By Peter Grier, writer of The Christian Science Monitor
The Christian Science Monitor
IT'S a nightmare the Pentagon has worried about for years: dispatching large numbers of United States troops to two far-flung corners of the world at the same time. So far, both in Haiti and in Kuwait, the US military has managed this difficult feat better than perhaps even the Joint Chiefs of Staff believed probable.
In Haiti, a peaceful semi-invasion and occupation have required many ad hoc decisions of US commanders on the scene, to manage the challenging task of protecting the nation's hostile factions from one another.
The attention accorded President Jean-Bertrand Aristide's return this past weekend may have overshadowed what officials claim is a textbook example of US forces' peacekeeping flexibility.
In the case of Kuwait, the Pentagon has managed to move more military power to the Gulf, more quickly, than it did when Saddam Hussein occupied Kuwait in 1990, at the same time threatening Saudi Arabia.
On Oct. 7, just before Iraq's latest move, there were 70 US aircraft in the region. Six days later there were over 200.
The deployment of forces for two regional contingencies has been made much easier by the lack of actual fighting. US airlift and sealift forces have been badly strained, however, and they remain inadequate to meet more demanding military scenarios.
But Clinton administration officials have seized on the military's performance in recent days as an opportunity to try and rebut charges that they have gutted the military via budget cuts and inattention.
"I think that the record shows that the readiness of the forces is ... higher, in my judgment, than it was in 1990, when we were worrying about Iraq the first time," said Deputy Secretary of Defense John Deutch at a Pentagon briefing last week.
The requirement for the Pentagon to be prepared to plan to handle two major regional contingencies (MRCs, in military parlance) at the same time stems from the bottom-up review of US needs launched during the short tenure of Defense Secretary Les Aspin.
The most common theoretical scenarios involve renewed fighting in the Gulf region, coupled with a buildup of forces or war on the Korean peninsula.
A two-headed Korea-Gulf explosion would be far harder to handle than the twin crises now facing Pentagon planners.
Many commanders and military experts think the US no longer has the muscle for this most difficult of MRC situations. US troop strength is now 30 percent less than it was only four years ago. The Air Force, by some measures, will soon have only half the warplanes it had in 1990. …