Ever since our lopsided victory in the Gulf War in early 1991, the U.S. military has been venerated by many Americans as an unbeatable force. How rapidly our combined air-ground offensive crushed Saddam’s large yet ponderous army gave the Pentagon an aura of invincibility. Military leaders and defense thinkers proclaimed the dawn of new era in warfare. With our advanced technology and precision strikes, everything was different.
But was it? In hindsight, the Gulf War merely confirmed what military historians always knew, namely that better weaponry and command-and-control habitually crush large numbers of less well-equipped enemies. A generation on, the “lessons” of 1991 appear no more noteworthy than the “lessons” of Omdurman in Sudan in 1898, when two brigades of British regulars easily crushed a force of 50,000 jihad-fueled natives because, as the wags of the day put it, “We have got the Maxim Gun, and they have not.”
Yet since the Gulf War, the U.S. Army’s technological edge over its potential foes— what defense doyens term overmatch—has dwindled, slowly but irrevocably. Through the decade after 1991, the army was busy managing post-Cold War cutbacks and peacekeeping in the Balkans and saw no peer-competitors anywhere. Since 9/11, as plausible rivals like Russia and China have slowly come into focus, our army has been busy managing costly and ultimately futile campaigns in the Greater Middle East. Our diffident war in Afghanistan, America’s longest by a good margin, is in its 17th year, and strategic victory is now as far off as it has ever been there.
Read the rest at The Observer …