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Jewish World Review Jan. 13, 2003 / 10 Shevat, 5763

Michael Barone

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Waging postindustrial war |
The United States plans to fight a war in Iraq with half as many troops as it fielded in the Persian Gulf War 12 years ago, according to newspaper reports.

Stop and think a minute about just what that means. Our military leaders believe they need only half as many men and women to take control of all of Iraq as their counterparts a dozen years ago required to expel Saddam Hussein's forces from Kuwait. Even more striking: Pentagon brass don't expect all the troops we are fielding to be needed on the battlefield; some troops will be there just in case plans don't go as well as expected.

How can the Pentagon be so confident that it can accomplish so much more than in the Gulf War with half as many troops?

The answer is that our weapons are more lethal and our tactics bolder than they were in 1991. During the Gulf War, an aircraft carrier could destroy 162 targets a day; today, the Wall Street Journal reports, an aircraft carrier can strike nearly 700 targets daily. Since there will very likely be four carrier battle groups in the gulf in a war with Iraq, that means the carriers alone can hit something like 2,800 rather than 650 targets in the first 24 hours.

In the Gulf War, bombing went on for 40 days until ground troops moved in. This time the apparent plan is to send in ground troops the first day-or perhaps even before-to secure western Iraq so that Saddam can't hurl his few remaining Scud missiles at Israel. And troops can be moved more quickly thanks to new equipment like modular geodesic tents, which can be rigged to establish a command center, complete with computers and phone lines, in just three hours-a process that just a few years ago required three or four days. Communications are better, too. In the Gulf War, information from the JSTARS surveillance planes could not be sent to field units in a timely fashion. Today, JSTARS information is available to commanders instantly on every corner of the battlefield.

Tribal wars. The way a nation fights shapes the way a nation is governed. This is one of the theses of law professor Philip Bobbitt's magisterial The Shield of Achilles, written before 9/11 and published this year. "Epochal wars have been critical to the birth and development of the state," writes Bobbitt, who held national security posts in the first Bush and Clinton administrations. "A new form of the state-the market-state-is emerging . . . in much the same way that earlier forms since the 15th century have emerged, as a consequence of war." The wars of the 17th century were fought by huge armies, of the same character as the centralized states of Louis XIV. The wars of the 18th century were fought by smaller armies, of the same character as the territorial states assembled by rulers like Frederick the Great.

The forces now gather- ing around Iraq are being marshaled by one of these "market-states." Industrial America fought its wars with industrial forces: huge armies and navies-15 million men in World War II-made up mostly of low-skill conscripts and equipped with relatively unsophisticated mass-production machines. The war was won with kids from Brooklyn and rural Texas and machines mass-produced in Detroit and Los Angeles. Today, postindustrial America is planning to fight its latest war with highly skilled professional soldiers and sophisticated high-tech machines. We need fewer people-and can expect far fewer casualties-to win quicker victories. Critics who look back at World War II with nostalgia and argue for shared sacrifice and a drafted military miss the point. We are no longer the kind of country that fights most effectively that way.

But the battleground is not just in the Middle East. Before 9/11, Bobbitt saw "the need for a shift from target, threat-based assessments to vulnerability analyses" and pointed out that "remote, once local tribal wars . . . have been exported into the domestic populations . . . through immigration, empathy, and terrorism." An open, high-tech society remains vulnerable to terrorism and cannot be entirely protected by centralized authorities. Our last line of defense must be those high-skill, high-tech, and high-initiative strengths. The heroes who brought down United Flight 93 in Pennsylvania and the alert truck driver who engineered the capture of the alleged beltway snipers used cellphones and ignored centralized authorities' rules (the truck driver acted on leaked information) to stop determined killers. We can fight today's wars with fewer troops than we used to need. But every citizen should stand ready to fight at any time in any place.

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Michael Barone Archives

JWR contributor Michael Barone is a columnist at U.S. News & World Report and the author of, most recently, "The New Americans." He also edits the biennial "Almanac of American Politics". Send your comments to him by clicking here.


©2002, Michael Barone