Many historians and policymakers have studied how wars begin. Ikle studies how wars end, and why military strategists have overlooked this question.
The reissuing of Iklé's classic is to be welcomed, if for no other reason than because it demonstrates how with clear prose, broad knowledge, and a sharp focus, a little book can address a big question. The 1971 edition was the product of a frustrating period in the Vietnam War, which led to other important books (Alex George's work on "coercive diplomacy" is of the same vintage). The question was why wars continue long after rational calculation suggests they should end, and Iklé used a wide range of examples to explain why governments find it difficult to extricate themselves from conflicts. Colin Powell urged his staff to read the book when thinking about how to end the 1991 Persian Gulf War. The analysis is grounded in great-power conflicts and reflects Iklé's old arguments with proponents of deterrence. So although it helps him explain the problems with the attempted conclusion of the 2003 Iraq war, it does not have a lot to say about how to deal with the subsequent insurgency.