The Expeditionary Imperative
America’s national security structure is designed to confront the challenges of the last century rather than our own.
Georges Clemenceau, France’s indomitable prime minister during World War I, famously remarked that “war is too serious a matter to entrust to military men.” He had reason to know: The fighting on the western front cost the lives of more than two million of his soldiers, exhausting the French nation for generations and ending in a peace that turned out to be only the prelude to an even more costly war.
If Clemenceau’s words were true a century ago, they are even more applicable today. Wars of this century are not fought by masses of people but, in British general Rupert Smith’s phrase, “among the peoples.” The counterinsurgency campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan are battles for the allegiance of local populations, without whose support or at least compliance insurgents cannot survive. In our contemporary struggles, ideas and economic development are as important as heavy artillery was in Clemenceau’stime.
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John A. Nagl is a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. A retired Army officer who helped write The U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual, he recently returned from visits to Iraq and Afghanistan sponsored by the commands there.more from this author >>