Courtesy Reuters

The Real Meaning of Military Transformation: Rethinking the Revolution

In This Review

War Made New: Technology, Warfare, and the Course of History, 1500 to Today.

By Max Boot
Gotham Books, 2006
640 pp. $35.00

Finding the Target: The Transformation of American Military Policy.

By Frederick W. Kagan
Encounter Books, 2006
432 pp. $29.95

The idea of a "revolution in military affairs" (RMA) based on new information technology (IT) has sparked the imagination of defense intellectuals and policymakers for nearly three decades. In that time, it has also guided a sizable chunk of the U.S. Defense Department's experiments and investments in new technology. The related but ill-defined notion of a "military transformation" even found its way into candidate George W. Bush's campaign rhetoric in 2000. And transforming the U.S. military became Donald Rumsfeld's chief goal when he was named Bush's secretary of defense after the election.

Six years later, U.S. forces are mired in Iraq, fighting valiantly but without enough forces or the right weapons and operational concepts for the job. Rumsfeld is out of a job, and many pundits blame his vision of a small, high-tech fighting force for the problems U.S. troops now confront. The RMA seems to have ended before it got very far.

But the unpopular war in Iraq has brought more dishonor to the idea of transformation than it deserves. As Max Boot affirms in his splendid history, War Made New, RMAs have been critical to the success of various countries throughout history, and the U.S. government would be foolish not to continue pursuing the present one. As Frederick Kagan points out in his very different but equally stimulating book, Finding the Target, the more contemporary notion of "transformation" is problematic, in part because the term has come to mean almost anything, but more important because Rumsfeld's version incorporated a very limited view of warfare that made it relatively easy for the United States to get into Iraq but very hard to get out. Kagan himself makes no attempt to codify the term but rather uses it to mean simply "a big, important change." Armed with that definition, he offers a few transformations of his own. These are no less compelling for the lack of a capital T.

Between them, these two very different books offer

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