The United States is preparing for the wrong war

Gray-zone warfare is here to stay.

After the Vietnam War, the U.S. military deliberately set out to forget everything it had learned about the brutal and unpleasant business of fighting guerrillas. The generals were operating under the assumption that if they didn’t prepare for that kind of war, they wouldn’t be asked to fight it. The emphasis in the 1980s and 1990s, even after the collapse of the Soviet Union, was on fighting conventional, uniformed adversaries. That worked out well in the 1991 Gulf War but left the U.S. armed forces tragically ill prepared for the post-9/11 wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

I fear that history may be about to repeat itself. In discussing my new book about the legendary Vietnam-era covert operative Edward Lansdale, I have been visiting military installations, including the Army War College, Fort Benning, the Naval Postgraduate School and the Pentagon. And everywhere I go, I hear that the military is switching its focus from counterinsurgency to conventional conflict.

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