September 26, 2007

Historian and Analyst Max Boot Critiques War Policy

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The overwhelming military dominance of western nations over the rest of the world throughout is astonishing. Within the causality of this great paradigm lies the source of United States’ apparent futility in the Iraq War, according to Max Boot, an author and senior fellow for national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York City. Boot, a columnist for the Los Angeles Times, as well as a contributor to The New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and Foreign Affairs Journal among other publications, spoke on “500 Years of Revolutions in Military Affairs: The Implications for Iraq and Beyond” yesterday.
His explanation for European dominance was simple. “It comes down to the fact that Europeans were able to harness the effects of the gunpowder revolution more so than anyone else,” he said, and later added, “The Chinese invented gunpowder but couldn’t figure out how to take advantage of it.”
Citing a pattern of upheavals in global power structure, Boot described his basic theory that creation, proliferation and proper implementation of technology have been the main engines in defining power distributions and outcomes of war. He stressed that, “It’s not the technology, but what you do with the technology that matters.”
This is because, according to Boot, proliferation of technology has generally occurred at such a rapid rate that a comparative advantage cannot be held.
Speaking to a diverse audience of professors, graduate students and undergraduates, Boot applied his theory to the current war in Iraq. He sought to explain why “the mightiest military force in the world has been stymied by a bunch of rag tag insurgents.”
He believes that “the insurgents have stayed a half-step ahead” and have derived an advantage “from flatter structures and the ability to implement technology more efficiently.” He later explained that al-Qaeda and other insurgents “just try something, and if it doesn’t work, they die, and that’s the end of it. If it does work, they do it again.”
Naming this pattern “Information Age Warfare,” Boot explained that in 2003, two American soldiers were killed on average everyday from Improvised Explosive Devices. This remains the rate in 2007 despite advances in defense the United States’ armed forces have made.
Calling himself a historian and an analyst, Boot said that he did not necessarily have a set of strategies which could remedy this apparent problem. But he added optimistically that, “American military intervention is preventing something far worse than long-term occupationin civil war and potentially genocide.”
Boris Mamlyuk, a Ph.D. candidate at the Law School, disagreed. He found that “The potential issue at hand is the propensity to separate the good guys from the bad guys, which we didn’t do in the past. When we bombed Hiroshima we did not care that we were killing many civilians.”
Although Boot agreed to an extent, he added, “Simply being brutal does not guarantee success. I’m not sure that winning over the 1.2 billion Muslims across the world is by blowing up their holy places.”
Other members of the audience were also responsive to Boot. Prof. John Bishop, industrial and labor relations, said that he felt that nationalist sentiments have prevailed in Iraq are manifest in the insurgents, and that the “the will of the American people is no longer apparent,” which has prevented the U.S. from prevailing thus far, and has rendered victory unachievable.
Eric Clendening ’10 felt the issues discussed by Boot were very salient, “I found the lecture to be refreshing in its unconventional portrayal of conventional warfare.”