Jewish World Review Feb. 12, 2003 / 10 Adar I, 5763

Dr. Michael A. Glueck

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Hawk, Dove or Groundhog: Diagnosis Critical List; Prognosis Uncertain | As the days of truth and perhaps survival approach it's time to decide whether you are a Hawknik, Dovenik or Groundhognik. Talk is cheap! Decision is expensive! While the groundhog in Pennsylvania sees his shadow; the one in Ohio does not. Unlike the Groundhog we do not have the luxury of indecision and procrastination!

As war approaches, we know - we hear it every day - that America possesses the most powerful military in history. This is true. But only a few of us understand the nature and vulnerabilities of this force. In part, this is because we're a nation of military illiterates. No one has been drafted in thirty years; those who serve no longer permeate our culture. We learn, or think we learn, about our forces from Hollywood or (even worse) from media snippets. But the deeper reason is that the American military is so utterly different from anything that has gone before, that it's not easily understood.

What follows is not an argument for or against war with Iraq or anybody else. It is an affirmation of Sun Tzu's ancient dictum that, if you want to succeed in war, you must know yourself as well as the enemy.

This is us.

Our military is unique. No one has, no one can, assemble the array of weapons we possess. To name a few:

Stealth aircraft.

A dozen large-deck aircraft carriers.

Several dozen nuclear attack submarines; a couple hundred surface combatants.

The world's largest and most versatile Marine Corps.

Tens of thousands of precision-guided weapons, from cruise missiles to "smart bombs" and shoulder-launched items.

The world's finest tanks, fighter-bombers, aerial refuelers, unmanned aircraft, etc. etc.

But our advantage lies not in quantity, nor even in quality, per se. Our strength lies in the structure as a whole. For our military is a complex "system of systems," tied together by and utterly dependent upon communications, satellites, computers, "real time and near real time intelligence," as well as total freedom of the skies and the seas.

And therein lies the first major problem. The more complex the system, the greater its vulnerability to partial, cascading, and catastrophic failure. This says nothing about the courage or the competence of the people. It's simply a fact of life. The more intricate and interdependent the system, the greater the chance of eventual breakdown.

Especially if you're facing an adversary who, knowing he can't defeat you force-on-force, disperses and goes for your "critical nodes."

A second problem is that much of the damage wrought by Bill Clinton has not been repaired. Some cannot be. After a decade of boring holes in the skies over Iraq and the Balkans, our tactical aircraft (designed in the 60s) are wearing out. Parts are so scarce that the Pentagon routinely scrounges the Net for items no longer manufactured. Our fleet stands at 301 ships and dropping. The reserves and National Guard are also weary, as units that served in the Balkans and elsewhere endure or expect yet another long mobilization. This is especially true for technical specialists - the "High Demand/Low Density" people who hold the system together - and for Guard units who've also answered state emergencies. And face it, a ship that's been on patrol for six months carries a lot of tired sailors as well as a long list of shore maintenance requirements.

Which leads to the third problem. We're overextended. America currently maintains a military presence in about 110 countries. Our obligations are growing as the war on terrorism takes us into central Asia for the first time (One Pentagon official recently predicted we'll be there for fifty years), deeper into Latin America, and once again into the Philippines and southeast Asia.

And therein lies the fourth, and potentially most dangerous, dilemma. For very good military reasons, we're profoundly "casualty-averse." Our highly skilled people, from commandos to computer techs, cannot be easily replaced. Nor can their equipment. When B-2 bombers cost eight hundred million a copy, when aircraft carriers cost billions, when even "expendable" items such as Predator drones and Tomahawk cruises missiles cost hundreds of thousands . . . and when you've got much of the planet against you . . . it's prudent to be prudent.

And it's prudent to remember that, should Saddam inflict significant casualties on the United States, a few thousand body bags, a couple ships sunk, it would show the world that America can be hurt militarily. Not defeated, but hurt. And how we react to that hurt would also tell the world much about us.

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Michael Arnold Glueck, M.D., is a multiple award winning writer who comments on medical- legal issues. Together with Robert J. Cihak, M.D., past president of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, they write the "Medicine Men" column. Comment by clicking here.


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