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Publisher's Summary

Since 9/11, why have we won smashing battlefield victories only to botch nearly everything that comes next? In the opening phases of war in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya, we mopped the floor with our enemies. But in short order, things went horribly wrong.

We soon discovered we had no coherent plan to manage the "day after". The ensuing debacles had truly staggering consequences - many thousands of lives lost, trillions of dollars squandered, and the apparent discrediting of our foreign policy establishment. This helped set the stage for an extraordinary historical moment in which America's role in the world, along with our commitment to democracy at home and abroad, have become subject to growing doubt. With the benefit of hindsight, can we discern what went wrong? Why have we had such great difficulty planning for the aftermath of war?

In The Day After, Brendan Gallagher - an Army lieutenant colonel with multiple combat tours to Iraq and Afghanistan, and a Princeton PhD - seeks to tackle this vital question. Gallagher argues there is a tension between our desire to create a new democracy and our competing desire to pull out as soon as possible. Our leaders often strive to accomplish both to keep everyone happy. But by avoiding the tough underlying decisions, it fosters an incoherent strategy. This makes chaos more likely.

The Day After draws on new interviews with dozens of civilian and military officials, ranging from US cabinet secretaries to four-star generals. It also sheds light on how, in Kosovo, we lowered our postwar aims to quietly achieve a surprising partial success. Striking at the heart of what went wrong in our recent wars, and what we should do about it, Gallagher asks whether we will learn from our mistakes, or provoke even more disasters? Human lives, money, elections, and America's place in the world may hinge on the answer.

©2019 Brendan R. Gallagher (P)2019 Blackstone Publishing

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  • W. Campbell
  • 05-08-2021

Unrealistic Comparisons

I had a had time with comparisons made between theaters of war such as Kosovo and Iraq. There is no comparisons but the author attempts to draw conclusions from their similarities. As a veteran, I didn’t appreciate the shallow inclusion of personal experience in an attempt to give his arguments credibility.

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  • J. Pulton
  • 07-03-2021

Experience matters

This book may have a small potential audience, but I for one, am thankful to Brendan Gallagher for having written it. His combination of military and academic credentials made him uniquely qualified to produce this priceless synthesis of lessons in post-war planning and implementation. I just wish it had been available before I lived in Afghanistan.

If you are looking for a partisan book attacking the foreign policy of the G.W. Bush or Obama administrations, look elsewhere. After reading this book, I still don’t know Gallagher’s politics. He acknowledges that the officials responsible for the failures in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya were intelligent, well-intentioned people. However, he is unsparing in dissecting their errors; the muddled strategic thought, the inappropriately organized government decision making processes, and the unwillingness to learn from the mistakes and successes of past administrations.

Reflecting on the book, it appears that presidential administrations get better at post-war planning and implementation over time. The author points out that the Bill Clinton administration learned from the 1990s school of hard knocks, finally getting it right with the 1998 Kosovo occupation. Likewise, the G.W. Bush administration finally learned from past mistakes with the successful 2007 Iraq surge.

I also note that success seems to be correlated with a president’s level of experience before taking office. Despite serving only one term, the G.H.W. Bush administration demonstrated competence in foreign policy, avoiding wars where possible, and successfully carrying out the first Iraq war. I suspect it’s no coincidence that H.W. had been Director of the CIA and Ambassador to the UN, as well as experiencing military service in his youth. Bill Clinton, whose administration achieved the book’s success story in Kosovo, entered office with over a decade of governing experience. G.W. Bush and Obama entered the presidency with significantly less governing experience. If we want to avoid foreign policy debacles, perhaps voters should once again take governing experience into consideration?

If everyone serving in foreign policy or military positions read this book, the U.S. might finally stop repeating past mistakes.

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