An overlooked truth about the war on terrorism, and the war in Iraq in particular, is that they both arrived too soon for the American military: before it had adequately transformed itself from a dinosaurian, Industrial Age beast to a light and lethal instrument skilled in guerrilla warfare, attuned to the local environment in the way of the 19th-century Apaches.
My mention of the Apaches is deliberate. For in a world where mass infantry invasions are becoming politically and diplomatically prohibitive--even as dirty little struggles proliferate, featuring small clusters of combatants hiding out in Third World slums, deserts and jungles-the American military is back to the days of fighting the Indians.
The red Indian metaphor is one with which a liberal policy nomenklatura may be uncomfortable, but Army and Marine field officers have embraced it because it captures perfectly the combat challenge of the early 21st century. But they don't mean it as a slight against the Native North Americans. The fact that radio call signs so often employ Indian names is an indication of the troops' reverence for them.
The range of Indian groups, numbering in their hundreds, that the U.S. Cavalry and Dragoons had to confront was no less varied than that of the warring ethnic and religious militias spread throughout Eurasia, Africa and South America in the early 21st century. When the Cavalry invested Indian encampments, they periodically encountered warrior braves beside women and children, much like Fallujah. Though most Cavalry officers tried to spare the lives of noncombatants, inevitable civilian casualties raised howls of protest among humanitarians back East, who, because of the dissolution of the conscript army at the end of the Civil War, no longer empathized with a volunteer force beyond the Mississippi that was drawn from the working classes....
... The Plains Indians were ultimately vanquished not because the U.S. Army adapted to the challenge of an unconventional enemy. It never did. In fact, the Army never learned the lesson that small units of foot soldiers were more effective against the Indians than large mounted regiments burdened by the need to carry forage for horses: whose contemporary equivalent are convoys of humvees bristling with weaponry that are easily immobilized by an improvised bicycle bomb planted by a lone insurgent. Had it not been for a deluge of settlers aided by the railroad, security never would have been brought to the Old West.
Now there are no new settlers to help us, nor their equivalent in any form. To help secure a more liberal global environment, American ground troops are going to have to learn to be more like Apaches.
"Indian Country: America's military faces the most thankless task in the history of warfare"