Commentary Magazine

Using Force

To the Editor:

Any discussion of “When, Where & How to Use Force,” like the three articles published under this overall heading in the December 1993 issue [“Beyond Self-Defense,” by Joshua Muravchik; “The Core vs. the Periphery,” by Fareed Zakaria; and “Learning from Aidid,” by A.J. Bacevich], will be academic unless we maintain a strong national defense that will enable us to make these decisions. With this in mind, it is time we drew an analogy between our national defenses and the biological defenses of our organisms: our immune systems.

No one in his right mind would willingly, knowingly, and voluntarily diminish his own immune system. We are now far enough advanced in our medical knowledge to understand that when our immune systems are compromised, all kinds of opportunistic diseases can afflict us. If we allow our national defense system to deteriorate (the equivalent of a compromised immune system), we will pay the price of seeing the rise of all kinds of opportunistic tyrants and their followers (diseases) who will, in one way or another, take advantage of our weakened state. This knowledge is not in itself new, but the analogy is, and I believe we should take it seriously.

Patricia Meyerowitz
Easton, Pennsylvania



To the Editor:

As the primary author of The Military-Technical Revolution, the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ report castigated in A.J. Bacevich’s “Learning from Aidid,” I am flabbergasted by the conclusions he has drawn from it.

The main thrust of Mr. Bacevich’s article is absolutely valid. Developing-world leaders like Mohammed Aidid can indeed use guerrilla warfare to frustrate the armies of more advanced countries. Military authorities have appreciated this fact for several hundred years; we did not “learn” it from Aidid. In fact, as Joshua Muravchik amply demonstrates in “Beyond Self-Defense,” the United States only intervened in Somalia on the pretext of doing humanitarian, rather than military, work. That the Clinton administration’s distortion of this policy was a mistake is now generally accepted.

Selective quotation is always a convenient way to make a point. Mr. Bacevich quotes many of the ambitious conclusions of our report about the effect of the military-technical revolution (MTR) on warfare. And indeed, we did use some rather expansive language, having made the careful decision that cultivating excitement for the MTR in the Pentagon was essential to overcoming the military’s historic resistance to new forms of warfare.

But depicting our report as an argument for “American military superiority” capable of achieving victories in guerrilla warfare “without significant loss of American life” is a complete fabrication.

First, the report clearly concludes that “U.S. military forces ought to be designed . . . with primary emphasis on regional conflicts,” rather than on guerrilla war. Our arguments about the MTR’s revolutionary effects were made in the context of Desert Storm-style wars, not guerrilla conflicts. While recognizing that the MTR can contribute to irregular warfare, here is what we said about the subject:

The security problems that underlie irregular operations are commonly dominated by vexing political, social, and economic dilemmas that, unlike the military threat posed by an enemy army, are not susceptible to the application of military force. . . . [I]rregular operations must be fundamentally nonmilitary efforts.

And later: “The MTR can make only a limited contribution to irregular operations.” And again: “. . . this study has argued that technologies, doctrines, and organizations designed to fight a high-intensity MTR war will have only limited application to most kinds of irregular operations.”

As Mr. Baceivch admits, we were also careful to point out that the MTR has not happened yet—thus hardly justifying the conclusion that we were “wrong” about Somalia. Indeed, our last chapter points out that

The successful implementation of the MTR is hardly guaranteed. . . . Throughout history, revolutions in military affairs have faced stiff barriers, which frequently have diluted, or even completely dissipated, their effects.

In short, our conclusions about the MTR’s revolutionary effect upon warfare related to high-intensity regional wars, not guerrilla conflicts. We explicitly recognized the MTR’s limited applicability to irregular wars.

Anyone with any doubt on this score should read Chapter 4 of the MTR report, on irregular war, and decide if it really argues that “American military power can henceforth achieve success [in guerrilla warfare] without significant loss of American life,” as Mr. Bacevich suggests. In fact, the chapter says nothing of the sort.

In making a critically important, if well-worn, point about the risks of guerrilla warfare, A.J. Bacevich has badly misread our report. We still believe it constitutes an important statement about the future of large-scale, combined-arms warfare; it never attempted to apply its conclusions to the much murkier arena of guerrilla war.

Michael J. Mazarr
Arlington, Virginia



A.J. Bacevich writes:

I can well understand Michael J. Mazarr’s desire to back away from the frothy language and glib claims that pervade his report on the so-called military-technical revolution. Yet his assertion that the report “never attempted to apply its conclusions” to situations of the sort encountered by American forces in Somalia simply will not wash. As he acknowledges, one entire chapter of his brief monograph concerns itself exclusively with irregular operations. That chapter explicitly cites Somalia as an example of the peace-enforcement and peacekeeping challenges that American forces can expect to confront. The chapter concludes:

MTR-type surveillance systems and smart weapons have great relevance to peace-enforcement operations. . . . Along with some of the doctrinal and organizational reforms suggested above, the MTR will help revolutionize the conduct of irregular operations.

Indeed, elsewhere the report calls for efforts to “modify MTR technologies, doctrines, and force structures in ways that do not detract from their combined-arms war-fighting and deterrent missions but that add greatly to their capabilities in irregular operations.” But perhaps this is just more of that expansive language intended to prod the reactionary dunderheads in the Pentagon.

In the larger sense, Mr. Mazarr gives himself too much credit and, hence, takes needless offense. He did not invent the MTR. He merely helped market it, drafting one statement among many purporting to discover in Desert Storm the final secrets of warfare. That inflated expectations stemming from this overall misreading of Desert Storm contributed to the debacle of Mogadishu is incontrovertible. If Mr. Mazarr wants to claim responsibility for that misreading, he may do so. But my advice would be to lie low, say nothing, and allow his overblown report to sink into the oblivion that awaits it.

About the Author

Pin It on Pinterest

Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
for full access to
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
Don't have a log in?
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.