- The Washington Times - Friday, July 6, 2001

Ayear ago, the so-called "Two War Strategy" preparing to fight two more or less simultaneous major theater wars had about as many adherents as the Bill Clinton chapter of Americans for Constitutional Chastity. A few weeks ago, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld suggested that it might be time to put this nonsense out of our misery. Then nonsense morphed into gospel especially among conservatives whose attitude toward defense seems more and more to be: "Just Spend It."

There are (at least) four reasons why the Two War Strategy is bad strategy, bad planning, and a waste of billions more urgently needed elsewhere.

First, the strategy arose as no strategy at all. In 1990, then-Defense Secretary Dick Cheney and Gen. Colin Powell, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff (JCS), wanted a post-Cold War force adequate to hedge against a renascent Soviet or Russian threat. Planning for one regional war yielded a force too small; planning for three would never get funded. Two was just right or, more aptly, all the budget would bear.

Second, no two wars are created equal. The traditional premise has been that "war" meant ground war, and ground war meant divisions piled on divisions. Since 1992, the Two War Strategy has mostly posited replays of the Korean and Persian Gulf Wars. But one can imagine conflicts in which ground forces play a marginal role: a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, for example, or an Iranian strike at Saudi Arabia across the Gulf.

Further, even in those wars where ground forces are vital, their role is changing. Ground forces didn't win Desert Storm; they finished it. For five years now, the Army and Air Force have skirmished over whether halting an enemy advance by massive air power in the early days of a war is preferable to concentrating on a ground counteroffensive months later. Obviously, each service favors the arguments most conducive to its own interests. But when ground forces may not even be able to get ashore in some future conflict the "anti-access" threat the question of ground force utility is real.

Third, if the United States does get involved in a major war somewhere, a second major war is only one possible subsequent headache. Why not two or three more? Why not also a global explosion of score-settling, from the Balkans and the Middle East to South Asia? Why not all of the above?

Finally and no one, to my knowledge, has ever mentioned this would the American people tolerate two major wars, especially if they grow long and bloody and endanger the homeland? Would they tolerate forces victorious on one front sent instantly to another? It's possible to believe that the American people would never tolerate one or two major defeats, and that a strike at the homeland might steel us to teach somebody a lesson the world will never forget. But in truth, no one knows.

So what to do? The answer may well be to shift from a spurious strategy to what's sometimes called a "capabilities-based force." Worry less about arbitrary constructs and more about what we need. We'll need a conventional combat force of stunning lethality, one that may look nothing like today's ponderous divisions. We need to maintain aerospace supremacy; we do what we want, they do nothing. We're going to need a serious peace-enforcing capability for areas of vital interest imagine, for example, that the only way to prevent an Arab-Israeli war from going nuclear is to get between those people. We need homeland defense.

And most of all, we need to craft a new form of deterrence. Once, deterrence meant threatening to blow a country up. In this age of cyberwar and precision strikes, deterrence can also mean shutting a country down.

All this will cost. Nobody's talking about cutting the defense budget. So why are so many thoughtful conservatives so committed to spending money the old-fashioned way? Put differently, why do they oppose transforming the military into a 21st century force that can meet 21st century perils?

Hard to tell. Perhaps because transformation also means giving things up, and that can make people nervous. Perhaps because it's easier to criticize than to create. Most of all, perhaps it's because the Two War Strategy offers a simple creed, a clear definition of virtue, and a comforting belief that we can fight the wars we want to fight, the way we want to fight them.

Not so.

Philip Gold is director of defense and aerospace studies at the Seattle-based Discovery Institute.

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