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The Limits of U.S. Military Capability

, 312 pages
May 2010
List price:$53.00
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The Limits of U.S. Military Capability

Lessons from Vietnam and Iraq

Political scientist James H. Lebovic establishes that the size, strength, flexibility, and adaptability of the U.S. military cannot ensure victory in asymmetrical conflicts.

In The Limits of U.S. Military Capability, Lebovic shows how political and psychological factors trumped U.S. military superiority in Vietnam and Iraq, where inappropriate strategies, low stakes, and unrealistic goals mired the United States military in protracted, no-win conflicts.

Lebovic contends that the United States is at a particular disadvantage when fighting a counterinsurgency without the full support of the host government; when leveraging various third parties (the adversary's foreign allies, societal leaders, and indigenous populations); when attempting to build coalitions and nations while involved in combat; and when sustaining government and public support at home when costs rise and benefits decline.

Lebovic cautions against involving the U.S. military in operations without first considering U.S. stakes and suggests that the military take a less-is-more approach when choosing to employ force. Ambitious goals bring higher costs, unexpected results, diminished options, and a greater risk of failure.

Rejecting the heavy-handed approach that is typical of most comparisons between the Vietnam and Iraq wars, The Limits of U.S. Military Capability carefully assesses evidence to develop lessons applicable to other conflicts—especially the ongoing war in Afghanistan.

James H. Lebovic is a professor of political science and international affairs at the George Washington University. He is the author of Deterring International Terrorism and Rogue States: U.S. National Security Policy after 9/11; Foregone Conclusions: U.S. Weapons Acquisition in the Post–Cold War Transition; and Deadly Dilemmas: Deterrence in U.S. Nuclear Strategy.

"While many have made superficial comparisons between the Iraq and Vietnam wars, Lebovic takes this task more seriously than most. His analysis yields important lessons by placing both wars in a more comprehensive context."

"This is an excellent study."


"Lebovic undertakes a thoughtful and detailed study of the Vietnam War and extracts the similarities and lessons from the experience for the United States' recent role in Iraq."

"James Lebovic gives by far the most complete comparison to date, drawing on a wide range of well-chosen sources and acknowledging the differences between the two conflicts as well as emphasizing their similarities."

"A solid and insightful book"

"A captivating analysis... Lebovic's book is a valuable compilation of facts and scholarly narrative that helps to put two difficult wars into historical perspective."

"Because Lebovic has approached his subject with great care, the resulting work offers lucid insights into the problems the United States has faced in applying military power abroad."

"When it comes to US interests and military capabilities, instead of reading uplifting stories... policymakers today ought to read Lebovic for keen analysis that exposes the challenges of trying to do what are perhaps noble, but unrealistic things at the cost of American blood and treasure."

"Lebovic admirably weaves together an analysis [of U.S.-Host Nation interactions] showing how all these factors determine the success of supporting a weak, ineffective, or corrupt friendly government facing an insurgent challenge."

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