A thoughtful history cum policy paper on the role of guerrilla warfare in the building of the American empire.
No stranger to polemic as editorial features editor for the Wall Street Journal, Boot (Out of Order, 1998) has little use for the so-called Powell Doctrine limiting American soldiers’ exposure to the possibility of dying in combat. When applied in Iraq with the decision not to topple Saddam Hussein’s government after the liberation of Kuwait, that doctrine may have helped avoid a “Persian Gulf Vietnam,” as Colin Powell said it would, but instead, Boot writes, “it turned into a Persian Gulf Hungary, a replay of 1956, when the U.S. encouraged a rebellion against the Soviets and then stood by as the rebels were crushed.” An unapologetic imperialist, the author urges that America take its superpower and world-policeman roles seriously, stepping into “small wars” (Haiti, Kosovo, Afghanistan) to fearlessly pursue “punitive and protective missions.” Along the way, Boot examines the little conflicts of the past that citizen-soldiers have not much enjoyed but professionals have gladly undertaken: here the suppression of the Filipino revolt from 1898 to1902, there a modest 1871 invasion of Korea and the occupation of the Dominican Republic in 1954. He shrugs aside the specter of collateral damage, asserting that, “although wars against guerrillas tend to be particularly savage, atrocities are endemic to all wars, not just colonial ones.” More compelling is his Monday morning quarterback analysis of Vietnam, which he argues could have yielded American victory had it been fought not as a conventional conflict but as a guerrilla war, an approach for which commanding general William C. Westmoreland was neither equipped nor trained.
Boot’s generally evenhanded approach makes some of his more immodest proposals palatable, and serious students of foreign policy, no matter what their leanings, will want to entertain his arguments.