Waging War, Planning Peace: U.S. Noncombat Operations and Major Wars

By Erwin, Edward | Naval War College Review, Spring 2016 | Go to article overview

Waging War, Planning Peace: U.S. Noncombat Operations and Major Wars


Erwin, Edward, Naval War College Review


Waging War, Planning Peace: U.S. Noncombat Operations and Major Wars, by Aaron Rapport. Ithaca, N.Y., and London: Cornell Univ. Press, 2015. 266 pages. $79.95.

Innovative, provocative, and compelling, Aaron Rapport's Waging War, Planning Peace offers a distinct perspective on U.S. failures in postwar stability and reconstruction operations since 1941. The disconnect between waging war and planning peace is the subject of this intriguing study that applies theories of national security policy to four historical case studies. A lecturer at the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Cambridge, Rapport examines how the ambitious state-building aims of U.S. presidents and senior advisers were consistently undermined by meager planning.

Rapport invokes "construal level theory" to explain postconflict reconstruction failures following World War II and Operation IRAQI FREEDOM, arguing that the Roosevelt and Bush administrations projected confidence and visionary objectives for peace after the war without providing the necessary organizational support. In turn, failures following the Korean and Vietnam Wars are attributed to administrations that did not articulate end-state agendas and instead concentrated on immediate operational and military gains. The flaw common to the actors in all four historical studies is that kinetic aspects of the war were prioritized at the expense of postwar planning.

The construal level theory consists of several key components. The more distant our goals, the greater we construe the long time horizon abstractly. The more immediate our goals, the greater we construe the short-term horizon in detail. Consequently, the desirability of distant goals can overshadow their feasibility. National leaders who formulate lofty goals for the distant future support transformative objectives, while those who focus on the particulars of combat operations tend to be preoccupied with a maintenance outlook that is far more cautious about future estimations. Proponents of desirability and transformative strategies for peace display deductive reasoning based on preexisting concepts, whereas advocates of feasibility and maintenance approaches demonstrate inductive thinking sensitive to context-specific information. …

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