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The New Yorker and the facts

By William S. Lind
web posted July 21, 2003

The June 30th, 2003, issue of what used to be one of the most cultured magazines in America, the New Yorker, contains a long article by Peter Boyer titled, "The New War Machine: How General Tommy Franks joined Donald Rumsfeld in the fight to transform the military." For the most part, the piece is a typical paean to America's "great victory" over Iraq. History will correct that error, as it already is beginning to do on the ground. The war did not end with America's taking of Baghdad; that's when the real war started.

Mr. Boyer makes a similarly common error when he attributes the victory that did not happen to a "transformation" of America's military, particularly the Army, that also did not happen. "Transformation" is merely the buzzword for the latest game of keeping the important things the same while ramping up the budget for hi-tech Wunderwaffen. Somehow, whenever I hear the word "transformation" connected with the American military, a vision of Kafka's Die Verwandlung comes to mind. Perhaps it is because the Future Combat System will turn out to be a giant bug.

But Boyer's article is important, because alongside these common errors it introduces a new one: it confuses Mr. Rumsfeld's "transformation" with military reform. In fact, the two are almost opposites.

Here is the essence of Boyer's error, all within one paragraph:

The themes of maneuver warfare - speed, agility, flexibility - became the language of the military-reform movement. As a Presidential candidate, George W. Bush had associated himself firmly with the reformers, and with a particular wing of the movement (emphasis added) that placed its faith in the transformative power of microchip technology in warfare. This group, which included Rumsfeld and a handful of key defense intellectuals who would form his executive core at the Pentagon, believed in a "revolution in military affairs", triggered by the advent of precision-guided munitions.

In fact, the military reform movement and those who believe in the "revolution in military affairs (RMA)" represent opposites. The latter are not in any way a "wing" of the former. And candidate George W. Bush identified himself with the RMA, never with military reform.

The reformers' appreciation of the difference between military reform (including its key component, maneuver warfare) and the RMA goes back at least until 1989. In that year, I co-authored an article for the Marine Corps Gazette that first laid out Fourth Generation Warfare. It foresaw two alternate futures: one based on high technology, the RMA, and the other direction war has actually taken, where the state loses its monopoly on war. In a follow-up piece in 1994, we made clear that the RMA represented a false road and 4GW meant war by non-state actors.

The distinction between military reform and the RMA is even more evident if one factors in maneuver warfare. Maneuver warfare depends on a military culture that focuses outward, on results, not inward on process; relies on self-discipline more than imposed discipline; and prizes initiative over obedience. The RMA, in contrast, uses high technology to facilitate centralization. It actually proposes to put a camera on each soldier's helmet, so the commander can see and direct the actions of every man.

A further distinction between military reform and what Mr. Rumsfeld represents can be seen by turning to the briefing of the Congressional Military Reform Caucus, which is the closest thing to an official document that the reform movement possessed. A small group that included John Boyd wrote it in the early 1980's. On page four, the briefing says, "To win wars takes three basic elements. In order of importance, they are: people...strategy and tactics...(and) hardware." In contrast, Mr. Rumsfeld puts hardware first. Strategy and tactics mean the neo-cons' mad dream of American World Empire coupled with precision weaponry. And under Mr. Rumsfeld, people get tossed into the dumpster. Current Pentagon policy inverts the reformers' priorities. How much farther from military reform can you get?

The most curious thing about the New Yorker article is that Peter Boyer called me when he was researching it and I explained that Rumsfeld's "transformation" and military reform were opposites. The New Yorker's fact checker called, and I told her the same thing. But not a hint of what I said appears in the article. Did Mr. Boyer simply print the line handed to him by the Pentagon? And if so, why would the Pentagon try to tie transformation and the RMA to the old military reform movement? So it can say, "We've done that" when the reformers' ideas are raised? Or even to ensure that concepts such as maneuver warfare go down with the RMA ship?

One thing certain does come out of this odd incident: the New Yorker's fact checking sure ain't what it used to be.

William S. Lind is Director of the Center for Cultural Conservatism.

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