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Jewish World Review Dec. 24, 2001 / 9 Teves, 5762

Mort Zuckerman

Mort Zuckerman
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The shape of things to come -- WE have seen the future, and it works! Who would have guessed, just a hundred days ago, that the remote, mountainous terrain of Afghanistan would become the proving ground for our most advanced military technologies? Who would have thought that air power would be the dominant operational weapon in routing the Taliban, supported by only a small number of ground forces equipped with smart, powerful, hand-held communications tools? And who would have thought that a fanatic operating out of tent or cave could menace the quality of life in the United States? Who would have thought that we would so soon have had such a warning of the capacity of small states and of small suicidal groups devoted to terror to acquire weapons of mass destruction and inflict such violence against a nation like the United States? Who would have thought that we would see such a sudden end to America's long-treasured sense of geographic invulnerability? And who would have thought that President Bush and Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld were so on the mark when, in the months before 9/11, they called for a military force defined not by size and mass but by mobility and swiftness?

The Taliban fought an enemy they could not see but who could see them-very clearly. We had a real-time vision of a battlefield from remote locations. Special forces spotted targets, painted them with lasers, and hit them with bombs retrofitted with an electronic brain, kept directly on target by reading signals from global positioning systems (GPS) satellites. Our spy planes could pick out moving vehicles hundreds of miles away. Unmanned aerial vehicles took continuous videos, beaming them back to bases with an onboard laser designator and detailed maps. The unmanned aircraft could go where special forces could not, enhancing the lethality and effectiveness of our cruise missiles and our air power. So much for von Clausewitz's famous "fog of war."

Change our priorities. None of this is to say that we can dispense with large-platform military forces. We may yet have to fight a large power with state-of-the-art fighter jets, submarine fleets, and heavy armor. Given the mission to defend the nation, it is more than understandable that Pentagon brass want to keep the potential to fight this kind of war and are reluctant to place too much reliance on untested methodologies and technologies. But what the war in Afghanistan has changed-must change-are our priorities, given the unpredictable nature of future threats. It is no longer a question of relying on untested technologies. They have been tested. We can adapt a larger tier of our forces to face the challenges of the new century. It is no longer acceptable, nor is it responsible, to continue our defense policy as business as usual. It is feeding a large, unwieldy, and cash-hungry conventional military machine.

The issue, as always, is money. We are not responding seriously until we take away money from one part of the military budget and allocate it toward these new kinds of high-tech scientific warfare and, vitally, to R&D (and scientific education) to stay ahead in these areas. Speeches are not enough. The hard choices will include closing obsolete military bases, outsourcing some services, eliminating needless organizational overlapping, and killing military systems that serve the industrial and political agendas of some and not the military needs of the future. Only by doing so can we devote the billions of dollars necessary to transform the military, as President Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld have demanded.

The problem is that Congress micromanages our defense operations, and political considerations intrude in far too many Pentagon budget requests. We have political resistance to even modest cuts in troops and traditional weapons systems-never mind that Congress took base closings off the agenda until 2005 (surprise, surprise)-deferring them until after the congressional and presidential elections of 2004. Alas, there is a lack of popular political constituency for painful changes in the military and, thus, little public pressure on Congress.

Now, after the stunning triumph over the Taliban, is the time to strike a better balance in our force structure. We must develop the new air-based and sea-based long-range platforms that can strike rapidly around the globe. We have to plan for significant threats to our ability to access forward bases and so deploy our traditional mass forces. We must improve our capability of matching our technological edge with intelligence so that we have all the tools we need to resist security threats to our homeland by a proactive offense rather than a reactive defense. This all amounts to a tall order, but far better to fight terrorists in Afghanistan than in Alabama.

The wake-up call was placed on September 11, and we must not ignore it. This war-fighting experience should have more to do with transforming our armed forces than all the blue-ribbon panels, commissions, studies, reports, editorial comments, or books on military reform we have been deluged with over the past few years. We have glimpsed the future. Now let's make it happen.

JWR contributor Mort Zuckerman is editor-in-chief and publisher of U.S. News and World Report. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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© 2001, Mortimer Zuckerman