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Beating Goliath

Why Insurgencies Win

Record, Jeffrey

Publication Year: 2007

Beating Goliath examines the phenomenon of victories by the weak over the strongùmore specifically, insurgencies that succeeded against great powers. Jeffrey Record reviews eleven insurgent wars from 1775 to the present and determines why the seemingly weaker side won. He concludes that external assistance correlates more consistently with insurgent success than any other explanation. He does not disparage the critical importance of will, strategy, and strong-side regime type or suggest that external assistance guarantees success. Indeed, in all cases, some combination of these factors is usually present. But Record finds few if any cases of unassisted insurgent victories except against the most decrepit regimes.

Having identified the ingredients of insurgent success, Record examines the present insurgency in Iraq and whether the United States can win. In so doing, Record employs a comparative analysis of the Vietnam War and the Iraq War. He also identifies and assesses the influence of distinctive features of the American way of war on the U.S. forcesÆ performance against the Iraqi insurgency.

Make no mistake: insurgent victories are the exception, not the rule. But when David does beat Goliath, the consequences can be earth shattering and change the course of history. Jeffrey RecordÆs persuasive logic and clear writing make this timely book a must read for scholars, policymakers, military strategists, and anyone interested in the Iraq WarÆs outcome.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press


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Title Page, Other Works, Copyright Page

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p. v

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pp. vii-xii

The continuing insurgency in Iraq underscores the capacity of the weak to impose considerable military and political pain on the strong. Whether that pain will compel the United States to abandon its agenda in Iraq remains to be seen. What is not in dispute is that all major failed U.S. uses of force since 1945— in Vietnam, Lebanon, and Somalia (the jury is still out on Iraq)—have been against materially weaker enemies...

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1. Explaining Goliath Defeats: Will, Strategy, and Type of Government

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pp. 1-22

During the cold war, serious intellectual examination of the phenomenon of the strong succumbing to the weak was provoked by a series of events: the success of the Chinese Communists in 1949, the rapid and largely unexpected disintegration of European colonial empires in Asia and Africa, France’s violent defeat in Indochina and Algeria, and above all the defeat and humiliation of the United States in Vietnam. West...

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2. The Role of External Assistance

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pp. 23-66

The explanatory power of Mack’s, Arreguin-Toft’s, and Merom’s theses regarding stronger-side losses, while formidably insightful, are nonetheless inadequate because they fail to explain why most insurgencies fail or why almost all successful insurgencies have in common something other than superior motivation and strategy: external assistance. Indeed, the presence or absence of external assistance may be...

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3. The Iraqi Insurgency: Vietnam Perspectives

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pp. 67-102

John Mueller, an expert on war and American public opinion, observed in late 2005 that In Iraq, as they did in Vietnam, U.S. troops face an armed opposition that is dedicated, resourceful, capable of replenishing its ranks, and seemingly determined to fight as long as necessary. In Vietnam, the hope was that after suffering enough punishment, the enemy would reach its “breaking point” and...

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4. The American Way: War Without Politics

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pp. 103-116

In 2003, shortly after President George W. Bush declared the termination of major U.S. combat operations in Iraq, the neo-imperialist Max Boot declared that the American victory was “one of the signal achievements in military history.” Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), even when placed beside the stunning German blitzkrieg against France in 1940, he said, made “such fabled generals as Erwin Rommel and Heinz...

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5. The American Way: Search and Destroy

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pp. 117-130

The American strategic analyst Carnes Lord, writing in the early 1990s, warned against the Pentagon’s unpreparedness for what in the professional jargon of the day was termed “low intensity conflict.” Noting that “the record of U.S. involvement in contingency operations as well as protracted revolutionary warfare in the less developed world is spotty at best, with serious flaws apparent even in victory,” Lord went on...

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6. Conclusion

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pp. 131-138

Examination of Goliath defeats reveals the limits of material preponderance and the importance of political will, strategy, and, in the case of an insurgent enemy, isolation from external assistance. Conventional military strength is indispensable in big wars, but it has limited utility in small wars, which involve combat against irregular adversaries...


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pp. 139-158


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pp. 159-160


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pp. 161-174


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pp. 175-179

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About the Author

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pp. 180-180

Well-known defense policy critic Jeffrey Record teaches strategy at the U.S. Air Force’s Air War College in Montgomery, Alabama. He received his doctorate at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and is the author of eight books and a dozen monographs, including Dark Victory: America’s Second War Against Iraq; Making War, Thinking History: Munich, Vietnam, and Presidential Uses...

E-ISBN-13: 9781597973212
E-ISBN-10: 1597973211
Print-ISBN-13: 9781597970907
Print-ISBN-10: 1597970905

Page Count: 192
Publication Year: 2007

OCLC Number: 755586801
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Beating Goliath

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • United States -- History, Military -- 20th century.
  • Vietnam War, 1961-1975.
  • Iraq War, 2003-2011.
  • Insurgency -- History -- 21st century.
  • Insurgency -- History -- 20th century.
  • United States -- History, Military -- 21st century.
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