From Lexington to Baghdad and Beyond: War and Politics in the American Experience, 3rd ed.

  • Published

From Lexington to Baghdad and Beyond: War and Politics in the American Experience, 3rd ed., by Donald M. Snow and Dennis M. Drew. M. E. Sharpe, 2009, 352 pp.

Professors Dennis M. Drew (a retired Air Force colonel) and Donald M. Snow (professor emeritus of political science) should be familiar to students of Air University, Colonel Drew having taught at the School of Advanced Air and Space Studies and served as director of the Airpower Research Institute, and Dr. Snow having taught at the University of Alabama and at the Army, Navy, and Air Force war colleges. From Lexington to Baghdad and Beyond is a revision of From Lexington to Desert Storm and Beyond (M. E. Sharpe, 2000), adding two chapters devoted to the military actions now taking place in Iraq and Afghanistan. (Their other collaborations—The Eagle’s Talons: The American Experience at War [1988], Making Strategy: An Introduction to National Security Processes and Problems [1988], and Making Twenty-first-Century Strategy: An Introduction to Modern National Security Processes and Problems [2006]—are available from Air University Press.) The latest edition cuts through over 200 years of major military operations with a broad-brush analysis designed to show how US military strategists utilized military means to attain political ends, a formidable task to undertake in only 335 pages. Snow and Drew provide just enough detail to support their points but include a very good bibliography of over 150 primary and secondary sources that the reader can refer to for additional information.

The authors develop a methodology that employs six variables to examine 12 wars involving the United States, analyzing each one based on political objectives, military objectives and strategy, political considerations, military technologies and techniques, military conduct, and the desire to achieve a “better state of peace” at the conclusion of hostilities. Because Snow and Drew base this framework upon the writings of Carl von Clausewitz and B. H. Liddell Hart, military professionals will find these variables easy to understand and apply to the case studies. The authors then dedicate chapters to the Revolutionary War, Civil War, World War I, World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War, Persian Gulf War (Operations Desert Shield / Desert Storm), the current conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, and America’s “minor wars” (i.e., the War of 1812, Mexican War, and Spanish-American War). They conclude that the “the military instrument of power will continue to be employed, but it will serve limited political objectives and involve the controlled application of violence at levels well below total war.” This, in turn, will affect the military strategy and objectives developed to support the limited political objectives for future conflict. Drawing on the Korea and Vietnam case studies, the authors also show that limited wars and limited political objectives tend to create a perception that the military is “fighting with one hand tied behind its back.” One of their more thought-provoking findings is that the “U. S. Grant strategy of relentless attack” during the Civil War set the tone for future military objectives and strategy during both world wars and Desert Storm. As a result, “Americans seemed to have forgotten the much larger part of their military heritage—limited wars fought for limited purposes.” This finding is reinforced in chapters devoted to the Vietnam War and current conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Readers should note that the case studies used to test Snow and Drew’s methodology may prove limiting. Although the political objectives vary from “total” to “limited,” the case studies are militarily very similar (i.e., a large commitment of ground forces and the application of power projection—either Air Force or Navy assets). Conspicuously absent, for example, is the use of force in the Balkans (Operations Deliberate Force and Allied Force) during the 1990s; enforcement of the no-fly zone over Iraq from 1991 to 2003; or the use of military force during Operation Earnest Will and the “tanker wars” of the mid to late 1980s. Inclusion of these types of case studies, though minor in comparison to World War I and World War II, could offer a broader spectrum of military operations for analyzing the relationship between policy and military objectives (and for testing the book’s analytical framework), especially given Snow and Drew’s assertion that “the purposes underlying limited war are often vague and poorly articulated and understood.” However, as noted earlier, because the authors apply an analytical framework based on Clausewitzian principles, war is defined in terms of vital national interests and as an in extremis political remedy. Consequently (and due to the use of military force), omission of some of the smaller-scale military operations does not detract from the overall objective of the book or from the analysis of the 12 military conflicts.

At its heart, the analysis identifies several examples of a failure to synchronize US military plans and operations with political objectives. For a military that prides itself on subordination to political masters, this revelation may prove somewhat unnerving. The chapters on Vietnam, current operations in Iraq, and the “minor wars” demonstrate a disconnect between policy and military objectives. For this reason, From Lexington to Baghdad and Beyond is an important book for military professionals, similar to Russell Weigley’s The American Way of War: A History of United States Military Strategy and Policy (Macmillan, 1973), Allan Millett’s For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America (Free Press, 1984), and Kenneth Hagan and Ian Bickerton’s Unintended Consequences: The United States at War (Reaktion, 2007). Although not written for an air, space, and cyber-centric audience, this book will benefit Intermediate and Senior Developmental Education students interested in gaining a historical understanding about how US national objectives influence the development and pursuit of military objectives—or officers preparing for an assignment to joint or combatant command staffs.

Lt Col David K. Moeller, USAF

Seymour Johnson AFB, North Carolina


"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."