With his latest book, The Pentagon’s Wars, Mark Perry has written an informative volume about the pinnacle of national security decision-making — the interaction between the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the White House during times of war — and adds his voice to the likes of Bob Woodward and Tom Ricks, who have dissected key moments in our most recent military adventures. Perry’s approach is unique, however, in that his reporting focuses directly on the intersection of political and military leadership and spans the entirety of the post-Cold War era. Having surveyed this history he finds the record wanting and our military leadership inadequate.
Unfortunately, Perry offers no theory of how defense policymaking should work, and his book is the weaker for it. The Pentagon’s Warsoffers extensive documentation of the string of foreign policy failures that have defined American military efforts over the past few decades, but Perry fails to explain the structural factors that led to these failures. Nevertheless, his narrative does offer evidence of two key dynamics that help explain why success has been so elusive for the American military: the chasm between the military and civilian policymakers, and the Goldwater-Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986.
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