Jewish World Review Nov. 14, 2001 / 28 Mar-Cheshvan, 5762

Paul Greenberg

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Consumer Reports

No land war in Asia, or: What's your hurry, Mack? -- THERE'S always one guy in the outfit who never gets the word. This time it's Senator, war hero and presidential contender John McCain of Arizona. He got on his Straight Talk Express the other day and announced that it was time to unleash "all the might of United States military power'' and start taking casualties.

Or as he put it, "It's going to take a very big effort and probably casualties will be involved, and it won't be accomplished through air power alone.''

Easy there, big fella. Before we start putting in an order for a lot more body bags, could we settle down, follow the drill and just bomb the enemy to bits?

No, air power alone won't do the job in Afghanistan, any more than it did in the Gulf War or over Schweinfurt and D|sseldorf ... but three weeks is an awfully short time to try it before committing American forces to a land war in Asia.

Why the rush? Why not let the Taliban twist in the wind for a good long while? Why not let 'em freeze and starve and dodge ordnance while they're waiting, eyes searching the skies, till they're reeling? No matter how long it takes. Why fight their kind of war instead of ours?

Why refight the last war in Afghanistan and repeat the Russians' big mistake, which was to commit massive numbers of troops and proceed to get bogged down? Why not let all those smart bombs and cruise missiles, once they've knocked out the airports and power grids and barracks and ammo dumps, seek out every campfire and little smokestack peering out from a bunker? We have only begun to bomb.

Why not let the Taliban be the ones stuck with fixed lines and never knowing where the next shell will fall? If it takes time to break them, it takes time. Better to expend time and munitions than lives.

During the Gulf War a decade ago, Americans grew impatient, too. It seemed as if the month-long bombing campaign had been going on for years. But it went on until the time was ripe for the rapid, decisive assault by land, sea and air. There is no point in hurrying these things.

The Taliban keep saying they're waiting for the Americans. Let 'em wait. For weeks, for months, till the last broadcast tower in their part of Afghanistan crumbles and the last ammunition dump explodes. Till a crow flying across Taliban lines would have to carry his own provisions. And the last poor starving beggar of a conscripted Taliban fighter lays down his AK-47 and walks across to peace and a warm meal.

In the meantime, let's keep sending our message from the unfriendly skies. Why should American boys -- and girls -- be put in harm's way before air power has had every chance to award the Taliban the martyrdom they seek?

Take your time, men and women of the United States Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. Time is on our side, if we will but use it. Lots of it. Why rush? Why fight mad when we can fight smart?

Ever since Sept. 11, our own impatience has been a far greater danger than any weapon of the enemy's.

The Taliban have been itching for the arrival of American troops, preferably hunkered down in cities and garrisons like so many stationary targets. The Taliban would love to refight the last great war in Afghanistan, the one against the Russians, poor devils. Listen to this bluster from the Taliban's leader, the mullah Mohammed Omar:

"To those who are fighting and bombarding us, they should understand that the Afghan man is a fighter willing to die for jihad.''

OK. That can be arranged.

By air power at first. And at last. And in between. Week after week, month after month. As long as it takes.

A massive invasion of Afghanistan could mean massive casualties if the ground isn't carefully prepared first, crater by crater.

Remember what an American general named Patton told his troops as they approached occupied France in 1944. No war was ever won, he said, by dying for one's country. The object of war, he pointed out, is to make the other fellow die for his.

The words George S. Patton used may have been more colorful than my expurgated version of them, but his point remains relevant.

Let the Taliban seek martyrdom and, bless their hearts, find it. Our object should be to seek victory.

In war, another American general once said, there is no substitute for victory. And there's nothing shameful about using the latest, best technology to achieve it from afar. Why send a soldier to do a missile's job?

I keep thinking of a scene from one of those Indiana Jones thrillers in which Our Hero is confronted by a huge, menacing scimitar-twirling native in some exotic marketplace. It was a most impressive display of swordsmanship. You could tell this guy had taken lessons. What was Indiana Jones to do? What he did was shrug, pull out his .38 and plug the poor sap.

At least since the catapult and crossbow, superior technology has trumped the yen for martyrdom -- if we'll keep using it, relentlessly, carefully and most of all patiently.

There will come a time for ground troops, preferably those of the Northern Alliance and a growing number of Afghans allied with them. But why rush things?

If we are patient now, the ground war will be concluded that much more quickly when it is launched against an exhausted, shell-shocked enemy.

In the meantime, let's keep an old caveat in mind: No land war in Asia.

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