We’d better tackle 2003 before it tackles us. There’s a lot of what my pal Al Clark would call “SGO” — S*^t goin’ on — that we should be doing something about, not just thinking about.
Right now, American troops are becoming directly involved in Colombia’s battle against narco-terrorists that pass as revolutionaries. Some seventy American advisers are going beyond the training mission they were sent for, and accompanying Colombian forces in operations. This is a big step. This is a potentially dangerous “mission creep” environment, and the President should not let his intentions be mistaken. If we’re going to do this, Boss, let’s do it up right. We may not have enough to deal with Iraq and North Korea at the same time, but we can take care of Colombia, if we really need to. But not by taking baby steps.
The past month of Demo dithering about North Korea should teach us an important lesson. North Korea, less than ten years ago, was in something like the position Saddam Hussein is now. When Lil’ Billy decided to appease them, and buy them out of their nuclear weapons program with food and oil, he blew the chance to prevent them from becoming a nuclear power. Now we really don’t have any means of containing or disarming North Korea without risking a nuclear exchange.
The fact that North Korea’s only cash export crop is Scud missiles — about $800-million-a-year worth — means we aren’t about to stop Kim Jong Il, North Korea’s “Dear Leader,” from selling them. He sells his missiles to anyone with cash, and is quite capable of selling nuclear weapons the same way. The danger North Korea’s nuclear and missile industry poses is enormous. It should be teaching everyone — even Tom Daschle — the lesson that if we don’t deal with Saddam now, while we can, we won’t be able to in a year or two when he has nuclear weapons. It’s like Germany in the mid-1930s. If England and France had attacked Hitler then all of Europe could have been saved from the most destructive war in history. Now is the time to deal with Saddam. Well, almost time.
The Muslim haj — the religious pilgrimage — ends on 19 February. If you were thinking about a short vacation in Baghdad in late February, you may want to change your reservations. It will not be a great place to be at about 0300 on the 28th , when the moon is again dark. Unless you’re in an F-16, in which case it’s gonna be the only place to be.
Two F-16 pilots who won’t be there are Majors William Umbach and Harry Schmidt. The two are the subject of an Article 32 investigation (the military equivalent of a grand jury) to decide whether they will be court-martialed for the accidental deaths of four Canadian soldiers in an incident near Kandahar, Afghanistan, last April. Umbach, as flight leader, is charged along with Schmidt, who dropped a 500-pound laser-guided bomb on the Canadians. The pilots’ defense is that they were never briefed that the Canadians were there.
The only comforting aspect of this case is the fact that the Article 32 investigation is being run by one of the Air Force’s best, JAG Col. Pat Rosenow, an experienced military judge. It is a mistake to prejudge what will happen. The only thing we can be sure of is that Pat Rosenow will run a fair and tight investigation.
The bigger issue in that case is whether the Air Force will investigate and fix the failures of the Coalition Air Operations Center — “CAOC” — commanders who may also have been derelict in their duties. Col. David Nichols, Schmidt and Umbach’s boss, had complained before the incident about the CAOC’s procedures and its communications shortcomings. Sources say Nichols — whose normal function, like Schmidt and Umbach’s — in peacetime, an Illinois Air National Guard pilot, as were Schmidt and Umbach — was too buddy-buddy with his men and didn’t maintain a proper command environment. This is only a small part of the evident problem. Nichols’ complaints about the CAOC need to be investigated. Gen. John Jumper, Air Force boss, should get involved personally to make sure that the CAOC for the Iraq campaign not only has the right information, but is receiving the right information from the other services to do its job. Otherwise, we will have more casualties than we should in the coming campaign, and some will be from friendly fire.
The Iraqis continue to play the U.N. like a fiddle. After months of willful futility, the Blixies were allowed to find some empty chemical missile warheads. Now, the U.N. types, and most of our faux-allies, are saying that a dozen ain’t enough to go to war over. The sad truth is that if Blix & Co. discovered a dozen nukes in Baghdad, the U.N. would say that was only evidence of Iraqi cooperation. All that remains is for Mr. Bush to end this charade. Which he will do around mid-February unless Saddam takes a powder.
Mr. Rumsfeld ended the week with the suggestion that Saddam and any of his generals who cut and run now may get immunity from war crimes prosecutions. Maybe we ought to give them professorships at U.C. Berkeley. With tenure. If we can avoid the war by doing that, we should. The curriculum at Berserkeley wouldn’t change noticeably. But there’s one reason to prevent this from happening: Captain Scott Speicher, USN. Speicher has been MIA since the First Gulf War in 1991. If Saddam — or any of his higher-ups — killed Speicher after he was captured, they must suffer capital punishment for it. If we find Speicher alive — and there’s no reason to think we will — his testimony against his captors in a war crimes trial would have to be conclusive. Any American held that long would deserve the opportunity to make that case. Saddam delendus est.