Best Defense

Dubik’s ‘Just War Reconsidered’ and Schadlow’s ‘War and the Art of Governance’: A double review

As the United States struggles through its sixteenth year of continuous wars two books have come out that should become required leading for national leaders, both civil and military, charged with the responsibility to bring our wars to a successful conclusion — an outcome that so far has eluded them.

Covers of Just War Reconsidered and War and the Art of Governance (University Press of Kentucky/Georgetown University Press)
Covers of Just War Reconsidered and War and the Art of Governance (University Press of Kentucky/Georgetown University Press)


By Col. James McDonough, U.S. Army (Ret.)
Best Defense guest columnist

As the United States struggles through its sixteenth year of continuous wars two books have come out that should become required leading for national leaders, both civil and military, charged with the responsibility to bring our wars to a successful conclusion — an outcome that so far has eluded them.  The one, Just War Reconsidered, by Lieutenant General (Ret.) James Dubik, describes in detail a moral and practical approach to what he calls war waging. The other, War and the Art of Governance, by Nadia Schadlow, describes the necessity of, and the methods for, consolidating combat success into political victory.

Both books stand alone as seminal treatises on their respective subjects — each was written independently of the other — but together they form bookends to solidifying an understanding of why nations go to war in the first place and the only way to make them worth the costs of doing so in the end. Indeed, so powerful is their collective argument — so vital is an understanding of what they both describe and proscribe — to ignore their work could very well lead us to yet many more years of continued combat with only negative outcomes to show for our troubles.

Both authors know the national security field well.  Both are intellectuals of the first order, both have devoted a lifetime to the study of war and its implications, and both have critical experiences that make them especially qualified to offer insights on its prosecution.  Jim Dubik is a warrior-strategist who has made his bones both in the field and in the venues of power that oversee the execution of military operations. He made is mark early.  Indeed, on the first day of his arrival as a lieutenant in the 82nd Airborne Division he came across a soldier breaking into a car. Not wishing to be late, but realizing that a crime was being committed, he took the perpetrator in tow and continued his walk to the orderly room where he duly announced, “Lieutenant James Dubik reporting for duty — with prisoner.”  From there he went on to serve with the 75th Ranger Regiment, and later commanded the 25th Infantry Division, the 1st U.S. Army Corps, and ultimately the Multinational Security Transitional Command-Iraq and the NATO Training Mission-Iraq during the surge of 2007-2008.  Along the way he picked up a Ph. D in philosophy from John Hopkins, instructed on philosophy at West Point, taught campaigning at the operational level of war at Fort Leavenworth’s School of Advanced Military Studies, and published a small library’s worth of essays, reviews, and books.

Intellectually, Nadia Schadlow is equally qualified. For years, she managed and directed strategic studies at the Smith Richardson Foundation, selecting issues that warranted further attention from the U.S. security community and helping prepare senior defense officials as they entered the serious responsibilities of their posts. She served on the Defense Policy Board (2006 to 2009) and is a full member of the Council of Foreign Relations (as is Dubik). She, too, has published extensively and in early 2017 was brought in by National Security Adviser Lieutenant General H. R. McMaster to help draft the Administration’s National Security Strategy, due out by the end of this year. Her book is an outgrowth of her doctoral dissertation for fulfillment of her Ph.D from the John Hopkins’ Paul Nitze School of Advanced International Studies.

Dubik picks up where Michael Walzer’s classic discourse in his book, Just and Unjust Wars, leaves off. Although an admirer of Walzer’s 1970s book, he sees it as too finely focused on morality in war, that is to say the morality in the act of fighting wars at the tactical level. Dubik believes there is another, more compelling, level at which wars take place, a dimension he identifies as war waging, the strategic level where senior leaders, both political and military, set war aims, identify the policies and strategies to achieve those aims, and put in place the apparatus to allow those to occur. Here lies, he argues, a greater morality since the fate of the political community (most often the nation-state and its allies) is at risk, along with its citizens (to include those who serve in war), innocents (e.g., non-combatants), and the wealth (resources) of the political community. In describing how to achieve justice in war waging, he lays out a detailed discussion of all the parameters, processes, and principles that must be observed. All of this he integrates across the entire spectrum of war, not only its tactical and operational considerations, but with the very purposes for fighting it in the first place and the end toward which it must progress, at the least possible wastefulness (injustice) to life and property.

His is more than a theoretical work. It reflects the hard reality of decision-making in waging war (why, how, and for what purpose), the struggle to get things as right as possible given the frailties of human nature and the ever-changing environment in

which the war unfolds, to take account of (and, hopefully, anticipate) the actions of the enemy, and the need to maintain legitimacy before the eyes of the citizenry of the political community in the conduct of the war. By reviewing the rich body of literature on war waging and war fighting, laying out the logical development of his arguments, illustrating those arguments with historical examples of both success and failure, and concluding with key principles to be observed, he has formulated a fresh view on what it takes for senior leaders (an entity he also defines in detail) to meet their moral obligations in war.  It is an original work, neatly condensing all that has come before and synthesizing that into a framework that “increases the probability of success in waging war.”

Dr. Schadlow picks up where General Dubik leaves off, addressing the issues of governance after the war is over, stressing the importance and techniques for consolidating combat success into a desired political end state. She is unequivocal — governance operations are central to strategic success. Unlike Dubik who begins with moral philosophy and then uses historical examples to illustrate his points, she uses history directly to demonstrate that America has long understood the importance on having a follow-on plan to make sure that what it fought for was put in place after the fighting was over. The first phase of this ongoing learning process is covered by a reflection on the post-war operations following the Mexican, Civil, and Spanish-American wars, climaxing with the Rhineland after World War I. It was an era of America’s growth into becoming a world power, one in which the formal institutions for postwar governance were absent, but the intuitive understanding of the need was present, as were the innovativeness, creativity, and ability necessary to achieve it. The second historical phase focuses on World War II and its political aftermaths in Germany, Italy, Japan, and Korea, an era that included more formalized structures and doctrinal development for post-conflict operations. The third era she reviews are the lesser known histories of the aftermath of the Korean War (post 1953), the Dominican Republic (post 1965), and Panama (post 1989). Oddly enough, it was a time when the institutionalized approaches to post combat governance were largely ignored, often purposely so. She concludes with the more current examples of Afghanistan and Iraq (both of which, along with Libya, are also addressed by Dubik since the fighting in each place is not yet ended). In every case in every era, she correctly points out, it was the American army that was tasked to undertake “specific tasks to restore political and economic stability in order to leave behind institutions compatible with U.S. interests.” This, she argues, is the proper organization in which to place it, for it is the army that is the branch of service that seizes and holds land territory, the domain in which the citizens of political communities reside.

She concludes her work with five strong recommendations: 1) American policymakers must accept that the political dimension is indispensable across the full spectrum of war; 2) Unity of command, both during and after war in the occupied territories, is essential to operational and strategic success; 3) Although civilian political leaders must formulate and dictate policy, they must give the army operational control over governance activities in conflict zones; 4) Kinetic energy (read as military force) cannot achieve policy objectives alone; and 5) Both political and military leaders must create the standing capabilities and organizations to achieve proper governance in the aftermath of hostilities. She makes it clear that avoiding a governing vacuum is not to be mistaken for nation building by reminding the reader that much that is bad comes from putting nothing in place that ensures our objectives are not only met but are sustained for the long-term. Indeed, her argument is that if we cannot figure out how to get the right political structures established in the aftermath of the fighting, we shouldn’t go in the first place.

That the two books are not perfectly synchronized can be seen in comparing her own recommendations to Dubik’s concluding five principles: 1) A need for a continuous dialogue between senior political and military leaders, both on the path into war and throughout, to both set and adapt national aims, strategies, policies, and campaigns to the dynamic nature of war; 2) The essentiality of military subordination to civil authority in democracies (but not the former’s exclusion in the war waging dialogue); 3) The necessity to manage civil and military bureaucracies to ensure government structures and processes work properly so as to achieve war aims, execute strategies and policies, and support military operations; 4) The maintenance of political legitimacy throughout the war (‘and’, Schadlow would add, ‘afterwards’); and 5)  The right of resignation, properly done, by senior political and military leaders in the face of fundamental moral disagreement with key decisions and actions.

Along the way to their conclusions, both authors lay out an incontrovertible path to better wartime leadership and management than we have seen in recent times. It is no coincidence that both books linger on the failure of successfully prosecuting and ending of our present struggles in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as our sojourns into Libya, Syria, Turkey, and the territories controlled by ISIS.   Despite their mutual participation in and acquaintances with the current security power elites, Dubik and Schadlow are unflinching where mistakes have been made.  They both acknowledge that what they prescribe will not be easy to achieve. Nor do they make the mistake of believing an infallible genius (or geniuses) at the helm of the security ship of state is necessary to extricate us from the terrible morass we have found ourselves in over the past sixteen years.

Taken together, the two books offer a vital treatise on the responsibility and duties of senior civilian and military leaders in times of war. If I were king, I would decree both books required reading for those about to take up that mantle. Indeed, I would seek to arrange for the authors themselves to tutor senior national leaders on what is required to do justice to the awesome responsibilities they hold in waging war. There can be no room then for politicians to spout that war (and its aftermath) is too important to be left to the generals or for military leaders to maintain that politicians should have no sway in the conduct of military operations. We need both to understand their moral responsibility to collectively do the best they can in making the decisions, monitoring their execution, and evaluating the outcomes that determine success or failure in war. These two books give them the markers they will need to achieve that, to the best of their abilities.

Jim McDonough is a retired Army colonel who served in Vietnam, the Balkans, and Africa among other places. He is the author of the Viet Nam memoir, Platoon Leader, as well as The Defense of Hill 781 and The Limits of Glory. He was the principal writer of the U.S. Army 1990’s war fighting doctrine (FM 100-5) and senior editor of both the 1997 National Defense Posture and the 2004 Overseas Basing Structure (both reports commissioned by the U.S. Congress). He has served on the White House Staff as the director of strategy for the national drug control strategy, directed Florida’s statewide drug control efforts, and took over Florida’s prison and parole/probation system in the aftermath of a corruption crisis. He is currently writing a book on the Rwandan genocide of 1994.

Photo credit: University Press of Kentucky/Georgetown University Press

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at Twitter: @tomricks1

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