- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 9, 2000

It practically goes without saying that Gen. Colin Powell will land a top post in a Bush administration or even in a Gore administration for that matter, since he has not rejected that idea when asked whether he would serve if asked by Vice President Gore. In many ways, his quiet competent manner and his experience as a soldier would be a huge relief and both parties surely are eyeing the diversity aspect of such an appointment eagerly.
Still, there remain real questions that have not been sufficiently settled in the 1990s regarding the use of American force abroad. It is not clear whether Mr. Powell's views have evolved on the subject since that moment recounted, in the general's autobiography, when then-U.N. Ambassador Madeleine Albright brought him to a state of near apoplexy by demanding to know in a national security meeting on Bosnia policy what he had the army for if he wasn't prepared to use it. The fact that she was echoing Lincoln's words to Gen. McClellan didn't help either. It is still a question to which we have had no real answer, and we clearly need one if we are to contemplate Mr. Powell in the post of secretary of state.
The former chief of the Joint Chief of Staff remains identified with the "Powell Doctrine," as stated in a Foreign Affairs article from the winter of 1992/93, under the title "U.S. Forces: Challenges Ahead." Mr. Powell wrote:
"When President Lincoln gave his second inaugural address he compared the Civil War to the scourge of God, visited upon the nation to compensate for what the nation had visited upon its slaves. Lincoln perceived war correctly. It is the scourge of God. We should be very careful how we use it. When we do use it, we should not be equivocal: we should win and win decisively. If our objective is something short of winning as in our air strikes into Libya in 1986 we should see our objective clearly, then achieve it swiftly and efficiently."
Winning, winning decisively, clear objectives, efficient use of force. It sounds great. It can also work as we saw in Operation Desert Storm, which Mr. Powell supervised. Who can forget his statement (well-scripted though it was) about Saddam Hussein's Revolutionary Guard? "First we cut it off. Then we kill it." We had the power and the will and in Saddam Hussein the world's most obliging foe.
The problem is that as has been documented from any number of accounts including the one written by President Bush and National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft Mr. Powell may have produced a decisive victory, but he was dead set against getting involved in Iraq in the first place. Like many congressional Democrats, Mr. Powell was in favor of allowing sanctions to work in which case as we know, Saddam would not just be in power in Iraq today, but in Kuwait as well.
That soldiers should have greater respect for the use of force than civil policy makers stands to reason. They know the consequences in terms of human devastation first hand. Particularly the generation of military leaders who experienced combat in Vietnam knew the awful consequences of political indecisiveness and a hamstrung military.
Out of the Vietnam War grew the concept of the "Total Army," as formulated by then-Army Chief of Staff Gen. Creighton Abrams in 1972, which melded active and reserve components into a cohesive whole. The idea was never again to allow a wedge to develop between the military and public opinion at home. Everybody was to be on board. In Mr. Abrams view, the reserve forces were the bridge that accomplished that. Again Desert Storm provides a textbook example with reserves representing some 20 percent of the U.S. military forces deployed to the Gulf.
During the Clinton years, the "Total Army" concept has been relegated to a dusty corner. Commitments have been open-ended and ill-defined. Particularly National Guard units are scattered all over in peacekeeping duties, with the Texas 49th Armored Division actually running the U.S. operation in Bosnia since March this year.
And still, Mrs. Albright's impertinent question stands. In a world of American dominance, where is it appropriate to engage U.S. forces? Unfortunately, today's world is not clear cut if ever it was. For all the might applied in Iraq, Saddam Hussein is still in Baghdad, a drain on the troops deployed to keep him on his famous "box." Furthermore, if the United States had only gotten involved where military victory was certain and swift, how about World War II? How about the Korean War? How about the War of Independence, for that matter? With Mr. Powell at the helm rather than George Washington, the British might still be running the show here.
E-mail: helle.bering@washtimes.com

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide