It is still suicidal to meet the United States in a conventional war—at least for any enemy that has not fully adopted Western arms, discipline, logistics, and military organization. The recent abrupt collapse of both the Taliban and Saddam Hussein’s regime amply proves the folly of fighting America in direct conflicts. The military dynamism that enables the United States to intervene militarily in the Middle East—in a manner in which even the richest Middle Eastern countries could not intervene in North America—is not an accident of geography or a reflection of genes, but a result of culture. Our classical Western approaches to politics, religion, and economics—including consensual government, free markets, secularism, a strong middle class, and individual freedom—eventually translate on the battlefield into better-equipped, motivated, disciplined, and supported soldiers.
To an American television audience, al-Qaida videos of pajama-clad killers in ski masks beheading captives look scary, of course. But a platoon of Rangers would slaughter hundreds of them in seconds if they ever approached Americans openly on the field of conventional battle or even for brief moments of clear firing. In Mogadishu, Somalia, everything boded ill for a few trapped Americans—outnumbered, far from home, facing local hostility in urban warfare—and yet the real lesson was not that a few Americans were tragically killed, but that the modern successors to Xenophon’s Ten Thousand or the Redcoats at Rorke’s Drift managed to shoot their way out and kill over 1,000 in the process.
Nevertheless, the numerous setbacks of Western armies from Thermopylae to Vietnam prove that there are several ways to nullify these military advantages, both on conventional and irregular battlefields. The question is: Are such historical precedents still relevant to the modern age?