War fever in Washington
By Eric S. Margolis: Dawn, September 3, 2007
I WAS invited last week to the Pentagon to brief the US Air Force’s Strategic studies group – known as `Checkmate’ – on the Middle East and Southwest Asia. As a journalist, I try to avoid having anything to do with governments.
But on rare occasions, I do participate in academic-style briefings and conferences when I feel my half century of experience in the Middle East and Asia can be used to benefit. Particularly so in Washington, after the Bush Administration has gone so badly and dangerously astray in its foreign and military policies.
The US Air Force has always been the most progressive, forward-thinking of the services. Among `Checkmate’s’ jobs are innovative strategy, thinking ahead, and evaluating different strategic viewpoints. My briefing was aimed at explaining the sources of the Muslim World’s anger at the West and ways in which America could lessen it and improve currently terrible relations.
There is a high level of concern in the Pentagon over what new problems and threats a US retreat from Iraq will create. Pakistan’s increasingly uncertain future is also causing anxiety in the Pentagon, which worries its 30,000 troops in Afghanistan could be isolated if there are political convulsions in that nation.
The USAF is fizzing with new ideas, but it is also not happy. The US Army and Marines are getting most of America’s sympathy and support for their role in Iraq. The Air Force, without which these wars could not be waged, and which provides decisive, 24/7 top cover for the troops with almost instant response, gets far too little credit.
Ironically, the USAF is a victim of its own success. No US ground troops have been attacked by enemy aircraft since 1953. The USAF has no enemies because it has shot them all down.
The over-stretched USAF has been in non-stop combat for the past 17 years, mostly in Iraq and the Balkans. Its aircraft are getting dangerously old. B-52 heavy bombers are now 60. One B-52 pilot I met, knick- named `Boomer,’ must have been near half his bomber’s age.–– Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2007