Tags: Bob | Gates | Air | Force

What You Don't Hear Is What You Get

Thursday, 19 Jun 2008 09:42 AM

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To understand the celebrated firings of the Air Force chiefs, one needs but hark back to Sherlock Holmes’ “curious incident” — the dog that didn’t bark.

Attentive students of the world’s greatest detective will recall Scotland Yard Inspector Gregory’s quizzing of Holmes: “Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has Holmes respond: “To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”

The clueless inspector responds: “The dog did nothing in the night-time.”

“That,” replies the patient Holmes, “was the curious incident.”

Just such a modern-day curious incident occurred June 5, when Defense Secretary Bob Gates sacked both the Air Force chief of staff, four-star Gen. T. Michael Moseley, and civilian Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne. Gates cited two recent incidents of lax Air Force security control of nuclear weaponry.

The first lapse was in August 2006 when the Air Force inadvertently shipped to Taiwan four fuses used to trigger nuclear warheads. The errant fuses had been mislabeled as helicopter batteries. It was not until March 2007, seven months later, that the Taiwanese discovered and returned them to their rightful owner.

It was an acute embarrassment. Hat in hand, the United States had to inform the People’s Republic of China it was all a stupid mistake and not to be taken personally. Communist China, which looks upon Taiwan as a hostile breakaway republic poised like a dagger at its back, gets all hot and bothered if it learns of even an additional hand grenade on the island the U.S. has pledged to defend.

Then came the second incident, later last year. There had been an accidental aerial transfer of armed nuclear cruise weapons from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota over several states to Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana.

Calling the incidents “a significant failure to ensure the security of sensitive military components,” Gates justified the firings “because the focus of the Air Force’s leadership has shifted with respect to its most-sensitive mission.”

Most of the media assumed he meant nukes. He may have, but something else was going on. A dog wasn’t barking in the night-time. With its bias on the war in Iraq, anti-Bush reporters failed to listen for what they didn’t want to hear.

It’s no secret that Air Force bosses have been lobbying Congress for massive additional funding for what everyone agrees is the greatest combat aircraft ever, the F-22 Raptor stealth fighter. Air Force generals with fighter-pilot careers have been dedicated to maintaining their service as a force of manned aircraft. Nothing new here.

Generals with pet strategies have gone behind the backs of presidents ever since George Washington and the Continental Congress.

It’s no secret, either, that Gates wants to focus first on winning the current asymmetrical war rather than loading up for a more-conventional war later. What he wants — right now — are more drones able to deliver ordnance onto discreet targets and, soon to come, exotic, laser-like, pinpoint emanations that can vaporize a Toyota pickup or a goatskin tent full of high-value jihadists.

Gates has been chaffing for months that the Air Force leadership has not been paying enough attention to what he calls “the war we are in.” Could that, rather than nuclear war, have been what Gates meant by “most-sensitive mission”?

Or did he use the nuclear-related screw-ups as pretext to get rid of Air Force brass who didn’t follow his policies? Or was he dealing with both imperatives?

A few months ago, Gates complained at an Air Force war college in Alabama that it was “like pulling teeth” to put more unmanned planes into battle in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now turned dentist, he has extracted two big, aching molars.

To make certain he was not being misunderstood, Gates said “a substantial number” of other Air Force brass also may be disciplined. You can bet that message has now cascaded like lightening down the chain of command.

The media didn’t get it why the dog didn’t bark in the night-time, but the alert lads in blue-and-silver don’t need a lethargic press to explain a curious incident to them. Watch for more deadly drones over Afghanistan and Iraq — soon.

John L. Perry, a prize-winning newspaper editor and writer who served on White House staffs of two presidents, is a regular columnist for Newsmax.com.

Read John Perry's columns here.

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