Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Gulliver learns to fight Lilliputians


By PAT MURPHY

Promoters of exotic supersonic stealth aircraft and restocking the U.S. nuclear arsenal with mightier missiles still roam the halls of Congress urging more billions for superpower weapons. Yet, the reality is that the American military is being tied down by expeditions against low-tech terrorists and pirates, not against intercontinental behemoths such as China and Russia.

For a visual analogy, imagine novelist Jonathan Swift's 1726 fictional character, human-sized Gulliver, tied down by 6-inch-tall Lilliputian mini-people swarming over his immobilized body.

For the past six years, the U.S. "Gulliver" has spent some $700 billion and exhausted hundreds of thousands of troops, not to mention losing billions of dollars worth of equipment, fighting Lilliputian terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan whose weapons consist mainly of homemade roadside bombs, rocket launchers and human suicide bombers.

Now the new threat—Somali pirates in battered old skiffs with outboard motors venturing 50 miles and more out to sea to stop enormous tankers and cargo ships, board them and hold millions of dollars of shipments and crews hostage until they are paid princely ransoms. Their weaponry: pistols and AK automatic weapons.

Happily, unchallenged piracies have been substantially hampered by President Obama's executive order giving the Navy leave to rescue Capt. Richard Phillips from pirates, even with lethal force if required.

To completely remove the piracy threat to several thousand ships plying waters off Somalia, the same sort of decisive action will be required to destroy nests of pirates whose incomprehensible ransom payoffs totaling millions of dollars have transformed illiterate, low-skilled Somali criminals into uber-rich national heroes.

Once again, a lesson is being taught to American military planners. The latest piracy was ended by the skills of daring, human, Navy SEAL, rifle-armed snipers, not by ultra powerful weapons costing billions.

A similar lesson was learned in the Korean War when hundreds of thousands of Chinese foot soldiers bearing bolt-action rifles, a modest supply of ammo and blanket rolls filled with rice overwhelmed United Nations forces backed up by air support, tanks and artillery.

The lesson was taught again in Vietnam. An essentially guerilla army sent U.S. forces scurrying in defeat.

Tactics and equipment developed for Iraq and Afghanistan convinced President Obama and Defense Secretary Robert Gates to budget for a military uniquely prepared for more primitive warfare in the Third World, including training officers and enlisted personnel to deal with civic affairs and human needs of an embattled combat zone.

Happily, this change in arms may move the world farther away from the chance of nuclear war.




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