War By Any Other Name
In today's New York Times magazine, William Safire enters the thicket of military jargon to write about the latest buzzword sweeping the Pentagon: "irregular warfare."
Apparently, the Pentagon was unsatisfied with the use of "counterinsurgency" (too focused on one kind of warfare); "asymmetric warfare" (denotes only war where different or unbalanced tactics are use); and "unconventional warfare" (too confusing because of past usage). Other terms batted around included "small wars" and "hybrid wars" and "full spectrum wars" -- all of which were found wanting by the powers that be.
And so, the Pentagon settled on irregular warfare, defining it as: "a violent struggle among state and nonstate actors for legitimacy and influence over the relevant populations. Irregular warfare favors indirect and asymmetric approaches, though it may employ the full range of military and other capabilities, in order to erode an adversary's power, influence and will."
Safire correctly points out the conundrum here. For years, we've defined ourselves as the regulars and our enemies as the irregulars, and we've built an overwhelmingly conventional military institution to fight regular war. The U.S. defense establishment is the antithesis of agililty, and it may take decades to embrace this paradigm shift. By that time, I imagine our enemies will have evolved far beyond the definition of irregular warfare.
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