Cvr: The Inheritance


The Inheritance

America's Military After Two Decades of War

Mara E. Karlin
Release Date: December 14, 2021

Exploring how the U.S. military can move beyond Iraq and Afghanistan

Since the September 11, 2001, attacks, the U.S. military has been fighting incessantly in conflicts around the globe, often with inconclusive results. The legacies of these conflicts have serious implications for how the United States will wage war in the future. Yet there is a stunning lack of introspection about these conflicts.

Never in modern U.S. history has the military been at war for so long. And never in U.S. history have such long wars demanded so much of so few. The legacy of wars without end include a military that feels the painful effects of war but often feels alone. The public is less connected to the military now than at any point in modern U.S. history. The national security apparatus seeks to pivot away from these engagements and to move on to the next threats—notably those emanating from China and Russia. Many young Americans question whether it even makes sense to invest in the military. At best, there are ad hoc, unstructured debates about Iraq or Afghanistan. Simply put, there has been no serious, organized stock-taking by the public, politicians, opinion leaders, or the military itself of this inheritance.

Despite being at war for the longest continuous period in its history, the military is woefully unprepared for future wars. But the United States cannot simply hit the reset button. This book explores this inheritance by examining how nearly two decades of war have influenced civil-military relations, how the military goes to war, how the military wages war, who leads the military and who serves in it, how the military thinks about war, and above all, the enduring impact of these wars on those who waged them. If the U.S. military seeks to win in the future, it must acknowledge and reconcile with the inheritance of its long and inconclusive wars. This book seeks to help them do so.

Praise for The Inheritance

“This is a must-read book for anyone studying U.S. national security processes, as well as those who are heading to the Pentagon, either in a military or civilian role.” —Army Magazine

“No person I know can better capture the complex legacy of twenty years of post-9/11 conflict than Mara Karlin and her excellent new effort, The Inheritance. Indeed, as the U.S. prepares itself for an unprecedented array of twenty-first-century national security challenges, this insightful work should be considered required reading for experts, in and out of government, and everyday citizens alike.”
—General John R. Allen, USMC (Ret.); president, the Brookings Institution

“A comprehensive and provocative examination of the effects of decades of war on the U.S. military from one of the preeminent scholar-practitioners in the field of national security affairs. Karlin relates what Defense Department leaders are thinking about the legacy of post-9/11 wars and suggests ways they could think more fruitfully. An essential resource for anyone trying to make sense of the recent past and likely future of U.S. defense policy.”
—Peter D. Feaver, professor of political science and public policy, Duke University; director, Duke Program in American Grand Strategy

“Brilliant. Incisive. A must-read for students of the U.S. military and anyone who wants to understand the lasting impacts of the last twenty years of war. This insightful stock-taking of the lessons we should learn from recent history is critical to understanding how to keep the military’s edge in the future.”
—Michèle Flournoy, chair, Board of Directors, Center for a New American Security; cofounder and managing partner, WestExec Advisors

“This book is an excellent exploration of the struggle by the U.S. national security community to critically examine our failures of the past twenty years. I especially value Karlin’s emphases on inculcating a culture of skepticism and practical ways to reconnect the public with policy about wars.”
—Kori Schake, senior fellow and director of foreign and defense policy studies, American Enterprise Institute


Mara E. Karlin was director of Strategic Studies and associate professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Karlin previously served in national security roles for five U.S. secretaries of defense. She is the author of Building Militaries in Fragile States: Challenges for the United States.