Special Guest: Mark Bowden (Part 1)
[CORRECTION: Michael Yon was misquoted in Question 3. We should have said, "Michael Yon recently told us that Mexico was a growing threat to which not enough attention was being paid." We apologize for the good-faith error.]
Mark Bowden is a national correspondent at The Atlantic Monthly and a columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer. He joins us today to discuss his views on the American military and national security threats. This is the first installment in the series. The second and last will be posted tomorrow, Tuesday.
1. Black Hawk Down was published in 1999. Ten years later, have your views on the American fighting man (or American power more generally) evolved?
I am even more impressed. An entire generation of volunteer soldiers, marines, airmen, and sailors have served in dangerous places since I wrote BHD, and thousands have lost their lives or been injured. Their example of self-sacrifice and principled service should be an inspiration to all of us. I have also been struck increasingly by how much warfare plays out publicly and in real time, so that appearances matter as much or more than battlefield outcomes. Because we own the world’s most powerful military, we need to be especially careful to use it sparingly, justly, legally (insofar as international law exists), and with careful attention to world opinion, mindful always that the best intentions of a nation can be undone by a single bystander with a digital camera.
2. Many observers have warned about overstretch — that we are essentially operating at capacity and risk breaking the back of the military, especially the Army and Marines. Do you have any thoughts on this?
We have been working our military to near full capacity, but I think those pressures will ease. The kind of fighting we need to be doing is applying smaller numbers more intelligently. I believe that’s where President Obama is headed, and I think it makes sense not just in terms of managing a limited resource, but toward furthering our goals.
3. The blogger Michael Yon recently told us that he thought Mexico was a more pressing security threat than Pakistan. Do you see any lessons from the Killing Pablo experience that might be applicable to the drug war-related situation boiling over south of the border?
I don’t agree with Yon, because I think the threat of Islamist terror ought to remain our top priority, with Iran a close (and related) problem. The answer in Mexico will come back to the answer in Colombia, lending our technology and expertise to the side of law and order in an indigenous war. Only Mexicans can uproot these criminals, and we ought to be looking for ways to help them.