Best Defense
Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Who really fights the last war?

The cliché is that generals always fight the last war. The fact is that the media also tends to be locked in the framework of the last one they noticed in a given neighborhood. The 1991 Gulf War was covered in the context of whether the U.S. military had recovered from the Vietnam War. Then, ...

By , a former contributing editor to Foreign Policy.
590899_090101_gazastrike2.jpg
590899_090101_gazastrike2.jpg

The cliché is that generals always fight the last war. The fact is that the media also tends to be locked in the framework of the last one they noticed in a given neighborhood. The 1991 Gulf War was covered in the context of whether the U.S. military had recovered from the Vietnam War. Then, the 2003 invasion of Iraq was portrayed as a lightning operation akin to the Gulf War that would end with the fall of Baghdad -- when in retrospect it is clear that is where the real war began. I think the most significant question missed by me and other reporters as we covered the two American wars with Iraq was whether the U.S. military would become mired in the Middle East, an outcome the George H.W. Bush administration avoided, but not the George W. Bush administration.

The cliché is that generals always fight the last war. The fact is that the media also tends to be locked in the framework of the last one they noticed in a given neighborhood. The 1991 Gulf War was covered in the context of whether the U.S. military had recovered from the Vietnam War. Then, the 2003 invasion of Iraq was portrayed as a lightning operation akin to the Gulf War that would end with the fall of Baghdad — when in retrospect it is clear that is where the real war began. I think the most significant question missed by me and other reporters as we covered the two American wars with Iraq was whether the U.S. military would become mired in the Middle East, an outcome the George H.W. Bush administration avoided, but not the George W. Bush administration.

These thoughts are provoked by a setup line on page one of today’s Wall Street Journal: “The continued launches by Hamas raise questions over how much it is being subdued by the Israeli barrage — and pose concerns in the West that Israel could face a repeat of its 2006 war with Hezbollah in Lebanon, which withstood a month-long Israeli attack and emerged politically stronger.”

Abu Aardvark, an essential blog nowadays, notes in its daily e-mail report that the differences may be more important — for example, Lebanon had a working government, while Gaza doesn’t.

Aardvark also notes with some alarm that Jordan has fired its powerful intelligence chief. Sounds like fodder for the next thriller by David Ignatius!

Photo of a Hamas rocket launch via Abid Katib/Getty Images

Thomas E. Ricks is a former contributing editor to Foreign Policy. Twitter: @tomricks1

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