Debates about the nature of war may seem the most academic and fruitless kinds of arguments, particularly in an actual time of war. It’s as though, needing to fix a broken car, you stumbled into a conference of theoretical physicists: You’re looking for Mr. Goodwrench and bump into Einstein. On the other hand, in Iraq, Afghanistan and, more generally, in the so-called “long war,” the greatest danger is that we’re winning the wrong war, a war we understand but not the war that the enemy is fighting.
In a nutshell, that’s the contention of Bob Scales, author of the first item in this month’s cover package. No one has thought longer or more deeply about the nature of human conflict or the immediate future of war than Scales, who retired from active duty as a major general and commandant of the U.S. Army War College. Perhaps not surprisingly, given such a background, Bob views war through a Clausewitzian lens: It is, ultimately, a struggle between human beings. Our own Ralph Peters tackles the same problem from a different perspective, looking, as it were, through the other end of Clausewitz’s telescope: Policy is the continuation of war by other means; the human norm is violent conflict, not normal politics. Rounding out the package is Frank Hoffman’s essay on a trio of books that examine revolutions in warfare and that are rooted in the sort of critical historical logic employed by the Eternal Prussian.
At the same time, there’s something to be said for proper engineering, or at least building a national security bureaucracy that meets our evolving understanding of the war we’re in. It may be too simple to say “bureaucracy is destiny,” but Michéle Flournoy, who toiled endless hours in the Clinton-era Pentagon trying to match military ends to strategic needs, and Shawn Brimley (who toils for Michéle) might be forgiven for arguing so. In particular, the two tackle the most enigmatic of bureaucratic beasts — “The Interagency,” that uncertain meeting place, or battleground, where the Defense Department meets the State Department and, at times, all manner of agencies foreign and domestic.
Rounding out the main features is a view of China’s global strategy by Peter Brookes, formerly deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia and still a Navy reservist. The simplicity of Peter’s presentation is almost unanswerable: In a globalized world, any nation with great-power aspirations is bound to become a global presence, to develop global interests and, as night follows day, a global security strategy. In the 21st century, there is no such thing as a regional great power.
Finally, this month’s arts and letters section is especially strong: Vance Serchuk’s essay is not so much a book review as a policy argument. And Chris Griffin finds a disturbing side to the milblogosphere when the discussion turns to Hadithah or, more generally, to the stresses of the kind of “psycho-cultural” conflict that Scales addresses.