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Foreign Correspondent
by international syndicated columnist & broadcaster Eric Margolis


27 August 2007

WASHINGTON DC - I was invited last week to the Pentagon to brief the US Air Force’s Strategic studies group – known as `Checkmate’ – on the Mideast and Southwest Asia.

The last time I was in the Pentagon was during my army service in 1968, when I participated in command briefings for the Chiefs of Staff. For this edifice’s 23,000 military and civilian personnel the Chiefs are like Valhalla’s gods. In the Pentagon’s 17 miles of corridors, I half expected to see some lost WWII officers still looking for an exit.

`Checkmate,’ planner of the crushing 1991 US air campaign against Iraq, is an interesting outfit. Recently updated, its brainy commander, Brig Gen. Lawrence Stutzriem, reports directly to the Air Force Chief of Staff, four-star general Michael Moseley, who sits on the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and advises the president.

`Stutz,’ as he is known, is likely destined for senior command. He and his staff of majors and colonels are highly educated, smart, and have open, seeking minds that are often too rare in the stultified, bureaucratic military.

The US Air Force has always been the most progressive, forward-thinking of the services. Among `Checkmate’s’ jobs are innovative strategy, thinking ahead, and evaluating different strategic viewpoints. The last point is important, because all militaries tend to become victims of group-think. The forward-thinking US Air Force is trying to breathe fresh air into the often stale confines of the Pentagon.

I presented my views on developments in the Arab World, Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan in an off the record seminar to a group of officers who were clearly up to date on the subject matter. They knew the Muslim World was headed for serious change and were clearly seeking answers on how to deal with the political and demographic earthquakes that are coming.

The USAF recently added cyberspace to its missions. Checkmate’s Dr. Lani Kass is heading a new office directing operations across the entire electro-magnetic spectrum. It seemed rather odd that Kass, a former Israeli military officer, now holds a key Air Force position, particularly after repeated concerns over her nation’s intelligence operations to acquire US national security secrets.

Kass and `Stutz’ also spend a lot of time trying to implement Gen. Moseley’s campaign to renew the `warrior spirit’ in the Air Force’s specialized `target and equipment-fixated’ officers.

This is the curse of specialized high technology. I saw the same phenomena during my own military service in the Vietnam era. Senior US Army officers had become so specialized in technical fields that they had never learned the basics of war: military history, strategy, tactics. So I organized and taught seminars for colonels and generals on just these topics. `Now general,’ lectured 26-year old me, `let me explain how a pincer attack works.’

The USAF is fizzing with new ideas, but it is also not happy. The US Army and Marines are getting most of America’s sympathy and support for their role in Iraq. The Air Force, without which these wars could not be waged, and which provides decisive, 24/7 top cover for the troops with almost instant response, gets far too little credit. In fact, its decisive role is barely seen except when the rare aircraft crashes or is shot down by enemy ground fire.

Ironically, the USAF is a victim of its own success. No US ground troops have been attacked by enemy aircraft since 1953. The USAF has no enemies because it has shot them all down.

America’s air force fights so efficiently and seemingly effortlessly that neither the US Congress nor public understand the enormous logistic, manpower, financial and technological efforts required to keep it dominating the globe’s skies, space, and cyberspace.

The over-stretched USAF has been in non-stop combat for the past 17 years. Its aircraft are getting dangerously old. B-52 heavy bombers are now in their 50’s. One B-52 pilot I met, knick-named `Boomer,’ must have been near half his bomber’s age. Many tanker aircraft date to 1957. Many fighter aircraft are 24-years old. Non-stop operations over Iraq and Afghanistan are rapidly wearing out aircraft and men.

Meanwhile, war against Iran is looming. Interestingly, a senior Pentagon source insisted `the decision to attack Iran has not been made;’ and an attack is `unlikely.’ But many signs suggest the opposite.

Official Washington is often accused of not knowing what’s going on abroad. But there are many smart people in the Pentagon, CIA and State who do know. The problem – and tragedy - is their masters in the White House and Congress are just not listening.

Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2007.

Published at since 1995 with permission, as a courtesy and in appreciation.

To read previous columns by Mr. Margolis: Click here

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