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Your war questions answered

What is the U.S. Army War College and what does its recent report about the War On Terror(TM) say?

Nestled among the rolling hills of South Central Pennsylvania is a charming little liberal arts college that even people who shudder when they hear the words "liberal" or "arts" can still appreciate. It's called the U.S. Army War College.

Founded in 1901, its mission, other than camo-keggers and the only panty raids in the country to utilize armored personnel carriers, is to teach military and civilian leaders about all-things army -- through research, analysis and historical study. The school is in Carlisle, the same town in which George Washington put his army's arsenal in 1751. It's also the same town in which Native American athlete Jim Thorpe went to college. I wrote a book report about Thorpe in elementary school.

When the college's faculty isn't busy teaching classes like "Waterloo: From Napoleon to Abba" or "Pearl Is for Gangsters: The Style and Wit of George S. Patton," it often publishes reports about U.S. military policy. Recent War College publications include such page-turners as Dr. Rod Lyon and professor William T. Tow's "The Future of the Australian-U.S. Security Relationship," and "Insurgency in Nepal," by Dr. Thomas A. Marks.

Neither of those yarns has received nearly as much attention, however, as "Bounding the Global War on Terrorism," written by Dr. Jeffrey Record, a visiting professor to the college. The 54-page report, published in December 2003, is a methodical and harsh critique of the Bush White House's leadership in the War On Terror(TM). Record calls it the Global War on Terrorism, or GWOT for short.

For those of you who have neither the time nor desire to read the thing (your loss, Record is a really good writer), I've gone ahead and summarized it for you. If you're appreciative, feel free to write "thank you" on a $10 bill and mail it to me, care of this newspaper.

Record's overall criticism is that the GWOT is strategically unsound. By declaring war on four ill-defined enemies -- rogue states, weapons of mass destruction proliferation, terrorist organizations and terrorism itself -- the report suggests that we face the possibility of unending war against enemies that aren't a real threat to the U.S., and that such a war would divert precious resources away from the fight against proven enemies.

The big example, of course, is Iraq. Record calls that war an "unnecessary preventative war of choice." He cites numerous examples of the White House's devious efforts to conflate Iraq with al-Qaeda, even though the two have little to do with one another and certainly weren't teaming up to threaten us.

Even if Saddam Hussein had WMDs, the report says, there was no reason to think that he'd use them against us. Yes, he used them against Kurds and Iran, but he never used them during the first Gulf War against Israel or the U.S., opponents with the ability to massively retaliate. In other words, good old deterrence was working fine.

Record's report spends a lot of time criticizing Bush & Co. for its lazy use of the word "terrorism" and the implications of that lazy use. Terrorism, he points out, is a fighting technique. It's not a movement. You can fight terrorists and win, but you can't defeat "terrorism." Defining the war so broadly raises a couple of important questions: when does it end, and are we at war with terrorists such as the Tamil Tigers or the IRA who have "no beef" (oddly, that's Record's term) with the United States?

I think the most important bit of the report is the part about deterrence vs. pre-emptive strikes. Record believes, and cites evidence to back his position, that our new doctrine of pre-emptively striking rogue state enemies is far more likely to spur enemy nuclear ambitions than it is to stop them. Iraq had no nukes, so we attacked. North Korea has nukes, so we haven't. Message to rogue states: The most rational course of action to deter the U.S. from attacking you is to get nukes. That's precisely the opposite of what we want.

In other words, Bush's War On Terror(TM) tossed aside smart in favor of tough -- to the detriment of our long-term safety.

andisheh@creativeloafing.com

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