Competing accounts of why violence declined in Iraq in 2007 have shaped U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, debates about force sizing and doctrines on counterinsurgency, and academic research on the dynamics of armed conflict. Nevertheless, few scholars have attempted to test these competing accounts against one another systematically. “Testing the Surge” approached this issue by combining declassified, geocoded data on violent events with information about local-level military behavior gained from an original series of seventy structured interviews with Coalition officers. This evidence allowed us to leverage the substantial variation in violence patterns across Iraq in order to evaluate causal claims. We argued that the best explanation for why violence declined in Iraq in 2007 involves a synergistic interaction between the Surge and the Sunni Awakening: both were necessary but neither was sufficient, while other explanations (including the dynamics of sectarian cleansing) cannot account for local or national violence trends.
H-Diplo/ISSF is honored to present a special and very unique exchange on the issue of “Democracy, Deception and Entry into War.” The editors would particularly like to express their great appreciation to Marc Trachtenberg for allowing us to publish his extended essay “Dan Reiter and America’s Road to War in 1941,” as well as to David Kaiser, Dan Reiter, and John Schuessler for their thoughtful contributions to this important debate. One could not ask for a better demonstration of the benefits of productive exchange and debate among historians and political scientists.
I was surprised and delighted to read Douglas Macdonald’s four-thousand-word critique of my recent International Security article. That “Two Concepts of Liberty: US Cold War Grand Strategies and the Liberal Tradition” could attract such sustained attention is more than I had hoped, but to attract it from a scholar of Macdonald’s caliber is both flattering and humbling.
Benjamin Lambeth and Jerome Slater share a common interest in the military meaning of Arab-Israeli confrontations of the last decade, but they come at the battles very differently. Whereas Lambeth is interested in analyzing the Israel Defense Forces’ effectiveness and learning curve, Slater is focused upon the morality of Israel’s actions, calling Operation Cast Lead (2008-09) a “moral catastrophe.” (44) Even though the authors cover some of the same events, one would be hard-pressed to develop a common narrative because they hold very different perspectives on Arab-Israeli events and history.
By the accounts of the three reviewers below, Kelly Greenhill has hit a home run. Their collective view substantiates the judgment of the International Studies Association (ISA), which gave Weapons of Mass Migration the Association’s Best Book of the Year Award for 2011. In turn, the reviewers and the ISA have confirmed my judgment of four years ago that this is an especially important book in the field of security studies.
After World War II, the story goes, the United States parted ways with its isolationist past and asserted itself as a political and military power. Recently, though, historians and political scientists have begun to question this narrative, concluding that the United States sought to avoid political and military commitments to Europe for much longer than had previously been thought. Political scientists have, however, yet to offer a compelling explanation for American behavior.
The 2007 deployment of nearly 30,000 additional U.S. troops to Iraq, colloquially known as ‘the surge,’ cast a long shadow over subsequent U.S. foreign policy, including the 2009 decision to similarly ‘surge’ troops in Afghanistan. It will further affect the upcoming confirmation hearings for Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, where Hagel’s opposition the surge while in the U.S. Senate is likely to be a topic of discussion. Supporters of the decision in Iraq have claimed that the reduction of violence and political stabilization in Iraq in 2007-2008 was substantially due to the surge. Skeptics of the surge have highlighted other factors endogenous to Iraq as being equally, if not more, important, yet it is the pro-surge viewpoint that has dominated the public perception of Iraq. Thus the question of what actually reduced the violence in Iraq remains open even as policy is made on the assumption that the surge was primarily responsible.
In recent years, a number of leading security studies scholars including Christopher Layne, John Mearsheimer, Robert Pape, Barry Posen, and Stephen Walt have come out in favor of U.S. strategic retrenchment overseas. The fact that this list of scholars reads like an honor roll of prominent academic realists makes the current trend all the more interesting. ‘Offshore realism’ would seem to be the order of the day. This trend, moreover, is hardly limited to the academy. The case for strategic retrenchment and offshore balancing fits with large sections of popular and congressional opinion, tired as American citizens and politicians they are of foreign wars and given that they are consumed with domestic economic difficulties. Indeed, it could be argued that the Obama administration is implementing a modest form of strategic retrenchment which will only accelerate in the next few years.
In January 1955, Michael Roberts, a Professor of early modern Swedish history, approached the podium at Queen’s University, Belfast, Northern Ireland. A veteran of the Second World War and post-war government service in Stockholm, he had been at the university for a year. Roberts was working on a biography of the warrior-king Gustavus Adolphus, and was exploring the reasons for his phenomenal success during the Thirty Year’s War. In this lecture, Roberts argued, tactical changes developed by the Dutch leader Maurice of Orange, during his war with Spain, not only changed the conduct of military affairs but exerted a profound effect on European and world history. Rather than simply narrating events, as was the standard method for most historians, Roberts sought to explain why these changes took place, what they meant in the immediate period, and what their long-term effects were.  It is doubtful Roberts realized the effect of this lecture, as it became a paradigm for understanding the nature of war and its effect on society.
How can we understand the important phenomenon of modern-day warlords, often associated with state failure and transborder criminality even as state leaders frequently rely upon them as a source of order or peace in the most difficult of conditions? Kimberly Marten’s Warlords: Strong-Arm Brokers in Weak States blazes a new trail in answering this question, adopting an explicitly inductive approach to theory-building through the study of four important cases of warlordism: Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), Georgia’s strongmen in Ajara and the Kodori Gorge, the Sons of Iraq, and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s creation in Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov.