BASICS BEFORE BELLS & WHISTLES
BY DAVID H. HACKWORTH
30 January 2001

War is in the wind. But you wouldn't know it if you get your news from Brokaw, Jennings and Rather.

Here's the skinny: The Israelis are leaning forward in their foxholes. Their troops are locked and cocked, and their logistical types have been roving the world with checkbooks at high port, buying bombs and bullets aplenty.

Now the USA is rushing to the rescue:

* All our Scud Busters -- Patriot missiles -- in U.S. Forces Europe have been quietly deployed from V Corps in Germany to Israel. But while we're providing that troubled country with theater missile-protection, we've left our soldiers stark naked, unable to stop a single Scud.

* Our ground combat forces in Germany -- a complete armored corps -- have moved out into the field "to train." An insider there says, "Training, hell. We're contingency planning for a fight in the Middle East."

Armies are always contingency planning. So it could be over the top to say we're going to strip Europe of all our warriors and completely take sides in a conflict that might eventually involve weapons of mass destruction -- nukes as well as chemical and biological weapons.

The deployment to Israel of the 69th Air Defense Brigade -- complete with all its Chem/Bio protection gear -- and V Corps' current war games both began last month on Bill Clinton's watch. The Bush bunch was presented with the problem on Jan. 20. Just the way JFK inherited the Bay of Pigs debacle from Ike, and Clinton had the Somali disaster dumped in his lap by Bush the Elder.

Bush the Younger signed off on the Patriot deployment plan last week when he gave the 69th the green light to go give the Arabs a live-fire anti-Scud sound-and-light show presently scheduled for next week. Now the nightmare's all his, and we can thank our lucky stars he has Dick Cheney and Colin Powell -- who've walked that desert walk -- securing his flanks. And ours.

The Israeli-Arab fight is no new event. Flip open your Bible and you can brush up on the earlier rounds. Like the shootouts between the Hatfields and McCoys, it won't be going away any time soon. Nor will any of the other feuds running hot in Africa, Asia, Latin America, Southern Europe and the former Soviet Union states.

Since World War II, we've become increasingly responsible for making things right in a world full of long-term wrongs. Even more so since the Soviet Bear went down. And right or wrong, as High Sheriff, it's critical that our troops always have what they need to do the job and are razor-sharp enough to do it right.

Bush's new Pentagon team has taken over a military that's worn out -- not only materially but morally. Not exactly Desert Storm good-to-go, the force is more like a fire department with half of its fire engines sitting on flats while four-alarm fires rage in every direction.

Right now, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is eyeballing a shopping list of missiles, ships, fighters and armored vehicles courtesy of the military-industrial-congressional complex, when his No. 1 priority should be rebuilding our force and fixing or replacing whatever basic stuff it needs the most.

Sure, all this dough's great for some of the heavies who dug deep to put Bush in the saddle. But ordering up more whiz-bang, gold-plated wonder gear -- unworkable Star Wars missiles, Cold War F-22 fighters, crash-and-burn V-22 helicopters and new armored cars that promise to make the U.S. Army capable of doing what the U.S. Marines already do well -- should go on hold.

The new SecDef's first order should be to hammer the nail back in the horse's shoe so we don't lose the horse and eventually the rider. Hopefully Rumsfeld, who comes from the old school of never seeing a weapon system he didn't want to buy, can steer clear of any big-ticket Cold War-type spending sprees for a while. You know, impose a shopping moratorium on the bells-and-whistles wonder weapons while he tends to the basics.

Warriors who are well-equipped, well-trained and well-led are far more critical to winning battles than most of that ultrahigh-tech, mainly unnecessary stuff on the wish list that's pretty much just more of the same-old, same-old pork for pals at corporate America.