Book Review: The Savage Wars of Peace, 2nd Edition by Max Boot

[FULL DISCLOSURE: I received my copy of this book free from the author. I was not paid for this review and the opinion expressed is purely my own]

The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power by Max Boot was first published in 2003, this review is of the second edition that has an updated chapter discussing the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The first edition of this book was released in 2003 shortly after the Iraq War was launched and became an instant classic for its excellent descriptions of america’s small wars and incisive analysis of why and how those various operations succeeded or failed.  Boot corrected determined that the key determinant of success or failure in a small war is the goals behind that war.  Most successes had realistic and achievable goals and most failures did not.  The next factor affecting success was the length of american engagement with longer engagements tending to be more successful than shorter ones.  He also showed that any reforms introduced by Americans tended to evaporate rather quickly once Americ left.

His new chapter analyzes the Iraq and Afghanistan wars in light of past experience. It is a cogent analysis that correctly, in my view, puts the ultimate failure of the US effort in Iraq in the almost complete lack of planning for what comes after the invasion and toppling of the Hussein regime.  The same fault applied in afghanistan where the initial involvement was to topple the Taliban but the mission morphed into nation building.  Boots account of the schizophrenic American effort in Iraq and Afghanistan should be read as the lesson they are in how not to fight an insurgency.  If there was something the US could have done wrong, they did it.

The first edition of this book is a classic, this edition should cement that reputation.  It is a recounting of 200+ years of american foreign intervention both successful and unsuccessful with an excellent of the factors that make for success.  if anything, the final chapter proves that american politicians and generals stubbornly refuse to learn from past success.

I highly recommend this book to students of american foreign policy, military history, and the problems confronting the counterinsurgent.  It is not only great history but excellent analysis.