April 1, 2006  

In this issue

I’ve known Stephen Cambone for a number of years. We’ve disagreed about a lot of issues. I’ve heard people in the Pentagon say a lot of nasty things about Steve. I’ve also written a fair number of articles critical of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Cambone’s boss.

So, is our cover story this month a hatchet job? I hope not, and, professionally speaking, I don’t think so. The reason is that Victorino Matus has done an excellent job of reporting and writing the story in a genuinely “fair and balanced” way. Vic is the assistant managing editor of The Weekly Standard and a savvy guy when it comes to Washington bureaucratic politics.

But the difficulties in sketching a portrait of an intensely private man, a figure of controversy not only on his own but as a surrogate for Rumsfeld — and what a daunting task it must be to catch rounds aimed at Rummy! — are many. By the same token, Cambone is an immensely influential figure, both by virtue of his position as undersecretary of defense for intelligence and because of his close relationship to a powerful cabinet officer. Within the constraints of a magazine profile, Vic gives us all a glimpse into the mind and character of Rumsfeld’s right arm.

Anyway, who can compete with Ralph Peters as a chainsaw artist, right? Ralph’s “core competency,” to fall into Pentagonese, would seem to be writing vividly — actually, “vividly” is too pale a term — about issues of deadly importance. In some circles, writing well is regarded as a demerit; like generals who are too intellectual, intellectuals who are too fluent are suspicious.

But generals and theoreticians of war who are quasi-intellectual are genuinely dangerous, and Antoine Henri Jomini — and his descendants over the centuries since he wrote — is second only to Sun Tzu as a waylayer of warriors’ minds. Ralph is quite right to find the Jominian worm at the heart of the apple of Effects-Based Operations.

Lt. Col. Greg Daddis, a U.S. Military Academy history instructor, continues our Jomini Bash Fest in “Chasing the Austerlitz Ideal,” almost a companion piece to Peters’ column. It is perhaps understandable that formulaic approaches to war should be so appealing; war is inherently chaotic — and irregular wars as in Iraq and Afghanistan especially so. Commanders caught in complex conflicts might be especially wary of cookbook solutions.

In “Going Native,” book editor Vance Serchuk offers not recipes but insights from the history of armies that raised “native levies” to extend the reach of empire. The Quadrennial Defense Review would have called these “indigenous forces,” but the idea is the same in 2006 as in 1806. So is the road to success in such endeavors: Don’t be in a hurry. Philip Mason, “an unabashed puffer of British imperialism,” regarded “a certain permanence, a continuity in policy, a courteous attitude to the future” as the prime ingredient in the empire’s ability to produce effective indigenous forces. As Vance observes, these are not terms that describe the American efforts in Iraq.

And even the continuity of U.S. policy in Afghanistan is a dangerously open question, as Chris Griffin notes in the April installment of Blogs of War. Afghans may still acknowledge that “it was the Americans liberated us, not the Europeans,” but they surely see the newly cautious force posture, as do U.S. bloggers in uniform.

Tom Donnelly