War and the Art of Governance: Consolidating Combat Success into Political Victory

War and the Art of Governance: Consolidating Combat Success into Political Victory

by Nadia Schadlow


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War and the Art of Governance: Consolidating Combat Success into Political Victory by Nadia Schadlow

Success in war ultimately depends on the consolidation of political order. Nadia Schadlow argues that the steps needed to consolidate a new political order are not separate from war. They are instead an essential component of war and victory.

The challenge of governance operations did not start with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The US Army’s involvement in the political and economic reconstruction of states has been central to all its armed conflicts from large-scale conventional wars to so-called irregular or counterinsurgency wars. Yet, US policymakers and military leaders have failed to institutionalize lessons on how to consolidate combat gains into desired political outcomes. War and the Art of Governance examines fifteen historical cases of US Army military interventions, from the Mexican War through the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Improving future outcomes will require US policymakers and military leaders to accept that plans, timelines, and resources must be shaped to reflect this reality before they intervene in a conflict, not after things go wrong.

Schadlow provides clear lessons for students and scholars of security studies and military history, as well as for policymakers and the military personnel who will be involved in the next foreign intervention.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781626164109
Publisher: Georgetown University Press
Publication date: 03/01/2017
Pages: 344
Sales rank: 687,105
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Nadia Schadlow is a senior program officer in the International Securityand Foreign Policy Program of the Smith Richardson Foundation. She has published articles about national security in the Wall Street Journal, ForeignPolicy.com, The American Interest, Parameters, War on the Rocks, and elsewhere. She has a PhD from Johns Hopkins University’s Nitze School of Advanced International Studies.

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War and the Art of Governance

Consolidating Combat Success into Political Victory

By Nadia Schadlow


Copyright © 2017 Nadia Schadlow
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-62616-409-3



Failing to Learn from the Past

HISTORICALLY, the United States has gone to war with the implicit or explicit assumption that the desired end state should favor US regional or strategic interests. US forces have fought against the armies of opposing states, as well as against less well-organized irregular military forces. In all armed conflicts except those in which political objectives were narrowly constructed, the US Army has served as the critical operational link in shaping transitions from a militarily defeated regime to one more compatible with US interests. A common feature in all of the conventional wars fought by the United States has been the army's leading role in the establishment of political and economic order in states or territories in which it has fought. Although the US Marine Corps has also played a key role in developing thinking about small wars and executing limited expeditionary operations, the larger size of the army means that it is the only service capable of decisively acquiring, holding, and stabilizing territory and operating in sufficient scale for ample duration to provide a foundation for a transition to the reestablishment of political order. American political and military leaders have consistently avoided institutionalizing and preparing for the military and political activities that are associated with the restoration of order during and following combat operations.

Before the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, few if any official or unofficial military histories paid much attention to the army's conduct of these kinds of operations. Military governance, a term stemming from World War II, was "not sufficiently military to fit into the military history genre and too military to be treated as general history." The absence of a sustained discussion of governance operations in official and unofficial army histories reflected the prevailing view that such operations were separate and distinct from the prosecution of war as a whole. Many of the problems related to the reconstruction efforts in Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan demonstrated the consequences of this denial of governance operations as integral to war and, thus, of the need to prepare for and set aside resources for them. As the United States went into Iraq, the prevailing view among top civilian leaders — such as the national security adviser — was that the US forces would defeat the Iraqi army and that the "institutions would hold, everything from ministries to police forces." The top civilian official in Iraq at the time, Jay Garner, later admitted that he had not anticipated the need to take on the physical and political reconstruction of Iraq. This denial of operational challenges and requirements of achieving a desired political end state was not new but, rather, was a prevalent feature of America's approach to war.

There are several plausible explanations for this denial. They are rooted in history, and many endure today. One explanation relates to concerns about the appropriate role of the military in a democratic society and maintains that it is dangerous to give the military governing authority — even if abroad. Since military government is so overtly a political activity, states committed in principle to civilian control of the military are reluctant to place officers in charge of local governments. Influential Harvard University political scientist Samuel Huntington observed that "liberalism does not understand and is hostile to military institutions and the military function." Although most of the army's experiences with governance operations have occurred outside the United States, the creation of an army capable of accomplishing these governance missions (albeit abroad) may have worried those who thought that such forces could be used at home as well.

Civilian and military leaders have been unwilling to assign the army a lead role in governance operations owing to such reservations. During the Mexican-American War, Gen. Winfield Scott observed that the American authorities were "evidently alarmed at the proposition to establish martial law, even in a foreign country, occupied by American troops." As that war ended, General Scott hesitated to get involved in the debate about "annexation v. occupation" since it was "impertinent as a soldier to inquire about such things." In the aftermath of the Civil War, President Andrew Johnson expressed deep concern about the army's role in the political reconstruction of the South, fearing that such power in the hands of the army was in "palpable conflict" with the Constitution and a formula for "absolute despotism." At the turn of the century, Secretary of War Elihu Root observed that the American soldier's experience as a self-governing American citizen could inform and shape his ability to conduct varied tasks in the interests of American foreign policy. Contemporary scholars have observed that the resistance to the idea of military officers "governing" in any capacity — even abroad — is rooted in the ambivalent relationship Americans have had toward their military.

Indeed, domestic concerns about the role of the military and about what it should, or should not, be doing have always shaped decisions about how to organize and train US forces. The Founding Fathers, debating America's first Constitution, sought to separate politics from the military and to create barriers to the military's acquisition of an overtly political role in American civic life. Their goal, for the most part, was the subordination of military to civil power. Opponents of a standing, regular army argued that a citizen-based militia was adequate to safeguard America and would also prevent the acquisition of too much power by one organized group. Alexander Hamilton described the tension between these two viewpoints: To be safer, he wrote, countries "become willing to run the risk of being less free." Another member of the Continental Congress observed that "there was not a member in the federal Convention, who did not feel indignation at the prospect of a standing Army." Thomas Jefferson argued that the defense of the United States would rest in a citizen-based military force and that civilian supremacy would be maintained by eliminating a professional and permanent military force. Eventually, the Constitution granted the federal government the right to raise a standing army for no more than two years.

A second reason for this denial syndrome is rooted in America's ambivalence about "governing" others, which stems from its anticolonial legacy. During the Spanish-American War, US military and political leaders referred to governance operations as colonial matters. Although Secretary of War Root expressed great pride in American soldiers' reconstruction efforts in "poor bleeding Cuba" and "devastated" Puerto Rico, he was also careful to placate critics and reassure them that no American army would "make itself a political agent" or a "Pretorian [sic] guard to set up a President or an emperor." He worked to assuage political concerns about the army's role in the Philippines by stating, "No one knew of the American Army seeking to make itself a political agent. ... No one knew of the American army seeking to throw off that civil control of the military arm which our fathers inherited from England." Similar concerns over soldiers serving as administrators continued through World War II. President Franklin Roosevelt and many in his administration shared the view that "military government was ... a repulsive notion, associated with imperialism, dollar diplomacy and other aspects of our behavior we had abandoned." President Harry Truman, following one of his first briefings on occupation plans, said that civil government was "no job for soldiers" and that the War Department should begin planning to turn over occupation responsibility to the State Department as soon as possible. Later, in contemporary debates about "nation building," some of these earlier concerns about colonialism reemerged — most famously during presidential candidate George W. Bush's statement that US troops should not be used for "what's called nation building."

Related to these two characteristics of American denial syndrome is a third: the persistent belief that civilians could and should be taking the lead in undertaking governance operations during war. This view contributed to the lack of development of an institutionalized capacity for governance tasks in the army but never prevailed enough to succeed in creating an effective standing civilian capability within civilian agencies such as the State Department. This problem became especially apparent in Afghanistan and Iraq. Despite the creation in 2006 of a State Department office to grow a civilian capacity to undertake reconstruction tasks, continual funding problems, as well as organizational culture tensions, prevented a strong capability from emerging. Throughout the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, US military and civilian leaders cited the need deploy or "uplift" more civilians to both theaters. Yet it was found that in addition to significant infrastructure and security costs, it cost the US government between about $410,000 and $570,000 to deploy one employee to Afghanistan for one year. And overall, US civilian employees to Afghanistan topped out at just over 1,000 by 2011. (It has been about 300 in 2009 and less in previous years.) Given that the State Department consistently struggled with requirements to send civilians to work on reconstruction and development projects, the United States tended to turn to military reservists to fill the gap. In 2009, when former secretary of defense Robert Gates expressed concern that the government would not "get the civilian surge into Afghanistan as quickly as we are getting troops into Afghanistan," he asked the US Marines and other services for volunteers who had specific skills "who might serve as a bridge, getting them out of there quickly, and then bringing them back when their civilian replacements are hired." This lack of civilian capacity, combined with the policy preference to adhere to unity-of-effort as opposed to unity-of-command models, further complicated US efforts and was consistent with past problems in deploying an adequate civilian capacity to conduct governance operations.

The army's traditional view of war, which has emphasized the centrality of battle and the defeat of enemy military forces over the achievement of broader strategic outcomes, is a fourth explanation for Washington's reluctance to develop and institutionalize a robust governance capability. One military scholar observed that the army had essentially focused on "defeating an adversary tactically" rather than approaching war with a "holistic view of conflict, one that extends from prewar condition setting to the final accomplishment of national strategic objectives." The prominent military historian Russell Weigley observed that the American way of war has been characterized predominantly as one that emphasized strategies of annihilation and attrition. This more narrow approach to war failed to pay attention to the political consolidation and operational steps required to achieve strategic victory in war. As the military strategist Antulio Echevarria more recently pointed out, Weigley's analysis did not address how useful military strategies might be in turning tactical victories into policy successes.

This approach to war perpetuated the separation between governance operations and the regular army. Before and after World War II, the army treated governance operations as problems of military law or as part of those tasks taken to minimize civilian "interference" on the ground. Army leaders did not embrace governance functions but recognized that they would have to keep civilians apart from combat operations, manage refugee flows, and restore law and order since control over these tasks allowed officers to protect their forces and minimize interference with combat operations. This theme first emerged in the mid-1800s. Official army documents described Gen. Winfield Scott's governance operations during the Mexican-American War as having saved the "combat commander problems with the civilian populace." During the Civil War, the provost marshal general had purview over governance tasks, reinforcing the view that they were problems associated with military law as opposed to serving as the operational link to broader political objectives. This perspective continued after World War I, when the army's judge advocate general retained oversight over governance tasks and the provost marshal general retained jurisdiction over training and doctrine related to civil affairs and military government through the early 1940s, with later graduates of the military government course at Camp Gordon reminded of "the importance of assuring that our military operations are not impeded by civil disturbances."

This separation from core army war-fighting priorities and the reluctance to institutionalize governance activities continued after World War II — despite the fact that governance operations were crucial to strategic victory in that war. Initially following the war, the army dismantled its civil affairs division, not heeding the advice of Col. Irwin Hunt, the officer in charge of civil affairs for the Third Army and American forces in Germany during World War I, who later observed that it was "extremely unfortunate that the qualifications necessary for a civil administration are not developed among officers in times of peace." Only through active lobbying by former military government personnel was the new Civil Affairs Division (CAD) created. One of the early division chiefs of the CAD, Maj. Gen. William Marquat, observed that there was "an alarming lack of appreciation" for civil affairs activities, even though they had become "important functions of the Department of the Army."

A broader consideration of governance tasks developed during the early Cold War years, but this shift took place within the context of unconventional war. In the 1950s and 1960s, two interrelated trends — revolutionary upheaval in the third world and the need to develop a way of thinking about war below the nuclear threshold — led to discussions about low-intensity conflict. Low-intensity conflict focused on the destruction of the enemy's political and social fabric and the subsequent rebuilding of a state in a manner consistent with US objectives, but these were activities viewed as apart from "regular" warfare. The concept of nation building also gained prominence. Today the term tends to be used in a broader context, but in the 1960s nation building focused on the training of other nation's military forces so that they could resist Communist aggression themselves — as opposed to relying directly on US military forces. The creation of the Military Assistance Advisory Group, Vietnam (MAAGV) in 1955 was one example of this approach. The MAAGV sought to improve the military capabilities of the Republic of Vietnam's armed forces through planning, developing, and administering military assistance. Later in Vietnam, the army's pacification program included elements of traditional governance operations, such as civic action, land reform, and political reform. These tasks, however, were considered a part of the army's "other war." A central problem in Vietnam was the US failure to understand how broader pacification efforts fit into the war as a whole. This debate continues today, with arguments over the degree to which two kinds of wars were pursued simultaneously: a conventional war of attrition combined with a more sophisticated counterinsurgency strategy designed to reduce support for the Vietcong among the populace.

The political and economic challenges posed by low-intensity conflict situations did result in a shift in thinking about governance operations as primarily combat-support tasks. An emerging community within the army began to view civil affairs assets as instruments for undercutting the political support behind an enemy's forces and mobilizing the support of indigenous populations. However, the army still viewed such activities as a side category of warfare, distinct from conventional war and the tasks of regular troops. The inclusion of civil affairs in the newly created US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) in 1987 essentially codified this view. Civil affairs was one of several special missions assigned to the new command, and at the time many of its advocates — most of them reservists — argued that the move was positive, would increase awareness of civil affairs, and would "sensitize" other commands to their capabilities. Some, however, expressed concern that including civil affairs in this new command would reinforce its separation from the "regular" army and, thus, from conventional war. Adding to this idea of separateness was the fact that most of the civil affairs structure remained in the US Army Reserve, which is often considered distinct from the professional heart of the military.


Excerpted from War and the Art of Governance by Nadia Schadlow. Copyright © 2017 Nadia Schadlow. Excerpted by permission of GEORGETOWN UNIVERSITY PRESS.
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Table of Contents


1. American Denial Syndrome: Failing to Learn from the Past2. The Early Years: ImprovisationThe Mexican-American WarThe Civil War and ReconstructionThe Spanish-American WarWorld War I

3. World War II: Building an OrganizationCivil-Military TensionsItalyGermanyJapanKorea

4. The Cold War: Illusive LessonsThe Korean WarThe Dominican RepublicPanama

5. Afghanistan and Iraq: Lessons IgnoredAfghanistanIraq


Selected BibliographyIndexAbout the Author

What People are Saying About This

Frank Hoffmann

In theory, wars are conducted to serve policy and obtain what the British historian Liddell Hart termed "a better peace." All too often, policy makers fail to plan to translate military results into that elusive better peace or at least a sustainable political end state. With insights drawn from case studies, Nadia Schadlow lays out the persistent flaws in the American Way of War. Civilian policy makers will wince, but Schadlow demonstrates that they are often to blame for the failure to gain strategic results commensurate with the costs of military interventions. Clear implications for both civilian and military strategists are drawn out by the author's impressive scholarship. A must read for anyone who wants to understand the underlying failures of the last 15 years and wants those searing experiences to better position US strategy in the future.

David Johnson

Nadia Schadlow’s War and the Art of Governance is a must read for any senior political or military official trying to understand how to turn military interventions into successful and enduring political outcomes—and for anyone aspiring to these positions. . . . Quite simply, this is a timely and brilliant book.

James Mattis

Why is American military success on the battlefield not yielding successful political outcomes? In this critically crafted must-read before we enter another war, Dr. Schadlow lays out the post-combat challenges no amount of denial will excuse, persuasively charting what history tells us is required for our military victories to achieve a better peace.

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