During the interval between sideshows …

By David Hackworth

The war with Iraq is temporarily on hold while U.N. inspectors prepare to trip through the death factories Saddam is feverishly converting into a chain of kosher deli franchises. For sure the Butcher of Baghdad has rightly figured Bush 43 for the sort of fast gun who’ll shoot at the first trespass with bigger, meaner, smarter and a lot more sustaining bombs than those of Bush 41.

While all remains normal on the Iraqi Gulf – where tankers headed for America and the ports of our oil-guzzling pals are still loading 600,000 barrels of oil a day, pumping more than $120 million a week into our “Most Wanted” enemy’s pocket – we should return to the main event: fighting what promises to be a grim, ubiquitous and protracted war against international terrorism.

To date, America’s multibillion-dollar counterterrorism effort reminds me of a giant sledgehammer attempting to smash an anthill. Lots of muscle backed up by shockingly retro strategies. For example, Dr. Paul Wolfowitz, Rummy’s No. 2 at the Pentagon – who was too busy hitting the books at Yale to bother suiting up for the ’65 to ’73 Southeast Asia War Game – recently ordered all stateside military bases to prepare emergency plans for responding to large-scale terrorist attacks and is calling up Guard and Reserve units to defend them with what amounts to another Maginot Line.

On paper, Wolfowitz’s five P’s sound good: Prior Planning Prevents Poor Performance. Except that while our counterterrorists prepare for al-Qaida types to crawl stealthily under the wire, the terrorists are out there sweating Defense Department decals off cars parked off-base so they can whip through the fortified front gates unchallenged. And, hey, if they luck out and swipe an officer’s sticker, they’ll even be saluted en route to their target.

That’s the problem in one big Bali Bomb heartbeat: The counterterrorist is preparing for the predictable, while the terrorist is planning the unpredictable, limited only by the scope of his imagination and testosterone count.

As long as we’ve got wonks long on logic and short on street smarts calling the shots, we won’t win. And when fighting terrorists, if you’re not winning, you’re losing.

Apart from the blubber-laden Pentagon’s conventional mind-set, other major liabilities are the equally bureaucratized intelligence agencies – NSA, CIA, FBI, etc. – and their continuing the time-honored tradition of pigeonholing any important intell, feuding and fighting among themselves instead of shaping up and sharing the vital juice that produces victories. The Pentagon is so turned off by the red tape and all the bumbling and stumbling of our flawed spook services that the SecDef has actually gone and formed his own multimillion-dollar super-spy agency – not a bad move if it weren’t inside the world’s biggest, most encumbered bureaucracy!

My years of fighting insurgents in Italy, Korea and Vietnam proved in spades that good intell followed up with quick, decisive action is the most effective way to out-terror any terrorist. In Vietnam, my Hardcore Battalion wrote the book – “Steel My Soldiers’ Hearts” – on such actions, while the recent attack in Yemen, where a CIA Predator missile-toting drone knocked out a key terrorist cell, is another classic example of what intelligence coupled with a fast-moving chain of command can accomplish.

Bet you a frag grenade the Predator’s CIA operator didn’t have to clear that missile strike in Yemen with some laptop commando in the Pentagon who would go and play at war over pizza and beer with a platoon of civilian assistant secretaries of defense – who for the most part know as much about fighting terrorists as I know about hairdressing – and then weeks later issue a 100-page order approving the job.

The commander in chief has got to change the way the Pentagon conducts counterterrorism. And a good start would be ordering the SecDef to fire his gang of civvy whizzes who – along with their counterparts in the CIA and FBI – get high grades only for gumming up our ability to fight global terrorism.

Then the president should do unto our sick intelligence services what Winston Churchill did unto the broken British intelligence machine during World War II – replace them with a lean-and-mean action team capable of delivering the hot skinny we need to win World War III.