Small Wars Journal

The United States is Preparing for the Wrong War

Thu, 03/29/2018 - 11:30pm

The United States is Preparing for the Wrong War by Max Boot – Washington Post

After the Vietnam War, the U.S. military deliberately set out to forget everything it had learned about the brutal and unpleasant business of fighting guerrillas. The generals were operating under the assumption that if they didn’t prepare for that kind of war, they wouldn’t be asked to fight it. The emphasis in the 1980s and 1990s, even after the collapse of the Soviet Union, was on fighting conventional, uniformed adversaries. That worked out well in the 1991 Gulf War but left the U.S. armed forces tragically ill prepared for the post-9/11 wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

I fear that history may be about to repeat itself. In discussing my new book about the legendary Vietnam-era covert operative Edward Lansdale, I have been visiting military installations, including the Army War College, Fort Benning, the Naval Postgraduate School and the Pentagon. And everywhere I go, I hear that the military is switching its focus from counterinsurgency to conventional conflict.

This is in keeping with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis’s National Defense Strategy, which states: “Inter-state strategic competition, not terrorism, is now the primary concern in U.S. national security.” Mattis concedes that “threats to stability remain as terrorist groups with long reach continue to murder the innocent and threaten peace more broadly,” but he is more exercised about the threats from “revisionist powers” (Russia, China) and “rogue regimes” (Iran, North Korea)…

Read on.



Sun, 04/01/2018 - 11:32am

I was stationed at Fort Benning in the early 70s and worked in Bldg 4 which was also called Infantry Hall. Around 72ish, a directive came down from the Pentagon saying in part "that the Pentagon had determined that there was a limited amount of oil in the world, and the next big war would be fought in the desert in 20 years time". The Pentagon wanted battle tactics and strategy plans for this future war, and students (junior officers for the most part) were to offer up their ideas as a class project. The idea behind this was the US economy was based on oil supplies and with a far lesser amount of oil, the US economy would collapse. When I was told this, my mind said it would be the Russians who the US would be fighting. And roughly 20 years later the first Gulf War began. In the lead up to the second Iraq , I wrote to most anyone who had a voice, that the US should pay Iraq a few billion dollars to build bases in Iraq and have a monster military presence aimed at every bad boy country, Libya, Syria and Iran. They would not twitch with big guns pointed point blank at them. No American blood would have been spilled, no civilians would die, none of what has taken place these past few years would be happening. I guess I could not reach the right people and here we are.

Bill M.

Sat, 03/31/2018 - 11:34pm

Max Boot is partially right, but a more accurate assessment would be our obsession with the war on terror for 15 plus years to no discernible end enabled our strategic competitors to become near-peer or peer competitors militarily. We lost numerous FID missions around the world, and it had little impact on U.S. security and prosperity over time.  Losing a war with China or Russia could be devastating.  Also Max got Vietnam wrong, but so does the majority of Americans who achieved their education in a liberal university.  The U.S. won the small war in Vietnam, the insurgency was soundly defeated. A large and well armed conventional force from North Vietnam defeated South Vietnam, not hybrid warfare. I'm not down playing hybrid warfare, obviously the way the Russians are employing it today presents a strategic threat. 

Finally, his point of the Italian elections demonstrate a lack of understanding of what drove the Italian people to this point.  The far left in Italy left its economy and security in shambles. The scale of the illegals that have moved into Italy from the Middle East and Africa present an existential threat to their culture, which understandably has generated a right wing backlash. Recent shootings of immigrants alarms me, this can quickly spiral out of control. The EU did little to help Italy with this challenge, even though it is a threat common to most countries in the EU, Italy was left with the bill.  Not unlike recent U.S. elections, people had to choose the candidate(s) they disliked the least. Did this benefit Russia? Certainly, but if Max wanted to make a point, it should have been that EU created an opportunity for Russia due to their inability to manage these challenges. This resulted in a right wing backlash in many countries in the EU, and Russia is opportunistic.   

Dave Maxwell

Fri, 03/30/2018 - 9:02pm


Some would say we need an American Way of Irregular Warfare to ensure we complement the broader overarching American Way of War and to be able to compete with the wide spectrum of threats that take place in the space that is less than state on state conventional warfare.  I have no problem rebuilding our conventional forces (and I believe we must) because they will be the main effort in any war we have with revisionist or rogue/revolutionary powers such as north Korea.  But we cannot neglect the other forms of warfare with which we must confront (to include perhaps most important competition, conflict, and war in the cyber domain).