The right start

Jim Fain

January 24, 1991|By Jim Fain

FOR ONCE, we seem to have started a war right, at least from the standpoint of getting the military job done with minimum casualties.

World War II began with disaster, and not just at Pearl Harbor. We lost a lot of good men in North Africa and Italy before we learned how to fight effectively while holding down casualties. Similarly in the Philippines, New Guinea and Guadalcanal.

Korea was a debacle at first. We fed troops incrementally into Vietnam -- the most wasteful of military choices. The Iranian rescue attempt was a clumsy victim of inter-service rivalries. Grenada, the same, and sprung overnight without planning or intelligence. Panama was poorly coordinated and bent grotesquely out of shape as a sheriff's posse on manhunt.

This time the military seems to have its act together at the beginning, for which both President Bush and Congress deserve modest credit. Most belongs to the Pentagon brass. What's left, to luck.

Congress passed legislation ending finally the command confusion by giving operational control to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs. So for the first time we have an integrated war plan instead of the various services cherry-picking their missions.

The Pentagon squelched inter-service bickering early by firing Air Force Chief of Staff Mike Dugan for a publicity end-run insisting air power could win the war by itself. The chiefs also convinced the president he either had to go all-out or forget the use of force.

The field command put together a sound plan using its hi-tech air advantage for maximum damage to Iraq's war-fighting potential at lowest possible losses. It presumably will keep this up until the late-arriving Seventh Armored Corps from Europe is ready to go. Then, exploiting all-out air support, we should be able to root Iraq's ground troops out of Kuwait with moderate losses.

The good luck was the end of the Cold War. We no longer have to keep looking over our shoulder at the Soviet Union. Korea and Vietnam would have been fought differently had we not been afraid of Soviet intervention and nuclear war, especially after China surprised us in Korea. We probably overestimated the threat, but it deserved deference.

The hi-tech gadgetry is working better than most of us expected, but the awe it's exciting won't last. Tight censorship tells us only the good results. The bad will come out later.

Anyway, the better the hardware, the easier on the grunts, so hallelujah. But smart generalship and clean command lines are more important.

All of which is to take nothing away from the troops. Today's are better trained and performing superbly, but then they've always been fine. Troops have never been our problem.

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