Assessing War: The Challenge of Measuring Success and Failure

By Schroden, Jonathan | Joint Force Quarterly, October 2016 | Go to article overview

Assessing War: The Challenge of Measuring Success and Failure


Schroden, Jonathan, Joint Force Quarterly


Assessing War: The Challenge of Measuring Success and Failure

Edited by Leo J. Blanken, Hy Rothstein, and Jason J. Lepore

Georgetown University Press, 2015

376 pp. $64.95

ISBN: 978-1626162457

Dr. Philip Meilinger of the Air University once wrote that "one of the most vital yet difficult tasks a wartime commander must perform is strategic assessment." And yet, as the editors of Assessing War rightfully point out, strategic assessment is a topic that has been underserved by academic and military writers to date. It is into this void that Assessing War commendably charges, with three primary goals: to compile a set of in-depth historical accounts of a crucial, yet neglected, aspect of military history; to refresh our understanding of the assessment problem by refining our models in light of the evolving wartime environments we observe today and may find in the future; and to generate recommendations to assist in establishing future policy, strategy, and doctrine. This is a heady set of goals for one book, and Assessing War ultimately delivers a mixed performance in accomplishing them.

The book is strongest in its presentation of history. The dozen chapters looking at cases spanning from the Seven Years' War to contemporary conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan represent a major contribution to the discourse on this topic, even though the chapters themselves vary widely in quality. The best include the chapters by Edward G. Lengel (the Revolutionary War), Brooks D. Simpson (U.S. actions to subdue rebellion in 1861), Michael Richardson (U.S. cavalry operations against the Plains Indians), Bruce McAllister Linn (the Philippine War), and William C. Hix and Kalev I. Sepp (the Iraq War). The last of these especially fills a major gap, as little has been written about assessment in the Iraq War to date. Some chapters, most notably one about how al Qaeda assesses its progress and one on "alternative dimensions of assessment," are fascinating but relatively out of place, while others--most notably those by John Grenier (Seven Years' War) and Alejandro S. Hernandez, Julian Ouellet, and Christopher J. Nannini (Afghanistan)--completely miss the mark. But such unevenness is often the norm in an edited volume, and it should not detract from the utility of these works as a whole--there is much of value to be found here.

The book attempts to provide a new, useable model of strategic assessment for practitioners, but it struggles from the beginning. One major reason for this is the book's confusion of terms; authors continually conflate wartime assessment, strategic assessment, and operation's assessment, and in some cases other forms (for example, intelligence assessment) also creep in. …

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