By Graham Allison
If we had known then what we know now, would we choose war again?
In the real world, foreign policy-making often requires hard choices, sometimes between bad and worse. After the fact, even the most objective analysts have difficulty determining what might have been. Understandably, those who chose A rather than Z are not likely to be analytically objective in defending their views. In the case of significant choices, they are fighting to shape a narrative that enhances their personal reputations, even their place in the history books, as well as fighting ongoing policy debates in which these choices are ammunition. Read more
Monica Duffy Toft
By Monica Duffy Toft
President Obama and his Secretary of Defense have declared the war in Iraq to be “over.” An end to the war is a good thing no doubt, but beyond that, what should we expect and why? Among the many important questions is how to address the real tensions that remain in Iraq and their potential to lead to dictatorship and civil war. Read more
By Ashraf Hegazy
Executive Director, Dubai Initiative, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs
The death of Muammar Gadhafi, as well as that of his son and his closest advisor, in addition to the fall of Sirte, allows the Transitional National Council to declare Libya’s freedom. However, it does not guarantee a peaceful transition any more than Saddam’s capture did in Iraq. The tough work of nation building and the creation of an inclusive political system will now begin. And while analysts have been concerned about the divisions that have recently emerged within the TNC, those divisions are a sign that the TNC is a truly diverse institution, bringing together a wide coalition of ideologies and interests. That is as good a start for the establishment of a democratic system as we can hope for. Read more
The Power Problem: Part of a series of views on lessons learned in the exercise of American power in the decade since 9/11.
David E. Sanger
By David E. Sanger
Chief Washington Correspondent, The New York Times; Senior Fellow, National Security and the Press, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs
This summer, in preparation for the tenth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, The New York Times set out to assess the costs of America’s response – a daunting task, as many who have tried to tally up elements of the total can attest. The number was astounding: $3.3 trillion.
We drew on the work of many scholars, including some here at Harvard. We weighed which studies seemed based on good data and reasonable assumptions, and set aside some about which we had doubts. And we knew, of course, that when you are dealing with numbers and problems this big, quantification is always open to argument. Read more
The Power Problem: Second in a series of views on lessons learned in the exercise of American power in the decade since 9/11.
Linda J. Bilmes
By Linda J. Bilmes
The US response to 9/11 has been a major contributor to America’s current economic malaise.
The most economically costly decision post 9/11 was not whether to attack Iraq and Afghanistan, but how to pay for the ensuing conflicts and the related increases in defense and homeland security. War costs always linger well after the last shot has been fired. But this is especially true of the Iraq-Afghanistan conflicts. The $1.6 trillion or so already spent has been financed wholly through borrowing. Add to this a further $800 billion in defense increases that are not directly war-related and hundreds of billions in new homeland security measures. The resulting debt accounts for well over one-quarter of the increase in US national debt since 2001. Read more
The Power Problem: First in a series of views on lessons learned in the exercise of American power in the decade since 9/11. Comments from readers are welcome.
Joseph S. Nye
By Joseph S. Nye
Was 9/11 a turning point in world history? It is too soon to be tell. After all, the lessons of World War I looked very different in 1939 than they did a mere decade after 1918.
As I argue in The Future of Power, one of the great powers shifts of this century is the increased empowerment of non-state actors, and 9/11 was a dramatic illustration of this long term trend. In 2001 an attack by non-state actors killed more Americans than a government attack did at Pearl Harbor in 1941. But this “privatization of war” was occurring before 9/11 and some American government reports in the 1990s even warned it was coming. Read more
By Rolf Mowatt-Larssen
Belfer Center Senior Fellow
I recently saw a great flick entitled “Age of Heroes.” It is about the early days of the British SAS in World War II. A team of 8 commandos was airlifted covertly into Norway on a top secret mission to steal vital Nazi technology. It’s a hard driving, gut wrenching movie. I got goose bumps, just like I did when I watched classic war movies like “300 Spartans” or “Cross of Iron.” It reminded me why I went to West Point and dedicated my life to serving my country–with no regrets. “Age of Heroes” is a vivid reflection of the stuff heroes are made of — their courage, toughness, concern for their comrades, and a willingness to die, if need be, for a higher cause. In World War II, the threat was so real, so clear, so existential. War is a great evil, but unfortunately, sometimes it is unavoidable. Read more
By Meghan O'Sullivan
Last week, President Obama made a compelling case for why he authorized force in Libya. In doing so, he sought to assure the American people that this intervention was prudent and bore no resemblance to the controversial and costly wars in Iraq or Afghanistan. He pre-empted such comparisons by explicitly stating, “to be blunt, we went down that road in Iraq” as a counterpoint for explaining why he would not seek to overthrown Qaddafi by force.
It may be both easy and convenient to dismiss the Iraq and Afghan experiences at this stage of U.S. intervention in Libya. But neither President Obama, nor the American people, would be wise to ignore the hard-won lessons that have emerged from these conflicts. In fact, while acknowledging the very different circumstances surrounding each intervention, America’s experience in Iraq and Afghanistan suggest more than a few cautionary notes and morsels of advice. Read more
By Diane J. McCree
Managing Editor, International Security
In the lead article of the 2010/11 winter issue of International Security, America’s premier journal on security issues, David Lake examines explanations for the outbreak of the 2003 Iraq War, one of the first truly preventive wars in history. He identifies analytical lessons learned in an effort to better understand how states may avoid war in the future. Read more