Leaving without Losing: The War on Terror after Iraq and Afghanistan

  • Published

Leaving without Losing: The War on Terror after Iraq and Afghanistan, by Mark N. Katz. The Johns Hopkins University Press, 133 pp.

Leaving without Losing provides a thought-provoking analysis of the potential impact of a US withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan on the larger global war on terrorism (GWOT). Mark N. Katz is a professor of political science at George Mason University with a significant Cold War background; he is widely published on the topic, and in 1982, he held a temporary appointment as a Soviet affairs analyst at the US Department of State. This background provides the lens through which he views the GWOT and the context of Leaving without Losing.

The title lends itself to two rather obvious interpretations: how the United States can leave without losing, or how leaving Iraq and Afghanistan will not equate to losing. It is the latter interpretation that comes closest to Katz's thesis: leaving Iraq and Afghanistan will end American overexpansion and make it easier to weaken an over-expanded radical Islamic movement. So, the argument goes, not only does leaving not equate to losing, it actually lays the foundation for long-term success in the GWOT. Kratz argues that a continued American military endeavor in these two countries will actually be counterproductive to the GWOT, and he does so by drawing parallels from the Cold War and the US withdrawal from Indochina.

Katz suggests that radical Islamist forces may perceive withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan as an opportunity for them to expand—much like communist forces did with the US withdrawal from Indochina. And just as the American withdrawal in the 1970s lead to Marxist overconfidence and overexpansion, so too may a present day American withdrawal lead to radical Islamists' overconfidence and overexpansion. He compares the Cold War and GWOT by pointing out that both involved numerous regional and local conflicts, each with their own separate dynamics.

The book starts by putting the GWOT into perspective: what exactly it is and what the most likely scenarios are for its immediate future. A solid foundation is laid with a discussion of what went wrong during the first decade of the GWOT, examining the failed attempts at fostering democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan and the practical difficulties of democracy in the Muslim world. Katz does an excellent job of shaping the dialogue so that withdrawal is presented as an opportunity rather than a defeat. For example, he offers that the absence of a US presence may lead to opposition by regional powers that will keep radical Islamists in check—much like regional powers played a role in containing pro-Soviet Marxist regimes following the US withdrawal from Indochina.

The main limitations of this book arise from two unrelated issues. The first is simply its length; tackling such an enormous topic in so few words results in issues being oversimplified or unaddressed. The second limitation is in the overall analogy. There are vast and undeniable differences between the Cold War and the GWOT as well as between Indochina and Iraq and/or Afghanistan.

The single notable author bias, if it can be called a bias at all, comes from Katz's previously mentioned background. His determination to draw Cold War parallels runs the risk of creating analogies that can be more distracting than helpful. Regardless, the author does an excellent job of providing ideas and information to support his thesis. He focuses in on Iraq and Afghanistan but extends to the larger Muslim world and other regional conflicts that are part of the GWOT. In evaluating the impact a withdrawal from these two countries will have, he looks at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iran, Yemen, and Pakistan.

The idea that withdrawing from Iraq and Afghanistan could be a step forward offers much hope to the current condition of the GWOT. Additionally, the United States will be leaving these two countries on very different terms from those under which it left Indochina. It is very plausible that the rifts between radical Islamic sects will be exacerbated when they no longer have a common enemy in the region. And the conflicting interests of the nation states in the region that have developed over the last decade may very well keep these radical groups in check. Perhaps the most profound aspect of the book is that the author encourages the reader to consider the perspectives of other major powers like Russia, China, India and Iran and how an American withdrawal may impact these powers' interests.

This book is a great read for anyone interested in military affairs or politics. Dr. Katz has compiled an astonishingly concise work that is so loaded with ideas and insights that the reader will be left wondering how they have read a mere 133 pages. Additionally, it is both readable and interesting. By drawing parallels between the Cold War and the GWOT, the author makes this book relevant to not only these two international struggles but also to international relations ad infinitum. The book analyzes international affairs and conflicts from the perspective of other nations. How are China's and India's hopes and fears about Afghanistan relevant to the future of the GWOT? And how should they impact US foreign policy decisions? While the Cold War analogy is imperfect, Katz draws from numerous undeniable parallels. In doing so he shows the wisdom of an author who realizes that history is always relevant. As opposed to laying out a plan for leaving, Katz argues that not only will leaving not amount to losing but rather leaving will actually put us in a better position to win the GWOT.

Capt Christopher L. Sanders, USAF

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."