Anatomy of Fail­ure: Why Amer­ica Loses Ev­ery War it Starts

Har­lan Ull­man

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews Adult Nonfiction - KARL HELICHER

Naval In­sti­tute Press (NOVEM­BER) Hard­cover $29.95 (272pp) 978-1-68247-225-5 This com­pre­hen­sive in­ves­ti­ga­tion re­veals the com­plex­i­ties of for­eign-pol­icy mak­ing in the era of “no world or­der.”

Anatomy of Fail­ure is Har­lan Ull­man’s en­light­en­ing as­sess­ment of the United States’s bleak record of los­ing all the wars it started since the sec­ond half of the twen­ti­eth cen­tury. The book demon­strates that a lack of knowl­edge about diplo­matic history and in­ef­fec­tive strate­gic plan­ning have caused pres­i­dents from John F. Kennedy to Don­ald Trump to in­flame ex­ist­ing crises or spark new ones.

This richly de­tailed ac­count re­flects Ull­man’s dis­tin­guished ca­reer as a swift-boat com­man­der dur­ing the Viet­nam War, through to his decades as an ex­pert ad­vi­sor to pres­i­dents and po­lit­i­cal of­fi­cials, as well as his ten­ure as a for­eign-pol­icy scholar.

Each pres­i­dent’s record is thor­oughly scru­ti­nized, and only Ge­orge H. W. Bush ends up be­ing lauded for his plan­ning and re­al­is­tic goals; they led to a quick US vic­tory in the 1991 Iraq War. Con­versely, his son, Ge­orge W. Bush, is in­dicted for blun­der­ing into the 2003 Iraq War in or­der to jus­tify never-found weapons of mass de­struc­tion, in what Ull­man calls “strate­gic in­com­pe­tence of the high­est or­der.”

Bush’s suc­ces­sor, Barack Obama, is crit­i­cized for a line-in-the-sand chal­lenge to Syria’s As­sad over his use of chem­i­cal weapons—a de­cree that was ig­nored by Syria and, Ull­man says, re­sulted in di­min­ished Amer­i­can cred­i­bil­ity. Pres­i­dent Trump, ac­cord­ing to Ull­man, is off to an in­aus­pi­cious start; Twit­ter rants have wors­ened re­la­tions with North Korea, other en­e­mies, and al­lies.

The book’s out­stand­ing fea­ture is its in­clu­sion of di­a­logues among the author and pres­i­dents and mem­bers of the for­eign-pol­icy com­plex. Ull­man is not afraid to mince words; he of­fers well-re­searched as­sess­ments that dis­com­fort cliché-spout­ing author­i­ties.

This com­pre­hen­sive in­ves­ti­ga­tion re­veals the com­plex­i­ties of for­eign-pol­icy mak­ing in the era of “no world or­der.” Ull­man warns that the con­tin­ued ab­sence of strate­gic plan­ning, cou­pled with the fail­ure to un­der­stand the mind-sets of other na­tions’ lead­ers, will re­sult in wors­en­ing re­la­tions and in­creased con­flicts. This is an im­por­tant book for pres­i­dents, of­fi­cials, and cit­i­zens con­cerned about Amer­ica’s evolv­ing role in the world.

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