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Putting the Endgame before the War

Interviewee: Gideon Rose, Editor, Foreign Affairs
Interviewer: Deborah Jerome, Deputy Editor, CFR.org
November 9, 2010

While much is known about how wars start and how they're conducted, governments and historians generally haven't paid much attention to their endings, writes Gideon Rose, editor of Foreign Affairs, in his book How Wars End: Why We Always Fight the Last Battle: A History of American Intervention from World War I to Afghanistan. Notably in Iraq, but in previous engagements too, the United States and other powers have failed to enter conflicts with a "political purpose, some kind of sustainable political settlement" in mind, says Rose. After the fall of Saddam Hussein, Rose says, the failure of pre-war planning meant that Iraq plummeted into political turmoil and chaos.

In Afghanistan, too, the United States has failed to define its endgame, Rose says, noting that the costs of staying and the costs of leaving too soon are high. He says if the United States withdraws too early, there's a "risk of problems recurring," in the form of a renewed terrorist bulwark in the country where al-Qaeda leadership plotted the 9/11 attacks, but there's also a risk of a very expensive and long commitment. Certainly the United States will be somewhat constrained in its international policy choices, from military engagement to diplomacy, due to economics. "It's more likely that the budgetary climate will subconsciously help steer people toward a less confrontational course" regarding Iran, says Rose.

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