Mother of all columns

March 04, 1991|By A. M. Rosenthal

IF WE think hard enough now, and if after the troops come home we just hang on to what we learned, the United States can pluck a surprise bonus from the victory in the gulf: a few fine victories at home.

Oh, how drearily often during the war we got sophomoric lectures from the sob-sisters of journalism, politics and academia (both sexes) about how the war would still leave us with all the domestic problems bedeviling the country: drugs, crime, race, AIDS, S&Ls, homelessness, recession, teen-age pregnancy, graffiti, garbage, loud radios and paper cracklers at the movies.

The lectures came from the renowned experts who were against the war effort. They tried to paralyze us by warning of tens of thousands of American body bags, and now caution us against trying to get rid of Saddam Hussein lest some of his followers feel humiliated -- today's appeasement catchword.

Americans do not need the condescending lectures. They know the war was fought to eliminate a particularly vicious international serial killer bent on conquering a part of the world critical to us and our friends -- including people who live there. Goal enough. It was reached in 100 hours of ground combat, following brilliant campaigns of political and air bombardment.

Finding lessons in the victory applicable to struggles at home will infuriate all those experts who were so wrong all along, so let's set to it.

Education. Nobody can say again American youngsters are a bunch of unmotivated, unskilled louts. The Persian Gulf war showed that the armed forces have done a far better job of teaching technological skills than has the American school system or American industry. How?

One clue: A year ago, Lee Iacocca told me if he had the jobs he would hire every retiring armed forces technical instructor. Business owes it to itself to find the jobs. Letting that asset go is like not picking up a pot of gold in the street because your coat does not have a big enough pocket.

Race. The armed forces are more successful at integrating black and white, and promoting both -- the essence of real affirmative action -- than any other part of American society. It's insulting to blacks in the forces to treat them as victims shanghaied by economic deprivation instead of what they are -- particularly bright young people looking for advancement, and going where it can be found.

A first-rate study commission should be appointed to find out what the armed forces do about motivation and reward that can be copied in civilian life. It should be told to report in three weeks, no more!

Members should start with Gen. Colin Powell, not only because he was a poor boy, an immigrant's son who became chief of staff, but because he is a graduate of the great City College of New York, and CCNY people are smarter than anybody.

Professionalism. Would Stormin' Norman have quit to make more money lecturing if the war had dragged on -- as did our drug czar after 19 months on the job?

All top appointments needn't come from within the existing bureaucracy. But maybe those chosen should have to demonstrate some commitment to a field before they are put in charge of the whole thing.

Taxes. The American public does not argue much about taxes for defense. I am sure we get rooked often, but Americans know they need strong armed forces. Americans realized the gulf war would cost a lot; that was that. But we hate paying more taxes for education, low-cost housing, medical care for all and other essentials of democratic society. No use blaming Congress -- until we voters tell it otherwise.

Clarity. Also known as leadership. Bush concentrated his energies, clout and passion on getting the war fought and won. Once he got going, Americans had no doubt about that. The reward was the almost universal public support so critical to winning the war. Bush also has promised he would be the Education President and would lift the scourge of drugs. Americans see no evidence of either promise keeping him awake by night or concentrating his energies by day. So that is one

lesson of the war for Bush to think about in peacetime, after the parades.

Meantime, don't let Saddam get off -- and THANK YOU AGAIN, MR. PRESIDENT. My thanking him recently for his war leadership upset the doomsday experts who were so wrong all along, and whom it is such a delight to irritate. So this time it's in capitals.

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