Pundits and the press too often treat terrorism and guerrilla tactics as something new, a departure from old-fashioned ways of war. But nothing could be further from the truth. Throughout most of our species' long and bloody slog, warfare has primarily been carried out by bands of loosely organized, ill-disciplined, and lightly armed volunteers who disdained open battle in favor of stealthy raids and ambushes: the strategies of both tribal warriors and modern guerrillas and terrorists.
The answer to the puzzle is that Napoleon and his forces were beaten by what a young Russian hussar, Denis Davydov, called his "indestructible swarm" of Cossacks and other raiders who constantly harried the French columns on the march. They also struck relentlessly, repeatedly, and to fatal effect at the Grande Armée's supply lines. As David Chandler, an eminent historian of Napoleon's campaigns, put it: "raids of Cossacks and partisan bands did more harm to the Emperor than all the endeavors of the regular field armies of Holy Russia."(Un)limiting War: "Perpetual War" in Historical Perspective
I mention all of this because, as Micah Zenko and others have pointed it out, the possibility of a peacetime President seems increasingly distant. Zenko outlines a security policy where drones, SOF, and cyber capabilities all play a role in poorly-defined and vaguely-legitimated conflicts. I’m tempted, though, to frame things in a different light. Drones, SOF, and cyber certainly stand out as instruments with much more prominence, but they are also symptomatic of wider changes. Frequent military intervention, as I’ve explained above, is not unusual. What is unusual is that these ostensibly limited interventions and brushfire wars are now not simply prolonged, but massive in comparison to any historical antecedent.The Nomad Paradox
Some, such as Andrew Bacevich here, suggest this is symptomatic of a “new American way of war,” in which inexpensive and small forces allow for perpetual warfare. But in a long-term perspective, we are not seeing traditional wars becoming wars in the shadows, but instead a strategic context where brushfire wars take on gargantuan proportions.
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