The weeks-long Iraq war of 2003, which America won hands down, had no impact on our defense establishment.
The far harder and years-long Iraq postwar has triggered a sea change. Let me walk you through a couple of examples I've recently encountered.
In July I keynoted the launch celebration for the new industry magazine, Serviam, which explores "stability solutions in a dangerous world." Just completing its first year of publication, Serviam - Latin for "I will serve" - documents the growth of the global security industry.
Recent issues focused on private security companies, America's new Africa Command, and the U.S. Agency for International Development. This month's edition includes a first-ever "global stability industry review."
Critics of this burgeoning industry - they are legion - naturally spot a slick mouthpiece for a controversial clientele like Blackwater Worldwide. And, indeed, the magazine offers companies like Blackwater a chance to tell their side of the story in today's hostile media climate.
To be sure, many political leaders view this industry as inherently parasitic, meaning it profits from overseas conflicts and U.S. efforts to quell them.
But the larger reality is far more complex.
Globalization sweeps this planet with a speed that stuns its most advanced member states and swamps its weakest.
As these penetrating networks reformat traditional societies, a certain amount of social instability inevitably ensues among the least resilient. That's inherent to any frontier-integrating age, and we're experiencing one on an unprecedented global scale right now.
America is hardly in charge of this process, as most of globalization is now fueled by rising Asia. But as the world's sole military superpower, we naturally feel responsibility even when we're strategically tied-down elsewhere - e.g., Iraq and Afghanistan.
Where gaps in coverage inevitably emerge, look for the global stability industry to step in. The cynical option is to "let 'em burn."
So don't be surprised to see the Pinkertons - read American history - show up in numbers, providing all manner of sovereignty services to both host nations and intervening powers in need. It definitely beats the alternative, on display right now in starving Haiti, where relief food supplies from the international community often sit on harbor docks - undistributed - while poor locals survive by eating cakes made of mud.
Those industry nonstories must be told as well.
I bumped into positive example No. 2 - this time on the public-sector side - at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., where in August my lecture to the student body kicked off the academic year at the U.S. Army's Command and General Staff College.
Following my talk, I received a briefing from Lt. Col. Steve Leonard, one of the many bright minds behind a new Army field manual on stability operations.
Why this matters: Army field manuals are the authoritative how-to guides for future operations. The newest versions clearly reflect the build-up of operational experience in this long war against radical extremism.
When the Army's capstone field manual was revised earlier this year, it declared that stability operations should now be given the same priority as the kinetics - conventional combat operations. That was an unprecedented shift in response to the failures we experienced in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The most famous recent Army field manual, published jointly with the Marines, updated the Army's counterinsurgency tactics.
It constituted the heart of the surge strategy that finally settled down Iraq, but its vision really only reaches to the end of conflict. What the new field manual on stability ops does, according to Leonard, is pick up that operational thread at the end of conflict and extend it through a long-term, stable peace. In short, it's what comes next.
America's defense community continues to adapt itself in this long war, with all roads leading to a far more developed capacity to conduct stability operations.
As we proceed down this pathway, America can use all the bright minds and intelligent voices - both inside and outside of government - that it can muster.