Everyone in the world has seen what 21st century war looks like.
They’ve seen, in graphic, granular detail, the aftermath of Mosul, and Aleppo, Ramadi, Raqqa, and now, the dense bloc of villages and towns called Eastern Ghouta, obliterated cities.
The impact on watchers is considerable, especially among those who see a link of religious, or regional, political or economic or just human sympathy for the people and places pulverized. To many of these spectators, these sights are hateful.
As for who gets hated, the fact is American air forces, as well as American-supplied weapons used by American-trained Iraq ground and air forces inflicted almost all the damage.
In Aleppo and Ghouta, the wreckage was largely done by Russian air power, in support of Russian-armed Syrian Government forces. But few in the Middle East, or in the Islamic world, like the Russians much, either.
The Islamic State is pretty much defeated, dispersed, and discredited. Future Jihadist groups cannot be identified with the death-and-destruction-to-everybody endgame of ISIS’ urban warfare.
But few doubt there will be future armed threats from the Islamists, the same war in a different form. As Secretary of Defense Gen. James Mattis said, before anyone in the US had even thought about the Islamic State: “No war is over until the enemy says it’s over. We may think it over, we may declare it over, but in fact the enemy gets a vote.”
In the era of global communication, the most predictable answer to the classic end-of-war question, “what comes next?” is — more enemies. And with them, more wars or armed conflict.
Planning for that kind of future, of small but well-coordinated enemy groups of ever-increasing lethality and disruptive effect, is one prime topic among America’s military elite.
What kind of a military is best for that task? Ours is huge and powerful, but is it the right tool for the 21st Century?
And then there’s unarmed aggression, cyber-warfare. It has the potential to be as paralyzing and decisive as battlefield war. But does that mean the military should have a lead role in fighting it?
That last issue, who gets the cyber-conflict assignment is definitely one for the civilians to deal with.
But on the earlier set … who do we fight, where and when and how? … military professionals think they should take the lead. But, their views are often pre-empted by civilians, elected officials like the President, or appointed officials, like his Secretaries of Defense and State and National Security Advisor.
Mark Perry is a military and foreign affairs analyst whose articles have appeared in the Nation, Foreign Policy, Washington Post, and Politico. Perry lives in Arlington, Virginia.
He has authored nine books: Four Stars, Eclipse: The Last Days of the CIA, A Fire In Zion: Inside the Israeli-Palestinian Peace Process,] Conceived in Liberty, Lift Up Thy Voice Grant and Twain; Partners In Command; Talking To Terrorists, and The Most Dangerous Man in America: The Making of Douglas MacArthur.