How the United States Ends Wars

23- 24 October 2015, Report by Dr. Jack Thompson

On 23 and 24 October 2015, the UCD Clinton Institute hosted a conference with the title “How the United States Ends Wars.” Noted experts in the field gave three impressive keynotes speeches: Gideon Rose, editor of Foreign Affairs;Professor Marilyn Young, of New York University; and Professor Toby Dodge of the London School of Economics. In all, scholars from four different continents presented sixteen papers over the course of two days. Several overarching themes characterized the conference. One that recurred throughout many of the papers was that, especially in recent years in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq, the United States has found it difficult to end wars. One reason for this is a tendency for political leaders and military personnel to develop conflicting objectives. As one speaker noted, the US military is skilled in the art of killing; it has enjoyed far less success in conceptualizing military objectives that contribute to long-term political stability. One of the more frequent strategies for ending wars is that of Vietnamization, or turning the fighting over to local troops that have been trained by US (often special) forces. As in Vietnam, however, this rarely succeeds for a variety of reasons, including the unwillingness/inability of the United States to invest the long-term resources and presence necessary for such a strategy. On the home front, as several speakers noted, the Americans have a tendency to treat all US soldiers as heroes, regardless of their actions or individual experiences, and to consider them unconnected to any negative actions or consequences of the war(s) in which they fought. Indeed, there is a propensity for American society to embrace a collective amnesia about negative consequences of wars in general. In closing, a general consensus emerged that the United States in the future needs to: (1) be more careful about beginning/entering wars in the first place; (2) do a better job of connecting military and political goals once fighting has begun; and (3) do a better job of embracing accurate, including negative, narratives about wars in which it has fought.

The conference was organised jointly by UCD Clinton Institute and the School of History, University College Cork with assistance of the UCD Centre for War Studies.


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