This Week at War
What the four-stars are reading.
Today is the first installment of This Week at War, a new weekly feature at Foreign Policy, reviewing what's hot in small wars, and at Small Wars Journal.
Today is the first installment of This Week at War, a new weekly feature at Foreign Policy, reviewing what’s hot in small wars, and at Small Wars Journal.
Small Wars Journal has become a center of gravity for serious discussion of the practice and impact of small wars — an imperfect and slightly archaic term that nonetheless broadly encompasses the bulk of the frequently overprecise terms du jour, without drawing unnatural boundaries between them.
Small wars are the sloppy wars we are fighting now and, in fact, fight most of the time. Indeed, since pre-colonial days, the vast majority of America’s conflicts have been small wars. Suffice it to say, we at Small Wars Journal are wonks for irregular warfare, foreign internal defense, counterinsurgency, stability ops, complex contingency operations, etc. — you name it. Our readers range from four-star generals to grunts in the field, and from academic experts to nonpractitioners interested in what’s happening in the world.
But today’s wars require an emphasis on, not just inclusion of, the nonmilitary elements of conflict, action, and resolution. So, even as Small Wars Journal’s members tend to hail from military backgrounds, our viewpoint and our charter are much broader. This Week at War summarizes the week’s news, theories, essays, and discussion from the world of small wars, with pointers to interesting items from around the Web and from Small Wars Journal’s site itself. We hope that many will feel welcome to join in and expand the breadth and depth of the dialogue there, bringing your much-needed and diverse views to our blog, journal, and discussion board.
War in Gaza
Israel’s military campaign against Gaza dominated the week’s small wars news. In both Gaza and southern Lebanon, Israel’s political leadership is attempting to grapple with adversaries who employ hybrid warfare tactics, a mixture of terror operations, information operations, insurgency operations, and conventional military operations. Numerous Israeli governments have attempted a variety of approaches to Gaza and south Lebanon, but have yet to achieve a stable end-state on either front. Participants at Small Wars Journal’s discussion board, called the Small Wars Council, tried to figure out Israel’s strategy in Gaza, which left many scratching their heads.
Air power can kill. But can it also cure?
Israel’s wide-ranging use of offensive air power in Gaza and across Lebanon in 2006 remains deeply controversial. Likewise, analysts debate whether the use of airstrikes to counter insurgents in Afghanistan helps or hurts the mission there. Lara M. Dadkhah, a Georgetown University graduate student, analyzes civilian casualties in Afghanistan caused by coalition air power. Dadkhah argues that despite its risks, the difficulties faced by the coalition in Afghanistan will continue to make the use of offensive air power essential.
In a contrasting essay, Maj. John W. Bellflower, a U.S. Air Force judge advocate, introduces the concept of soft air power. Bellflower argues for the creation of a doctrine that will use air power not just for strike operations, but also for humanitarian relief and to surmount geographic and infrastructural challenges in rugged places such as Afghanistan.
Mexico’s fight for survival
Gen. Barry McCaffrey (Ret.), now an adjunct professor at West Point and formerly the United States’ drug czar and top military officer in Latin America, recently returned from Mexico with a grim report of what he found there. McCaffrey concluded that Mexico is not confronting dangerous criminality — it is fighting for survival against narco-terrorism. The drug cartels’ largely successful subornation of Mexico’s police is leaving the country at risk of being ungoverned.
Why can’t we all just get along?
Why can’t the Pentagon and Foggy Bottom get along better? During the first Bush term, policy and personal disputes between Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell were legendary. More recently, Defense Secretary Robert Gates has pleaded for more effort from the State Department. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has attempted to reallocate State’s resources toward today’s conflict zones, with thus far limited effect. Participants at our Small Wars Council discussion board wondered whether differences between how the Pentagon organizes its regional commands and how the State Department draws up its regional bureaus might be part of the problem. For instance, does it make sense that the State’s Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs handles both India and Pakistan, while on the military side, Central Command handles Pakistan but India is in Pacific Command’s area of responsibility?
The book corner
Books on small wars are big these days. Small Wars Journal has its eye on new releases. No less than six are about Iraq, including titles by Foreign Policy‘s own Tom Ricks (The Gamble), Linda Robinson (Tell Me How This Ends), Bing West (The Strongest Tribe), Pete Mansoor (Baghdad at Sunrise), Bob Woodward (The War Within), and Bill Murphy (In a Time of War). With these books, readers will view the Iraq war from every viewpoint in the chain of command.
The Iraq war will have its aftershocks on U.S. security policy. In Iraq and the Evolution of American Strategy, Steven Metz, a professor at the Army War College, discusses why, in his view, U.S. institutions made fundamental errors in Iraq policy and what future policymakers should do to avoid repeating these blunders. (Metz became a subject of controversy this week when Tom Ricks revealed on ForeignPolicy.com that Metz, who chairs a department at the college’s Strategic Studies Institute, told his colleagues to avoid Tom like the plague for his critical reporting on Iraq.)
The war in Iraq may have made the news (at least until recently), but it is Africa’s small wars that have really generated the blood. Thomas P. Odom, a retired U.S. Army officer, a former U.S. defense attach in Zaire, and a participant at the Small Wars Council, wrote a critical review of Africa’s World War by Grard Prunier. If you are a lover of misguided conspiracy theories, Odom says, Africa’s World War is just for you. However, if you’re looking for a serious analysis of Africa’s security problems, Odom advises that you look elsewhere.
These are just the highlights from an average week at Small Wars Journal. Small Wars Journal collects the latest news, thinking, and discussion on the world’s small wars. It is a forum for discussion and debate. We look forward to hearing from Foreign Policy‘s readers.
More from Foreign Policy
Saudi-Iranian Détente Is a Wake-Up Call for America
The peace plan is a big deal—and it’s no accident that China brokered it.
The U.S.-Israel Relationship No Longer Makes Sense
If Israel and its supporters want the country to continue receiving U.S. largesse, they will need to come up with a new narrative.
Putin Is Trapped in the Sunk-Cost Fallacy of War
Moscow is grasping for meaning in a meaningless invasion.
How China’s Saudi-Iran Deal Can Serve U.S. Interests
And why there’s less to Beijing’s diplomatic breakthrough than meets the eye.