Victory, like many women, is largely misunderstood. Too many consider her terms as limited to military decision. Not only is this wrong, but the crude mis-focus opens the door for War to snatch her back from your embrace. As difficult as it may be to achieve, military decision is perhaps the easier of the requirements necessary for victory. The difficulties of strategy, tactics and campaigning notwithstanding, to translate the fruits of these efforts into the desired post conflict context is by far the more vexing. But Victory cannot be won until the peace sustains the policy, sustains the reasons for resorting to violence in the first place. Unfortunately, more attention goes to the former than to the latter. It is as if someone is waving a shiny distraction at thinkers and combatants, luring them to focus overmuch on only one aspect, to tragic-comic effect.
I have referred elsewhere to War’s cheeky to perverse sense of humour,  and its sharp end is in particular evidence in the competing difficulties on the path to Victory. Of course the need to fight well cannot be ignored. Nevertheless, the aftermath of military decision offers little respite to good judgement and critical decision-making, and War here inflicts similar sanction as in combat upon those who miss-step. You can do everything brilliantly to that moment, you can grasp the means to impose your will or lead an inspired new political direction, and you can stand on the very cusp of Victory…and still fumble spectacularly towards defeat. Because what comes after the bullets is as important as the fighting, even as it is not treated as such. The volumes written on getting to the point of military decision are legion and matched by the relative paucity on how to do the next part equally well. This is a problem, as you achieve nothing if a task is unfinished, just as certainly as to say that “I almost ran a marathon” does not impress much.
The contemporary historical record sustains the point. Particularly where decisive military defeat has led to the end of hostilities, events of the last two centuries suggest the primacy of the “after” effort. At the tactical level, the first effort after the bullets stopped in the Civil War was to feed the Confederate Army. At all levels, the campaign begun in Normandy and ended in Berlin would have been far more destructively undone had the circumstances on the ground in the days, months, and years after not been attended to by the Allied forces. The same can be said of Japan.
Fast forward to recent efforts and the Phase IV operations have not impressed. The rise of insurgencies and even the return of the opponent, coupled with the mismanaged re-emergence of civil society and functioning infrastructure altogether suggest a lack of imagination and sound thinking.
Especially within the armed forces the intellectual investment into managing this aspect of war is too often given short shrift. It is treated as the second effort, the small matter of a clean up to be handled as and when. Further complicating things, there is often a degree of confusion as to who (civilian or military, American or local) will “lead.” At the tactical level there is also some implicit expectation that because the phase of destruction and death has been (largely) terminated the work is easier. This is not at all the case. 
No matter the circumstances, the armed forces will have to maintain a presence on the former fields of combat. At least for the purposes of security and order, at most to participate in the recovery and reconstruction, the universe of tasks for this phase of war is wide and requires thought and some training and preparation.  There is also fact that at the strategic level the orientation may have to shift from enemy to nascent ally – even as the players might not change much. To achieve military decision may require ruthless brutality, but to consolidate military decision to policy benefit and victory may rely the more upon compassion and humanity.
Satisfying the post-conflict terms of victory requires the balance between timeless principles and contextual flexibility. The timeless issues are those matters governing recovery and reconstruction, of society, the economy and the government. Such challenges would be sufficient to make any task difficult. However, the latter requirements, those which are ruled by the unique circumstances of the conflict, locale and participants, increase the complexity and often confound those whose only focus has been the fighting. One might be moved to consider that military decision is far simpler to achieve by comparison. By way of compensation, my sense is that when done well the fruits of such operations are obvious and influence the course of events.
It should be clear that the total Art of Victory, to include both the destructive and (re)constructive, deserves well more attention than it receives. To leave the modern battlefield when the fighting has ceased, to fail to prepare critically for what comes next, risks the dissipation of every gain made in combat. Perhaps “Phase IV Operations” lack the panache of fighting and leave off the opportunity for glory in battle. But there is no point in being a storied field commander to a lost cause. War does not end when the guns go silent, and victory will be elusive so long as “Mission: Accomplished” is seen come at the point of military decision.
 And this, in fact, is only one of its many traits. In truth, taking the sum of them all, the ‘thing’ in question takes on the sort of substance usually associated with an individual. I think a very good biographer – Claire Tomalin, Peter Ackroyd – could do an interesting treatment of War as its own character.
 Terry McDonald has written an interesting piece on approaches to stability operations, especially with respect to Humanitarian Assistance to Disaster Relief [HADR]. Many of the issues are similar between this work and the nature of post-hostilities operations. In the article he notes the inattention to this piece, writing that while the armed forces have learned thought much about the use of force on the modern battlefield, “the other piece of the operational triad remains ambiguous (that is non-kinetic) stability operations. Whatever shape future conflict may take, an urbanizing global population will likely see a higher number of stability operations….” (“Stability Center of Gravity: Planning with a Blank Sheet of Paper,” Small Wars Journal, October 29, 2013.)
 And as the recent soft power benefit in the Philippines demonstrates, HADR missions are likely to continue in the near future. As the two missions share many tasks in common, this regularity will provide the opportunity to work (in thinking, gear, and practices) the contours of the necessary tasks for post-hostilities operations.