In the new issue of World Affairs, Col. H.R. McMaster has a great piece about how technological innovation has tended to blind American policy makers to the realities on the ground in both Vietnam and in Iraq and Afghanistan.
During the Vietnam war, McMaster writes, Secretary McNamara and his staff relied too heavily on their assumptions that American will could be imposed merely through the application of its superior technologies, and
combined with their assumption that the enemy would conduct himself like any rational actor, blinded them to the characters of their North Vietnamese and Vietnamese Communist foes. Nor, even in later years, did this faith in technology abate. The litany has been well chronicled—the overwhelming reliance on airpower, the over-hyped use of sensors and other technologies to slow movement down the Ho Chi Minh trail, McNamara’s proposal to erect an electronic barrier along the seventeenth parallel, the quantification of even the most fundamentally human aspects of warfare.
The problem in South Vietnam was fundamentally political, but the strategy of Graduated Pressure did not address the fundamental causes of violence. Planned military actions were based on readily available weapon systems and other capabilities, rather than on the objectives that the application of military force was meant to accomplish.
Later, in Iraq and Afghanistan, “once more, faith in American technological superiority had elevated a military capability to the level of strategy, and once more, the human element got lost in the enthusiasm for what seemed to present an easy and relatively painless solution to a complex, difficult problem.” (Italics added)
You should go read the whole piece, but the takeaway is that even with the renewed focus on the “human terrain” in Iraq and Afghanistan, the “revolution in military affairs” is still a dangerous catchall for some policymakers who refuse to consider all of the messy realities of war.