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North Korea, our most irrational, unpredictable and dangerous enemy –
with whom we’ve been in an on-again, off-again shootout for 54 years –
is back on the warpath. If the million-man North Korean army attacks,
our 37,000 soldiers in South Korea will be little more than a speed bump
without immediate U.S. air, naval, and ground reinforcements. They’ll be
squashed like a beer can flattened by an Abrams tank — just as our
troops were in the summer of 1950 — the last time this Red horde roared
south.

Meanwhile, Saddam Hussein continues his war games in the Gulf, designed
to destabilize that region. Last week, not far from our vital Saudi and
Kuwaiti gas stations, U.S. fighter aircraft continued to pound Iraqi
targets in the North and South No-Fly zones.

Containing both South Korea and Iraq is critical to our national
security. But because of the “Crisis in Kosovo,” the required combat
power was unwisely pulled from these two hot spots.

The Pentagon claims it has got the right stuff to fight on two fronts at
the same time, but don’t buy into that con game. The fumbling
air-and-naval campaign against a fourth-rate Serbian army proved our
forces no longer have that capability. To prevail against the Serbs, the
Pentagon had to strip combat assets — war toys and fighting boys –
from other theaters around the globe, call up the reserves, and
dangerously deplete our arsenal of smart munitions.

Because of the diversion of forces to the Balkans, the Pacific Command
didn’t have a carrier battle group at the ready last week when North
Korea invaded South Korea’s waters. Now the U.S. Navy carrier Kitty
Hawk, reinforced with other ships, is on its way to Korea at full steam
to react to the first North Korean naval intrusion into southern waters
since the Korean War. In the fight with Serbia, it took almost 60 days
before the air campaign kicked into high gear. It took 30 days alone to
move a small U.S. Army task force from Germany to Albania to support 24
Apache helicopters that never got into the fight because their readiness
level was so deplorable. Now that NATO’s Serbian peace treaty is a done
deal, at least our considerable naval and air assets that have been tied
up there can be shifted back to areas where we have pressing national
security considerations.

But air and naval power alone won’t hack it. It will take a combination
of air, naval, and ground troops to put down a North Korean and/or Iraqi
attack. The way things are now, the Pentagon couldn’t get to those
threatened theaters “firstest with the mostest” with the minimum number
of ground divisions that would be needed. The past six years of
unprecedented nonvital deployments around the globe in such places as
Somalia, Haiti, Bosnia, and now Kosovo, have worn our troops down and
stretched our forces — both in material and morale — like a rubber
band that’s about to snap, triggering the most serious
readiness crisis since the “hollow force” days right
after the Vietnam War.

Peacekeeping duties in Kosovo will cost the equivalent of a U.S. Army
division — perhaps for decades. Units of the 1st Infantry Division are
deploying there now, having just recovered from an earlier sojourn in
Bosnia. Peacekeeping missions destroy combat readiness. It’s like using
a fine sword to smash boulders into pebbles. After a peacekeeping
mission ends, it takes at least one year coupled with a lot of hard
combat training to resharpen the blade. Over the last four years,
Bosnian duty alone has degraded the combat effectiveness of three of the
U.S. Army’s 10 active duty divisions — 1st Armor, 1st Infantry, and 1st
Cavalry. Soon the 10th Mountain Division will be deployed there and it
too will quickly lose its ability to do what it’s designed to do — to
close with and destroy the enemy.

We must return our armed forces to their proper role of defending our
national interests, and in the case of ex-Yugoslavia, let the Europeans
occupy the Balkans. If our leaders don’t soon get their priorities
straight and stop mirroring the Roman Empire, our valiant warriors will
again pay the grim price for not being ready when the war whistle blows.

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