From Saigon To Desert Storm

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That weakness would come back to haunt the United States a decade after Desert Storm, following another flawless blitzkrieg against Iraq. In the years after the fall of Baghdad on April 9, 2003, soldiers and Marines suffered a growing number of casualties to terrorist bombings and ambushes. As one U.S. general complained, “Insurgents don’t show up in satellite imagery very well.” To defeat such an elusive foe requires very different skills from those cultivated in the years after the Vietnam War, skills such as knowledge of foreign languages and cultures, policing, intelligence, information operations, and civil affairs. All these areas were neglected by reformers of the 1970s and 1980s, who recoiled from the horrors of counterinsurgency warfare in Vietnam, but they were to prove an inescapable necessity in the global war on terrorism. Whether the United States can defeat Islamist terrorists and maintain its post–Cold War hegemony will rest in good part on whether its armed forces can pull off another metamorphosis of the kind that produced victory in the Gulf War.

Max Boot is a senior fellow in national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. This article is based on his new book, War Made New: Technology, Warfare, and the Course of History, 1500 to Today , just out from Gotham Books.