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
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
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
"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
The most common theoretical scenarios involve renewed fighting
in the Gulf region, coupled with a buildup of forces or war on the
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. …