Features

October 1, 2006  

Airstrike

Professor Collins’ spirited defense of the ground perspective is exactly the kind of discussion I hoped my article would catalyze. His views are predictable, and not just because he is a retired career Army officer. Beginning in 2001, he served as a special assistant to former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz for, of all things, “stability operations.” During his watch, the Pentagon made decisions that produced the “stability” issues we have in Iraq today. I evaluate Collins’ assessments of the future in that context. Regardless, he is a respected pundit who provides much worth considering.

Unfortunately, many former armor and infantry officers such as Collins mistakenly read “air power” as exclusively “Air Force.” That is a huge mistake. Actually, it is the tremendous air and missile arms of the Army, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard — along with the Air Force — that together form America’s air power capability. Air power is, in fact, not just the most versatile war-fighting tool in the U.S. military, it is also the most joint. Trying to turn the air power debate into an interservice rivalry simply will not — pardon the expression — fly.

Collins implies that my article is someone else’s “camouflaged statement.” This is not only wrong, it’s also silly; if he were familiar with my essays and speeches, I want to believe he would no sooner suggest I was writing for someone else than I would claim that he is a “camouflaged” spokesman for the Army or the views of his former boss.

Curiously, he says that during his “12 years in the Pentagon, no general-officer-authored article or speech of this type would have been cleared without a blessing from on high.”

Wow. Maybe that’s how it works in the Army, but in the Air Force we have a rich heritage of independent thought. I’m certainly no Billy Mitchell, but wearing an Air Force uniform is truly empowering. Perhaps a little unblessed speaking or writing by land component generals during the period Collins served in the Pentagon would have been a good thing for the nation given how things have turned out in Iraq.

Reality check

Collins makes the weird claim that “colossal” boots-on-the-ground efforts are “likely” in the next decade. Yikes! Is that the “likely” scenario they are teaching at the National War College? If so, here’s a reality check: Given Iraq and the budget, it is abundantly clear that neither the American people nor their elected leadership are “likely” to green-light a “colossal” deployment of American troops abroad, especially in the near term.

Sure, anything can happen, I suppose, and that is why I insist we’ll always need a “powerful ground component” and “a large National Guard” as a strategic reserve. My point is that air power — in all its dimensions — has the most applicability (and compatibility with American culture) across the full spectrum of conflict. Moreover, if the land component takes the time to fully understand and exploit air power in its multiple forms (as some top ground commanders already are), the counterinsurgency fight benefits tremendously.

Did I say that killing Zarqawi was “a great victory for air power,” as Collins asserts? No. What I actually said was that it was “the best news of the [summer] season.” That’s an uncontroverted fact. Did I say soldiers on the ground were not involved? No. Of course there was critical intelligence support from them. As my article insists, land forces can “provide vital targeting information” for the air weapon.

Collins trots out the BOTGZ canard that Israeli air power “did not work” during the short conflict with Hezbollah in Lebanon. Really? So, for example, if ground power does not “work” in mere weeks in Iraq or somewhere, should we assess it as a failure? In any event, because of the air assault, Israel is getting an international buffer force in Lebanon that should halt Hezbollah attacks — if land power “works.” It seems plain that air power created effects that “worked”; it is now a test for ground forces.

All of this said, Collins very ably represents a valuable perspective on America’s security needs. We need more such lively exchanges!

maj. gen. charles J. dunlap jr. is the deputy judge advocate general of the Air Force. These views are his own and not necessarily those of the Air Force or U.S. government.

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