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WASHINGTON — Ten years ago, foreign enemies watched, slack-jawed, as U.S. armed forces put on a high-tech show in the Persian Gulf.

They previously had no idea what U.S. military capabilities were, especially in the areas of night vision, sensors and weapons technology. And everyone from China to Iran to Syria were shocked at the ease with which the U.S. smashed Saddam Hussein’s vaunted
army.

“They said, ‘Gee, we didn’t know we could get our clocks cleaned like that,’” said Dave Klimaj, a former Defense Department engineer who worked on night-vision and sensors technology. “So they spent the next 10 years stealing our technology — that is, when [former President] Clinton wasn’t handing it to them on a silver platter.”

“During the Clinton years,” he said, “military-defense technologies were shipped overseas in a giant fire sale.”

Peter Leitner, a Pentagon export-control officer, agrees that the previous administration’s relaxation of controls on dual-use exports has given U.S. enemies — namely China and the anti-American terrorist states it re-exports U.S. military-related technology to — an unnecessary leg-up in conventional warfare.

“Clinton effectively dismantled the military-related export controls regime,” said Leitner, who reviews dual-use export license applications for the Defense Threat Reduction Agency.

“And now, that technology is gone,” said Klimaj, who retired from the Pentagon last year. “You can’t pull it back. It’s overseas.”

In the new war against terrorism, expected to start any day now, Klimaj predicts that American forces will “see our technologies being shot back at us.”

He also suspects the ruling Taliban militia of Afghanistan, with whom China has unusually close ties, may use American sensors and other technology to track and target American forces.

“We’ll use that to shoot at them, but you don’t think they’ll be so stupid that they won’t see us coming with our technology?” he said. “The cat’s out of the bag.”

“That’s the worst thing,” he added. “When we go to war, we’re fighting our own technology now, because it’s all gone. And they’re all laughing at us.”

Klimaj doubts missile strikes or carpet-bombing will do the job in Afghanistan, where the terrain is so rugged, and soldiers so dug in, that the invading Soviet army eventually gave up and retreated. In 1998, U.S. forces pumped some 60 Tomahawk cruise missiles into Osama bin Laden’s terrorist training camps in Khost, Afghanistan, and they didn’t touch bin Laden.

Enter the “n”-word. Klimaj thinks, regrettably, that the U.S. may have to resort to using low-grade tactical nuclear weapons this time.

“I don’t think the conventional weapons will work,” he said. “I think we may have to use little nukes.”

“Nobody likes to see that word [nuke], but you can’t carpet-bomb Afghanistan,” Klimaj argued. “It didn’t do any good in Vietnam. It really didn’t work that well in the Gulf. And it’s not going to do anything now.”

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