by Eric Margolis
Aug. 26, 2007
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force’s eyes seem to be everywhere. My July 29 Sun Media column about how the air force is the supreme instrument of U.S. global power, and the decisive role it plays in Iraq and Afghanistan, circulated around the Pentagon.
As a result, I was invited this week to brief the U.S. 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 Second World War officers still looking for an exit.
Checkmate, planner of the crushing 1991 U.S. 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 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 U.S. 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 USAF recently added cyberspace to its missions. Checkmate’s Dr. Lani Kass, a former Israeli military officer, is heading a new office directing operations across the entire electro-magnetic spectrum.
She 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 U.S. 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 U.S. 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.
Ironically, the USAF is a victim of its own success. No U.S. 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 U.S. 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 60. One B-52 pilot I met, nicknamed “Boomer,” must have been near half his bomber’s age. 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.
New war looms
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 Department who do know. The problem — and tragedy — is their masters in the White House and Congress are just not listening.
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