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Kaplan's earlier book, 'The Wizards of Armageddon', about the people who spent their time thinking about nuclear weapons and nuclear strategy was a fine example of historical writing. His new book is of similar quality, one of the best yet about the US military establishment in an era of 'small wars'.

Some years ago while on the staff of the Royal Military College of Science and Technology, Shrivenham I was present at a lecture given by a visiting American 4 star General. His chosen topic was the Vietnam War. He was asked why the US had lost the war. His convoluted reply included the following nugget:'If we had wanted we could have concreted Vietnam from North to South'. This was accompanied by a sweep of the hand on the map.

From that moment on every book I have read about insurgency, and they are numerous, has convinced me that until, possibly, the last 5 years or so the American military have demonstrated little competence when faced by insurgent 'ghosts'. To be fair neither have the British.

Kaplan's book rams this view home with a vengeance. It should be read by all who want to understand why powerful states become involved in wars that do not threaten their national interest, and all too often fail to achieve their stated aims.

I very much doubt if an advanced nation armed with the latest military technology will ever be able to defeat those who fight for freedom, social justice and the right to govern themselves, particularly when these irritating insurgents refuse to stand and fight. Well after the war ended in an undignified American retreat, General Westmoreland was still giving speeches claiming that had 'the US used all its military might,it would have won'. The failure of 'search and destroy' and body counts (frequently inflated) clearly had failed to alter the General's mindset. But then it is easy to blame civilians for ones failings.

The truth is that the Vietnam war was always unwinnable just as that in Afghanistan today is unwinnable but we never learn from history.

I would very strongly recommend reading this excellent book in tandem with the superb book:'Kill Anything That Moves' by Nick Turse. Both will make you think.
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on 18 August 2014
I chose this book because I was interested in an objective summary of what was occurring in Afghanistan under Gen Petraeus's leadership. The book did not disappoint, although the subject matter was much more in depth than just the war in Afghanistan. My last exposure to major tactical shifts was under the air land battle concept, (which I thought was revolutionary). Now the thinking has evolved to the counter insurgency model. The author was totally objective in portraying the pros and cons of the various strategy's and accurately described the subtle coup that evolved on the part of a select group of military academics who favored a restructuring of forces in order to meet counter insurgency threats and wars. As a civilian with limited exposure to the insider politics in the military; the book was an eye opener ! What was surprising was the passion that each side felt toward visions of how future wars were to be fought. After reading the book, I could not form an opinion on the merits for force structure change. World events happen at lightening speed, and the US has to be ready for any contingency, counter insurgency appears to be only one of the many threats. The book puts forth substantive points that are thought provoking and all with merit. This was an excellent book in all respects and highly entertaining as the thought processes and politics within the Army were shown from a personal perspective from the players who were attempting to accelerate change.
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on 23 January 2017
An excellent read. Detailed analysis and assessment of developments behind the scenes in terms of (attempts at - as jury still out on longer-term success one suspects) reforms to the US military's (Army in particular) thinking and practices in respect of counter insurgency work. Many would have read about Gen. Petraeus and his high profile activities in the Middle East. This book exposes the backroom dealings, conflicts and tensions between (on the one hand) an emerging force of Westpoint trained officers, academics and others (pro-counter insurgency and change) and 'the establishment' (ie politicians, traditionalists within the military) linked to the US administration. This book is of interest at a number of levels: eg. it provides a detailed and seemingly well-researched account of how this initially small group of bright young officers ('warrior scholars') set about trying to institute change as far as the Army's strategies and doctrine were concerned; it also shows up major deficiencies in strategy at the political and military levels in respect of the managing the conflicts (in their totality) in the Middle East; it offers a blueprint on how organisations resist change and the different ways 'insurgents' adapt to achieve change; and it shows how social science-grounded education can be applied to the harsh realities of war and its aftermath.
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on 1 December 2016
Excellent book with lots of fascinating detail. If Petraeus makes it back to head the CIA, then definitively read the book because he's too good to put up with Trump for long. A story of intelligent thinking in an otherwise dumb Bush world, that saw time and effort wasted in meaningless Bush PR stunts. This tells it how it was and outlines the strategic thinking that was so often right, and so often vetoed by Defense. Definitely a buy.
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on 21 September 2013
It is great to read a book that has been so thoroughly researched. Made all the more credible by the list of contributors.
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