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TheDC Interview: 10 questions with Max Boot on his history of guerrilla warfare

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Jamie Weinstein
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      Jamie Weinstein

      Jamie Weinstein is Senior Editor of The Daily Caller. His work has appeared in The Weekly Standard, the New York Daily News and The Washington Examiner, among many other publications. He also worked as the Collegiate Network Journalism Fellow at Roll Call Newspaper and is the winner of the 2011 "Funniest Celebrity in Washington" contest. A regular on Fox News and other cable news outlets, Weinstein received a master’s degree in the history of international relations from the London School of Economics in 2009 and a bachelor's degree in history and government from Cornell University in 2006. He is the author of the political satire, "The Lizard King: The Shocking Inside Account of Obama's True Intergalactic Ambitions by an Anonymous White House Staffer."

The author of a new “epic history of guerrilla warfare” says Haiti’s independence struggle might hold the distinction as the most brutal guerrilla war of all time.

“There have been many brutal campaigns, but it is hard to top Haiti’s struggle for independence from France from 1791 to 1804,” Max Boot, whose “Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present” just hit book stores, told The Daily Caller.

“It began with a slave revolt. French colonists later testified to a litany of horrors allegedly committed by slaves seeking liberation. … In trying to put down the revolt, French troops were just as inhumane and vicious. … By some estimates the Haitian War of Independence claimed the lives of 200,000 blacks and mulattos, 25,000 white colonists, 50,000 French soldiers, and 15,000 British soldiers.”

“As one scholar notes,” he added, “‘Six times as many Haitians as Americans died during their respective wars for independence,’ even though the population of Haiti was one-fourth that of the North American colonies.”

Boot, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, has followed America’s current campaign against guerrillas in Afghanistan closely. He said keeping just 6,000 or fewer troops in Afghanistan, as reports say President Barack Obama may be considering, would likely lead to mission failure.

“[L]eaving just 6,000 troops in Afghanistan would make it extremely difficult to pursue an effective counter-terrorist mission or to train Afghan security forces,” he said.

“Afghanistan is a big country. To target terrorists effectively you need to deploy strike forces to locations far removed from Kabul. Each of those bases, in turn, needs to be supplied and protected. Each needs to have medevac and air support on call. That requires a substantial number of troops.”

See TheDC’s comprehensive interview with Boot about his new book, what lessons he learned by studying the history of guerrilla warfare, what would constitute success in Afghanistan and much more:

Why did you decide to write this book?

Guerrilla warfare and terrorism have been front and center for the U.S. armed forces and the country as a whole ever since 9/11. During the past decade I made numerous trips to Afghanistan and Iraq to analyze developments there and provide advice for our military commanders. Along the way, even as I became immersed in the details of those conflicts, I also became curious about where those wars fit into the long continuum of history. Were they unusual or the norm? What had changed in guerrilla warfare since ancient times? What strategies were most successful for countering guerrillas and terrorists? In search of answers I looked for a good history of guerrilla warfare. Finding that none existed, I decided to write it myself, starting in 2006. I am relieved and delighted that “Invisible Armies” is finally appearing — and it is as timely as ever.

Going into the research for the book, what was your impression of the history of guerilla warfare? Has that impression changed?

It is not easy now, more than six years later, to remember exactly what I thought when I started the process of research and writing. I certainly had a general awareness of the power and limitations of guerrillas — after all, I had written a previous book about America’s history of small wars, and I had been closely following the wars being waged in Iraq and Afghanistan. But I had little understanding of how ancient and ubiquitous guerrilla warfare is. It is the oldest form of warfare and long predates conventional warfare. It has been prevalent in all countries at all times throughout history. But it has changed shape over the centuries, with the rising importance of the two P’s — politics and propaganda. I certainly was not aware, at least not to the extent that I am today, of those developments. I also learned a vast amount I didn’t know about specific guerrilla wars — including our own revolution, which, I decided, was resolved not on a North American battlefield, but in the halls of Parliament in London. That is an interpretation that challenges the prevailing wisdom — one of many surprising conclusions I reached in the course of my research.