America’s African Rifles

Saturday, September 4th, 2010

Robert Kaplan calls them America’s African Rifles, native troops in Niger trained by American Marines:

Baker’s men had just begun training three platoons’ worth of host-country soldiers, individually selected by their commanders for talent and motivation. Nothing fancy here. The initial training cycle consisted of the fundamentals of good soldiery: shooting, land navigation, and basic medicine. Liberty demands authority; without minimal order there can be no freedom. If Niger’s civilian government was going to survive and protect its borders against transnational terrorists, military professionalization was crucial — and it started in part with Baker’s Marines.

I spent my first days at Tondibiah on the rifle range, watching Nigerien troops being trained by four Marines: Gunnery Sergeant Eric Coughlin, of Shohola, Pennsylvania; Staff Sergeant Stephen Long, of Irmo, South Carolina; Staff Sergeant Bobby Rivera, of the Bronx, New York; and Sergeant Chris Singley, of Milledgeville, Georgia. All were in their thirties except Singley, who was twenty-five.

I have spent enough time with Marines around the world to know that these four had to be an impressive bunch. Noncoms are the heart and soul of the Marine Corps, which may have the most powered-down command structure of any Western military force. Battlefield expertise and leadership depend on sergeants’ leading corporals, who in turn lead lance corporals. Without advanced training one doesn’t get to be a sergeant — particularly a staff sergeant, who commands a platoon of two dozen men, or a gunnery sergeant, the exalted go-to guy in every unit. These Marines were experts: Coughlin was a specialist in military mountaineering, Long in marksmanship, and Singley in riverine operations. As for Rivera, he was a member of Force Recon — something of a Marine equivalent to the Navy SEALs and the Army’s Delta Force. Rivera and Singley were on loan from the Special Operations Training Group, at Camp Lejeune. Because training Third World armies was for decades a Special Forces affair, the deployment to Chad and Niger constituted an opportunity for the Marines to show what they could do, and the Corps had therefore sent some of its best. (Indeed, a few months later Singley — the youngest and least experienced of the four — would be the senior adviser to an Iraqi army unit on the outskirts of Fallujah.)

It was dark and pouring rain at 6:00 A.M., when we set out for the range. First we halted at the Nigerien barracks to collect the trainees. When we arrived, twenty-three of them were standing in formation, singing a traditional morning melody for their commander. After they finished, they climbed in a silent, orderly manner into the backs of our pickups. A few minutes later, when we got to the firing range, they marched out onto the field and began setting up the targets; then they lined up single file, their field caps in their hands as the rain fell on their heads. After prying open the Chinese-made sardine cans of 7.62mm ammunition for the Nigeriens’ AK-47s, Coughlin and the three other sergeants dumped the rounds into the trainees’ field caps. “Wait till the end of the day,” Long told me. “They’ll actually pick up the brass cartridges on the field without being told to — and not to sell, either. They bring their own medical equipment to the range. The Chadians weren’t like this.” The Nigeriens, I noticed also, displayed real muzzle awareness: when not shooting they kept their rifles pointed at the ground, and never once dropped them in the dirt. The Filipino and Colombian soldiers I had observed hadn’t been nearly as disciplined.

The Nigerien military had participated in messy, violent peacekeeping missions in Cote D’Ivoire, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Burundi, the Congo, and Haiti. It was a military that formed its own elite social class, with officers sending their young sons to cadet schools. Its soldiers had proved their willingness to die in defense of not only their own but also U.S. interests: on several occasions Nigerien units had hotly pursued Salafist extremists across the border into neighboring countries.

Waiting around, watching the host-country troops load their ammo into the magazines, I mentioned to Staff Sergeant Long that coups, being a feature of modernization, tend to happen when a military is more institutionally advanced than its civilian authority. Long, a stocky, red-haired thirty-two-year-old with piercing eyes, who had been tagged for me by Major Baker as one of the brightest Marines in the unit, broke in about the Filipino military and the inefficiency and corruption of successive civilian regimes in the Philippines. His insights were impressive. As Baker’s remarks about Chad and Niger had shown, Marines suck up knowledge wherever they can. And because their personal experiences are so different from those of journalists and academics, their company is invigorating in an intellectual sense.

Dawn came, and for a time the rain held off the heat. I inserted my earplugs and joined the Americans and the Nigeriens as they walked out onto the 300-yard range. It was good to be on a rifle range again. In 2003 and early 2004 I had taken a crawl-walk-run approach to following the U.S. military. I observed Army Special Forces training host-country troops in Colombia and the Philippines, and then accompanied them on presence patrols and armed assaults in Afghanistan; I observed Marines in training and pulling guard duty in Djibouti, and then accompanied them during urban combat in Iraq. This approach required regularly going back to the basics, just as soldiers themselves always do; the circular monotony of military life is fundamental to any experience of it. When Special Forces and Marine battalions return from deployments overseas to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, or Camp Pendleton, California, they return to the rifle range. With the training of indigenous troops at the heart of imperialism, and the rifle range at the heart of such training in our era, the range is truly the center of it all.

“Every time you fire, a bad guy should bleed!” Sergeant Rivera yelled. “Aim for the high center torso. Any hit is good. Don’t worry about carving up the bull’s-eye. This isn’t target shooting. It’s about fighting with a gun.” He spoke with a Bronx accent, his voice at once loud, grating, and intimate. Because Rivera was a specialist in weaponry and the related field of close-quarters combat, Coughlin — who, as Gunny, technically outranked him — deferred to him.

A Nigerien major, Moussa Salou Barmou, translated Rivera’s commands into French and Hausa for his soldiers. Major Moussa had trained with the U.S. Army at Fort Benning, Georgia, and with the Ivorians, the Cameroonians, and the Pakistanis. “I didn’t know what real combat was about until Fort Benning,” he told me. “The Americans have the money to simulate war in training, unlike other armies. But I wish the Americans could see how the rebels settle in our border towns in the desert and marry local girls so that they become invisible, so that you don’t know who you have to fight.” Because Major Moussa outranked the Marine noncoms, each made sure to address him as “Sir.”

Rivera went on. The Nigeriens were only fifteen yards out from the targets — paper silhouettes of soldiers aiming their guns. “You will all fire a controlled pair followed by a hammer,” he explained. “A controlled pair is two slow shots. A hammer is two fast ones. Shooting a hammer, the rifle will recoil twice. You won’t have time to readjust, meaning with a fucked-up body position you will miss the target at least once. And that” — he was now shouting — “is unacceptable!”

Rivera demonstrated, repeating and yelling everything, sometimes mixing English with French in his Bronx accent: “En position. Levez la sécurité. Feu! Avancez.” Meanwhile, Coughlin, Long, and Singley worked quietly with individual soldiers. Major Moussa did his part, in one case shoving his knee behind that of one of his soldiers to ease him into the correct body position. I remembered a young Filipino lieutenant who constantly had to be told by an American noncom to pay attention to his own troops. That wasn’t necessary here.

Rivera now made them repeat the drill from twenty-five yards out, this time while changing magazines: “Don’t bend down. Just let the magazine drop. Minimize your movements or you’re gonna fucking die.” He demonstrated shooting and changing magazines while closing the distance from twenty-five to fifteen yards. The impressive thing was what wasn’t happening: there were no wasted movements. “Notice,” he said, “I’m not fast. I’m just smooth. It’s not about speed but about efficiency.”

Later he taught them how to unjam their AK-47s while also changing magazines and closing the distance with the enemy. “This isn’t target practice!” he kept shouting. “This is about killing people!” During the entire morning Rivera only once checked the targets to see how accurately the soldiers were shooting. As long as they were hitting the silhouettes or just the paper, he was happy. He wanted them to be comfortable handling a rifle on the move in combat. He knew from assaults on mud-walled compounds in Afghanistan during the first weeks of the U.S.-led invasion there, in 2001, that survival was less a matter of a perfect shot than of getting a spare magazine quickly out of a side pocket.

Rivera liked the fact that the targets were man-shaped silhouettes rather than concentric circles. “If you’re aiming at a bull’s-eye, you’re being programmed to shoot paper. If you’re aiming at a silhouette, you’re being programmed to kill motherfuckers.”

“Standing is the most unstable platform for firing a rifle,” he went on. “That’s why fifty yards out is the farthest we will ever shoot standing up. At a hundred yards I’ll drop to the prone in two seconds, but then I’ll methodically put two in his chest so the motherfucker will die before he can find his iron sights. That way I’ll live. And I wanna live, because back in America there are a lot of women that love me.” Major Moussa translated, and his soldiers laughed loudly.

Unpopular War

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

Kissinger and Nixon continued an unpopular war, Robert Kaplan notes, and they were pilloried for it:

Even the harshest journalistic accounts make clear that Kissinger and Nixon genuinely felt, despite the public outcry, that continuing the war was necessary for America to sustain its strategic position worldwide. Shawcross wrote that the two men were influenced by both the “Munich mentality” and the memory of how President Eisenhower ended the Korean War — by threatening the Chinese and the North Koreans. To Kissinger and Nixon, playing tough was not a surrealistic abstraction but something necessary and definable. However wrong the stance they took may appear in hindsight, Kissinger and Nixon did what they thought was right for the country’s interests, knowing they would be reviled — especially among the intellectual elite, who usually have the last word in writing history.

Now, isn’t that exactly how we want — or at least how we say we want — our leaders to act? Isn’t what angers so many people about President Bill Clinton and other current politicians the fact that they make policy according to the results of public-opinion polls rather than to their own conviction? It may be the case that polling is unfairly criticized — that for a leader to base his or her decisions on public opinion is not so bad after all, especially if one has in mind the case of Kissinger and Nixon. It is also likely that in prolonging the war for the reasons they did, Kissinger and Nixon demonstrated more real character than do many of our present leaders.

It’s hard to point to Nixon as an exemplar of real character, but the point still stands that a principled conservative — or neo-conservative — is not about to get respect in the media for his character.

Perpetual Creation and Routine

Wednesday, February 10th, 2010

Profound policy thrives on perpetual creation, Kissinger said, while good administration thrives on routine. Robert Kaplan agrees:

Foreign Service officers tend to support those policies that do not threaten their jobs and chances for promotion. I have found that many of them just want to get through the day. A Secretary of State who follows these instincts, rather than manipulating and coopting them, is a failed Secretary of State.

Realism is dull

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

Realism is dull, Robert Kaplan notes, but it works:

Kissinger’s description of Metternich’s diplomatic achievement in controlling Napoleon adds another layer: “It had not produced any great conceptions; nor had it used the noble dreams of an impatient [revolutionary] generation. Its skill did not lie in creativity but in proportion, in its ability to combine elements it treated as given.”

Realism is thus about deftly playing the hand that has been dealt you. It is not exciting or inspiring. Journalistic careers are rarely built on embracing realism, though policymaking careers often are.

Americans aren’t as idealistic as their media

Monday, February 8th, 2010

Robert Kaplan supported intervention in Bosnia, for strategic and moral reasons, as did the media, presumably for moral reasons — but most Americans did not:

Andrew Kohut, the former president of the Gallup Organization, who is now the director of the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, told me recently that the polls on Bosnia have, however, been firm and undeniable: at no point in the 1990s, despite all the emotional media coverage and revelations of war crimes, have more than half of the American people thought that U.S. intervention there was warranted. Interventions in Vietnam, Korea, Panama, Grenada, and Iraq were all more popular than our limited and belated one in Bosnia, in late 1995; only the intervention in Haiti, supported mainly by liberal Democrats, was less popular.

Realists almost always run foreign policy

Sunday, February 7th, 2010

Our foreign-policy idealism is mainly confined to the media and academia, Robert Kaplan suspects:

Realists almost always run foreign policy; idealists, I have found, attend academic conferences and write books and articles from the sidelines.

Not a Superior Morality

Saturday, February 6th, 2010

Castlereagh’s England and Metternich’s Austria held opposing positions on the Greek struggle for independence, because England could afford to be idealistic and Austria could not:

Castlereagh’s open-mindedness, Kissinger wrote, reflected not “a superior morality” but rather “the consciousness of safety conferred by an insular position.” Because Castlereagh’s England was surrounded by seas, it did not have to consider the implications of the breakup of Turkish rule in the Balkans — implications that a Continental power like Metternich’s Austria had no choice but to consider.

Without America’s insular position, guarded by two oceans and reinforced by plentiful natural resources, idealism might never have taken root here. Realism is in part the ability to see the truth behind moral pretensions. Our insular position also explains our failure to see war for what it is: an extension of politics.

Morality alone can never be a basis for foreign policy

Friday, February 5th, 2010

A young Henry Kissinger allied himself with the foreign-policy realists of the time, who doubted that America could affect the internal evolution of many other societies at once:

Morgenthau wrote in Vietnam and the United States (1965) that because the resources of even a superpower are limited, morality alone can never be a basis for foreign policy. These men saw the missionary idealism of America’s ruling elite as naive. Kissinger believed that idealism had clearly failed throughout America’s diplomatic history — that it led to an inefficient cycle of intense hope and activity abroad followed by morose withdrawal once it became apparent that hope and activity were unlikely to remake the world. The clearest example is President Woodrow Wilson’s failed attempt to advance democracy and self-determination in the Muslim Middle East after the First World War, and the isolationism that followed.

Dread of Revolutions

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

Kissinger lived through the Nazi rise to power, and he studied Napoleon in great depth, which led to his lasting dread of revolutions, Robert Kaplan explains:

Rapid social and political transformation leads to violence, whether throughout the Europe of the early 1800s, owing to Napoleon’s aggression — itself a direct result of the French Revolution — or in the Germany of the 1930s. Although the word “revolution” is applied to the America of the 1770s and sometimes to the Zionist movement, the cultural and philosophical awakenings among English settlers in America and Jewish settlers in Palestine took place over decades and were, in truth, evolutions. Iran did experience a revolution in the late 1970s, as did Cambodia in 1975, China in the late 1940s, and Russia in 1917.

From this dread, Kissinger extracted the following principles:

  • Disorder is worse than injustice. Injustice merely means the world is imperfect, but disorder implies that there is no justice for anyone, since it makes even the mundane details of daily existence (walking to school, for instance) risky.
  • The most fundamental problem of politics is not the control of wickedness but the limitation of righteousness. The Nazis, the Jacobins, the ayatollahs, and the others who have made revolutions have all been self-righteous. Kissinger suggested that nothing is more dangerous than people convinced of their moral superiority, since they deny their political opponents that very attribute. Tyranny, a form of disorder posing as order, is the result.
  • Because the real task of statesmen is to forestall revolutions, the real heroes of history are enlightened conservatives, such as Metternich and the eighteenth-century Briton Edmund Burke, who fought discrimination against Catholics and opposed the French Revolution for its immoderation. Burke hated revolutions, Kissinger explained, because they violate the average person’s sense of morality and well-being; Metternich saw them as contrary to reason. “The true conservative,” Kissinger wrote, “is not at home in social struggle. He will attempt to avoid unbridgeable schism, because he knows that a stable social structure thrives not on triumphs but on reconciliations.” (The Republican majority in Congress and the “religious right” are thus not true conservatives.)

Permanent, Orderly, and Legitimate

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

In perceiving the Soviet Union as permanent, orderly, and legitimate, Robert Kaplan says, Kissinger shared a failure of analysis with the rest of the foreign-policy elite — notably excepting a few insightful individuals:

  • the scholar and former head of the State Department’s policy-planning staff George Kennan,
  • the Harvard historian Richard Pipes,
  • the British scholar and journalist Bernard Levin, and
  • the Eureka College graduate Ronald Reagan.

A Policy of Unlimited Objectives

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010

Kissinger’s A World Restored, ostensibly about the end of the Napoleonic era, indirectly confronts the 1938 debacle at Munich, Robert Kaplan says, in which Chamberlain allowed Hitler to seize the Sudetenland. Here is what Kissinger wrote:

Those ages which in retrospect seem most peaceful were least in search of peace…. Whenever peace — conceived as the avoidance of war — has been the primary objective of a power or a group of powers, the international system has been at the mercy of the most ruthless member of the international community.

Kaplan continues:

Kissinger declared, “It is a mistake to assume that diplomacy can always settle international disputes if there is ‘good faith’ and ‘willingness to come to an agreement’”; in a revolutionary situation “each power will seem to its opponent to lack precisely these qualities.” In such circumstances many will see the early demands of a revolutionary power as “merely tactical” and will delude themselves that the revolutionary power would actually accept the status quo with a few modifications. Meanwhile, “Those who warn against the danger in time are considered alarmists.”

“‘Appeasement,’” Kissinger concluded, “is the result of an inability to come to grips with a policy of unlimited objectives.”

Kissinger, Metternich, and Realism

Monday, February 1st, 2010

Henry Kissinger’s first book, on the Napoleonic Wars, explains Kissinger’s foreign policy better than any of his memoirs, Robert Kaplan says:

Kissinger’s first book, A World Restored: Metternich, Castlereagh and the Problems of Peace 1812-1822 (1957), covers not the Nazi era but the latter part of the Napoleonic Wars and the efforts of European statesmen to build a durable peace afterward. The book’s principal character, the Austrian diplomat Prince Clemens von Metternich — secretive, manipulative, and tragic in his world view — is often seen as the figure Kissinger took as a model, though Kissinger has denied it. Nevertheless, Munich and the Holocaust are ever-present in A World Restored.

Kissinger, who fled Nazi Germany in 1938, was in the early 1950s trying to claw his way into the stuffy, Protestant-dominated sanctums of the East Coast foreign-policy establishment. He was not about to wear his trauma and his Jewishness on his sleeve, as it is fashionable to do now. Rather, he elegantly camouflaged them. In A World Restored, Napoleon plays the Hitlerite role, and Kissinger’s answer to the problem of mass evil is contrary to the instincts of liberal humanists. His argument is thus subtle, original, and, I believe, brave.

Court diplomacy of early-nineteenth-century Europe seemed quaint and irrelevant at the dawn of the thermonuclear age:

Even if the technology of war had changed, Kissinger implied, the task of statesmen remained the same: to construct a balance of fear among great powers as part of the maintenance of an orderly international system — a system that, while not necessarily just or fair, was accepted by the principal players as legitimate. As long as the system was maintained, no one would challenge it through revolution — the way Hitler in the 1930s, categorized by the thirty-year-old Kissinger as a “revolutionary chieftain,” did.

A world threatened by nuclear disaster could learn much from Metternich:

With the British Foreign Secretary, Viscount Robert Stewart Castlereagh, Metternich built an order so ingenious that from 1815, the year of Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo, to the outbreak of the First World War, a hundred years later, Europe knew no major conflicts, with the exception of the ten-month-long Franco-Prussian War, in 1870-1871. Thanks in significant measure to Metternich, who did everything in his power to forestall the advent of democracy and freedom in the Hapsburg and Ottoman Empires, Europe in 1914 saw peace and steady economic growth as natural and permanent conditions. Europe had thus lost that vital, tragic sensibility without which disaster is hard to avoid, and troops rushed onto the battlefields of Flanders in a fit of romanticism.

An alliance leader must play the role of barbarian chieftain

Sunday, January 31st, 2010

An age-old model explains how states and other groups are likely to approach war in the future, Robert Kaplan says, citing an unpublished essay by Michael Lind:

Lind says that in primitive societies, lawless frontier towns and the world of organized crime, injustice has always been redressed by the injured themselves, or by their powerful protectors; thus, the safety of the weak rests upon the willingness of their protectors to wield power. Indeed, feudal relationships between stronger and weaker states have marked world politics since time immemorial. Even today, civilian economic powers like Germany and Japan and niche states like oil-rich Kuwait and trading tiger Singapore have specific functions in a quasi-feudal Western world order, in which the United States provides military security.

In places where the rule of law does prevail, one is expected to suffer insults without resort to violence. But in a lawless society, a willingness to suffer insults indicates weakness that, in turn, may invite attack. A world without a Leviathan is somewhat similar: An alliance leader must play the role of barbarian chieftain. In theory, international law governs world politics; in practice, relations between great powers are regulated by a sort of Code Duello. Lind notes that “Khrushchev’s conception of ‘peaceful coexistence’ and Third World competition, and the establishment of a Hot Line, were designed to ritualize the struggle for power, not to end it.” Such conventions, he continues, “might be compared to the elaborate rules surrounding the aristocratic duel.” Such a code may not be Judeo-Christian, yet it is moral just the same. For even in a lawless realm, too extreme a response — killing large numbers of civilians in Beirut for the sake of protecting its northern border, as Israel did in 1982 — may be perceived as wanton violence, and thus lack legitimacy.

In any age, a reputation for power must be balanced by one for mercy. A barbarian chieftain may occasionally have to defend immoral clients (like U.S. support for some dictators during the Cold War), but if he does so too often to the exclusion of all else, his chieftaincy may lose respect and consequently be toppled. A future in which rival chiefs risk assassination as never before — with surprise attacks on computer command posts — is one perfectly suited for a Code Duello.

A Distinctly Inquisitional Air

Saturday, January 30th, 2010

Left to themselves, Robert Kaplan says, most leaders in the post-Cold War West would avoid all non-strategic interventions with the risks that they carry — if not for the media and intellectual communities:

Because the elite media is dominated by cosmopolitans who inhabit the wider world beyond the nation-state, it has a tendency to emphasize universal moral principles over national self-interest. “Most newsmen”, says Walter Cronkite, “feel very little allegiance to the established order. I think they are inclined to side with humanity rather than with authority and institutions.” In the hands of the media, the language of human rights — the highest level of altruism — can become a powerful weapon that can lead us into wars that perhaps we should not fight.

When the media finds a cause it can rally around, it can both shape and replace public opinion, as it did in Bosnia and Kosovo, when the media was overwhelmingly interventionist while the public, as the polls showed, remained unenthusiastic. The media and intellectual communities are professional castes no less distinguishable than those of military officers, doctors, insurance agents and so on — and no more representative of the American population. As with other professional groups, they are often more influenced by each other than by those outside their social network. Faced with an indifferent public, this quasi-aristocracy may shape the views of Western leaders much as the ancient nobles did of their emperors. And the media’s arguments will be difficult to resist. Human rights arguments advanced by the media at their most extreme have a distinctly inquisitional air about them.

Television correspondents at the scene of catastrophes, like the Israeli bombing of Beirut in 1982 and starvation in Somalia a decade later, manifest an impassioned tunnel vision in which sheer emotion replaces analysis: Nothing matters to them except the horrendous spectacle before their eyes — about which something must be done! The media embodies classical liberal values, which concern themselves with individuals and their well-being, whereas foreign policy is often concerned with the relationships between states and other large groups. Thus, the media is more likely to be militaristic when individual rights and suffering are concerned, rather than when a state’s vital interests are threatened.

Another problem will be the unwitting collusion between the global media and our enemies, Kaplan says:

Many defense analysts envision massive, “vertically integrated” media conglomerates with their own surveillance satellites. One firm, Aerobureau (of McLean, Virginia) can already deploy a flying newsroom: an aircraft equipped with multiple satellite video, audio and data links, gyro-stabilized cameras, and the ability to operate camera-equipped vehicles on earth by remote control. Colonel Dunlap asks, “What need will there be for our future enemies to spend money building extensive intelligence capabilities? The media will become the ‘poor man’s intelligence service.’”

The media is no longer simply the fourth estate, without which the other three branches of government could not operate honestly and effectively. Because of technology and the consolidation of news organizations-similar to the consolidation of airline and automobile alliances — the media is becoming a world power in its own right. The power of the media is wilful and dangerous because it dramatically affects Western policy while bearing no responsibility for the outcome. Indeed, the media’s moral perfectionism is possible only because it is politically unaccountable.

When America became an independent nation, the press was meant to keep government honest. Alerting the public to humanitarian problems overseas is germane to that role; directing policy is not, particularly if officials are forced to operate at a lower level of altruism than the media. A statesman’s primary responsibility is to his country, while the media thinks in universal terms. Emotional coverage of Somalia by a world media foreshadowed an American intervention that, because it was ill defined, led to the worst disaster for U.S. troops since Vietnam — a disaster that then helped influence policymakers against intervention in Rwanda. In a world of constant crises, policymakers must be selective about where and when they believe it worthwhile to get engulfed in the Clausewitzian “uncertainty” of conflict — something that the power of the media makes ever more difficult.

Ancient war was more civilized than modern war

Friday, January 29th, 2010

In one respect, ancient war was more civilized than modern war:

The aim of ancient war was generally to kill or capture the opposing chief and display him in a cage. Because of the primitive state of technology, the only way to get to the opposing leader and his inner circle was to cut through the mass of his people and army, necessitating bloody battles and great cruelty. Since the Enlightenment, however, Western leaders have exempted themselves from retribution and have sought to punish each other indirectly: by destroying each other’s armies and — since Grant and Sherman — by making the civilian populations suffer as well.

But is it really more honorable to kill thousands by high-altitude bombing than by the sword and axe? In Kosovo, NATO air attacks were far more effective against civilian targets than military ones. Yet, impending precision-guidance technologies — in which bullets can be directed to specific targets like warheads — will make strikes on the offending chief quite practical. In the future, satellites may track the movements of specific individuals through their neurobiological signatures the way that cat scans do now from a few inches away. We will reinvent ancient war; it will soon be possible to kill or capture the individual perpetrators of great cruelties rather than harm their subject populations, which in many cases are also their victims.

Would it have been more humane to assassinate Milosevic and his inner circle rather than bomb Serbia for ten weeks? In the future, such assassinations will be possible. Because many of our future enemies may not inhabit a country as technologically developed as Serbia, there may be no suitable targets like electrical and water-treatment plants to bomb. The only target may be the offending chief or warrior himself.

In Afghanistan, where Osama bin Laden hides out, attacking his “infrastructure” means destroying only a few burlap tents, cell phones and computers, all of which are immediately replaceable. Because future war will feature precision attacks on command posts, hitting those computer nerve centers will often mean killing the political leadership. Either the law against assassinations that sprang from our Vietnam experience will be scrapped, or it will be sidestepped.

Whether or not future wars are bloodless, there will be an undeniable ancientness to the way in which we conduct them. Kosovo, from our point of view, was a bloodless war, but thousands of civilians (mostly Kosovar Albanians) died so that there would be no NATO casualties. But had a dozen NATO planes been shot down, President Clinton might have been forced to call off the war.

Our appetite for war is similar to that of the Romans, whose professional and salaried legions had no desire to fight warriors eager for glorious death. Thus, whenever they could, the Romans avoided open field engagements in favor of expensive and systematic sieges in which their own casualties were minimized. The Romans were also protected beneath cumbersome helmets, breastplates, shoulder guards, and foot greaves, even though this reduced their agility. We are not the first great empire to despise casualties.