Ogrosky on Gallagher, 'The Day After: Why America Wins the War but Loses the Peace'

Brendan R. Gallagher
Christian Ogrosky

Brendan R. Gallagher. The Day After: Why America Wins the War but Loses the Peace. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2019. 320 pp. $32.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-5017-3962-0

Reviewed by Christian Ogrosky (Air University, Air War College) Published on H-War (April, 2021) Commissioned by Margaret Sankey (Air University)

Printable Version: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showpdf.php?id=55979

Brendan R. Gallagher’s new book, The Day After: Why America Wins the War but Loses the Peace, explores the United States’ failure over the past twenty years to translate success on the battlefield into enduring positive postwar outcomes. Gallagher expresses concern that these failures, along with the erosion of domestic democratic norms, have led the United States to question its position as the world’s leader and to the retreat of democracy around the globe. A US Army lieutenant colonel, ranger, and Bronze Star recipient, Gallagher is uniquely positioned to investigate this premise based on his seven deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan and PhD in public policy from Princeton.

The Day After argues that the United States overfocuses on combat operations to the detriment of its postwar plans, specifically through failure to achieve three interconnected planning tasks: identifying a clear, achievable political goal, anticipating and attempting to mitigate potential postwar obstacles, and mobilizing resources aligned with the overall political goal. To buttress his argument, Gallagher draws on an impressive array of interviews with three dozen planners and senior decision-makers to analyze the 1999 Kosovo conflict, 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, 2003 invasion of Iraq, and 2011 intervention in Libya as instances of post-Cold War conflicts against “vastly inferior opponents” that offered opportunities for the United States to impose its political will (p. 31). These four case studies span three US presidential administrations in an attempt to draw more generalizable, rather than administration-specific, lessons.

Gallagher acknowledges that his mission-planning tasks seem “rather obvious” but uses detailed case studies to establish that the United States has still frequently failed to accomplish them (p. 26). Through this lens, Gallagher categorizes postwar planning for Kosovo as moderately successful but determines that postwar efforts in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya were failures attributable to inadequate planning and implementation. For each conflict, Gallagher then analyzes four “pathologies” (wishful thinking, deficient learning from previous experiences, underuse of the National Security Council to coordinate across government, and crosscutting US domestic political pressures for the simultaneous promotion of democracy and a quick exit) to explain why the United States repeatedly fails to adequately prepare for postwar operations.

The Day After excludes other potential cases studies, including Germany, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Panama, Somalia, Bosnia, and the Persian Gulf War, in a desire to preserve a contemporary focus. The omission of the Bosnian conflict appears to be a missed opportunity to review a second post-Cold War operation that ended relatively well. Furthermore, an analysis of the 1991 Gulf War might have yielded critical lessons as to why the George H. W. Bush administration chose not to continue to Baghdad and thereby avoided the pitfalls, especially those associated with regime change, that befell other administrations.

As part of his analysis, Gallagher reviews two possible alternate explanations: the time available for postwar planning and the possibility that the “Middle East represents a uniquely treacherous vortex, and perhaps the United States cannot construct any adequate postwar plan there” (p. 64). An additional variable worthy of exploration might be the role of ethnic or tribal homogeneity, as many of the instances of successful American postwar planning occurred in homogenous states (Germany, Japan, South Korea, and Kosovo, which the author states was 90 percent Kosovar Albanian during the 1990s) and all of the failures investigated in the text (Afghanistan with Pashtun, Tajik, Haraza, and Uzbek ethnicities; Iraq with its Shia, Sunni, and Kurdish divisions; and Libya with its numerous competing tribes) were heterogeneous societies.

Libya’s classification as a failure of postwar planning is also up for interpretation. Gallagher makes clear that, while the Obama administration surely did not desire the postwar chaos that erupted, leaving Muammar Qaddafi in power would not have precluded negative outcomes. His research also highlights that, while still juggling postwar Afghanistan and Iraq, the Obama administration had no appetite to occupy a third Muslim country and so appears to have intentionally avoided becoming involved in postwar operations. Combined with National Transitional Counsel requests for no occupying force and the fact that the United States suffered zero combat deaths and at a total cost of one billion dollars, it is difficult to see Libya as an abject failure of postwar planning on the scale of Afghanistan or Iraq. Rather Libya can potentially be viewed as a conscious choice by the Obama administration to abstain from engaging in postwar operations while still claiming a thin veneer of democracy promotion without investing significant resources. This view of Libya corrects Gallagher’s fourth pathology of simultaneous American desires for democracy promotion and expeditious exits and would result in just two failures in postwar planning in the cases studied, with both occurring during the same administration with an identical set of key decision-makers, rather than an overarching failure of American postwar planning.

Gallagher appears to subscribe to what he refers to as the Pottery Barn rule of international relations, “you break it, you bought it,” where invading powers incur responsibility for postwar stability. In his conclusion, he suggests that the United States “should be highly selective in choosing when to topple a regime in the first place,” and because two of his three failed postwar operations were wars of choice, he implores that “our discourse should foster spirited debate over whether going to war is worth the associated costs and risks, especially if we have little interest in investing in the endgame,” a topic that is surely worthy of additional research and debate (p. 213). Gallagher deserves credit for his thought-provoking argument and use of numerous primary source materials that help to broaden our contextual knowledge and bring to light unique insights from those in office during these conflicts.

Citation: Christian Ogrosky. Review of Gallagher, Brendan R., The Day After: Why America Wins the War but Loses the Peace. H-War, H-Net Reviews. April, 2021. URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=55979

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