phase IV post-conflict concept led commanders such as Gen. Tommy Franks to assume that someone else was planning for Phase IV. In addition, much of the civil affairs capability of the Army is in the reserves and under the supervision of the Special Operations Command.

This causes civil governance planning to be viewed as somebody else’s job, not part of operational planning. The in-stride G-3 to G-5 transition was lost in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Modern communication is also partly to blame. In the past, commanders were on their own to improvise as they saw fit; today, any Washington civilian or military bureaucrat with an iPhone or a computer can weigh in in real time; and they often do.

Ms. Schadlow is a widely respected academic and wisely makes no military recommendations, but since going to press, she has become a senior member of the national security staff. This is not her last word on the subject.

• Gary Anderson, a retired Marine Corps colonel, was a civilian governance adviser in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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