It sometimes seems that the Theory of Air Power is more revealed religion than science; to communicants, there can be no fact or countervailing doctrine that disproves the central tenets of the faith. And it would be easy to argue, as in the aftermath of Operation Desert Storm, the Kosovo campaign or the toppling of the Taliban from power in Afghanistan, that American air power is the ultimate expression of the military art. But it takes greater courage to make the case now, when we are struggling to come to terms with insurgencies, terrorists and irregular warfare more broadly.
And it is an even greater surprise to find these arguments issuing from the pen — or the computer, more probably — of Air Force Maj. Gen. Charles J. Dunlap, Jr. Charlie is a lawyer by trade, but his heart is of the wild blue yonder, if his article on America’s asymmetric advantage is any reflection. He is best known as an author for two provocative pieces written in the 1990s. In 1992, in the Army War College journal Parameters, Charlie published “The Origins of the American Military Coup of 2012.” At the moment of maximum controversy during the first year of Bill Clinton’s presidency, when “gays in the military” was a hot-button issue, Dunlap sent the national discussion on civil-military relations into high gear. And in 1996, writing even more publicly in The Weekly Standard, Charlie gave us “How We Lost the High-Tech War of 2007,” written in the voice of an Islamist revolutionary and attacking the idea of the revolution in military affairs. Dunlap’s fictitious holy warrior crowed that “Americans ignored the warnings of one of their own, Maj. Ralph Peters.” It’s a pleasure to have General Dunlap in the same issue as Ralph.
Continuing the discussion of air power, Lt. Col. Brian Newberry, now serving on the Air Staff, describes the process of Air Force adaptation to military operations in urban environments: If the fight for Fallujah was indicative of things to come, he says, more change is needed. Change is what Loren Thompson also has in mind, but his focus is on the requirement for long-range strike and, in particular, a coherent Air Force plan for bomber modernization.
Returning to Ralph Peters, his hearts-and-minds column this month stands as a rebuke to much current thinking about the value of kindler, gentler approaches to war. The American adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan and the greater Middle East have yet to produce a 21st-century edition of William Tecumseh Sherman, but it might yet do. David Perry, professor of ethics and holder of the Gen. Maxwell Taylor Profession of Arms chair at Carlisle, provides an antithetical perspective: Perry argues that irregular war in particular calls for a code of chivalry and humanity.