March 1, 2006  

In this issue

The history of the U.S. Marine Corps has been marked by a series of existential crises; the question often has been, “What do we need the Marines for?” At least now, if for no other reason than the unanticipated need for ground forces of every sort, the question is, “What sort of Corps do we need?”

Such is the purpose of this month’s package of stories “Beyond the 3-Block War.” Max Boot is especially well-qualified to remind the Marines of their small-wars tradition. His 2002 book, “The Savage Wars of Peace,” admirably charted the constabulary past of America’s military. The book’s timing — after the Sept. 11 attacks and seeming to anticipate the counterinsurgency campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq — along with Boot’s superbly crafted narrative made it a bestseller and still on soldiers’ must-read lists as they deploy to the imperial frontier.

Boot hangs his shingle at the Council on Foreign Relations, but he remains a journalist and writer by trade; his weekly columns in the Los Angeles Times place him in the forefront of foreign and defense-policy pundits. He concluded his February 8 column on the Quadrennial Defense Review with the observation that “Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld still seems to think that Iraq and Afghanistan are the exceptions, not the norm — that in the future we won’t need so many ground troops. The U.S. has already paid a high price for the misguided decisions not to send enough troops to secure Iraq or to capture Osama bin Laden at Tora Bora. Now, it appears, we are fated to make the same mistake on future battlefields, simply because we won’t have enough troops available.” Maybe we should offer Max a post as a regular AFJ contributor.

Balancing Boot’s small-war, counterinsurgency perspective is Frank Hoffman. Frank has served as amanuensis to a series of leaders at the Marine Corps Warfighting Center at Quantico, Va. Hoffman has been deeply involved in the Marine Corps expanding its concept of the three-block war. “In the fourth block,” he says, “you’re employing information operations and trying to influence the perceptions of large populations in urban areas, something we found ourselves doing in Fallujah and Ramadi” in Iraq. This is an important change, if for no other reason that it reflects the Marine Corps’ acceptance, grudging though it has been, of the realities of its future missions, particularly in the greater Middle East.

A third first-time contributor to AFJ is Rick Fisher, whose taxonomy of the Chinese submarine fleet is the opening chapter in a series of articles about the growing power projection capabilities — and the expanding strategic horizons — of the People’s Liberation Army-Navy, the PLAN. Fisher has detailed China’s military buildup for the better part of the past decade; his knowledge is truly encyclopedic, as his article reveals.

Finally, our regular stable of contributors is a busy lot. Blog Warrior Chris Griffin has just returned from India and will be reporting his findings in the April issue. Book Review Editor Vance Serchuk was in China and next month will file an extensive review on the classic literature on training indigenous forces, what the imperial British called “native levies,” an important topic for our times, as well. And Ralph Peters is soon off to Iraq, then Africa, then possibly back again to Iraq; his next few columns will be from the front.

Tom Donnelly