A Costly Void At the Top

The firing of Gen. T. Michael Moseley from the Joint Chiefs of staff has left a void in the nation’s highest war council on which President Bush relies for crucial military decisions.

When Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced in June that Moseley would resign as Air Force chief of staff, and one of six Joint Chiefs, the party line was this: the four-star general botched oversight of the country’s nuclear arsenal.

But an undercurrent of disagreements between the two men did not help Moseley’s cause, defense sources tell HUMAN EVENTS. And his willingness to speak frankly in front of Gates and the president is absent, leaving a Joint Chiefs that generally tows the Gates line.

Moseley challenged the Gates position on several key issues, a close associate of the general’s said.

This source said that when the president visited “The Tank” — the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s conference hideaway where major consensus is reached — Moseley spoke up for the need for larger defense budgets. He also extolled the virtues of the F-22 Raptor, the Air Force’s most sophisticated — and expensive at $160 million apiece — fighter bomber now on active duty at Langley, Va., Air Force Base.

Gates does not want the service to buy any more than 183. Moseley wants 381 — and told the president.

Then there is the issue of future defense spending. Gates complains that his generals and admirals are afflicted with “next-waritis.” He wants the Pentagon to focus on current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Again, Moseley disagreed. The only way to prepare for the next Iraq is to modernize now by buying more weapons systems. And he told the president as much, according to the associate, persuading the White House to approve a higher 2009 defense budget.

“Things like that frankly are missing inside the chiefs right now,” says the Moseley confidant. “Gates says we have ‘next-waritis.’ Well, guess what. Russian just invaded Georgia. That is potentially your next war. We just fast-forwarded ‘next-war-itis.'”

Gates said after the firing, “We’ve had disagreements, to be sure. There’s little use in pretending otherwise.”

Four months after the firing, the real void Moseley’s departure created is the critical issue of Iran and how to stop it from building a nuclear arsenal that would threaten the world. Bush has a little more than three months in office to make such a crucial decision.

Any military action would be built around air power. Precision bombing is the only feasible way to get at Iran’s buried nuclear facilities, absent an all-out ground invasion.

Moseley, sources say, was the only chief able to provide detailed air campaign options to Gates and the president, if asked. Now he is gone, succeeded by Gen. Norton Schwartz.

Moseley is a seasoned fighter pilot. He is the commander who planned the 2003 air campaign against Iraq and then gave orders from a command center in Saudi Arabia to ensure the right targets were hit.

Schwartz came from the Air Force’s transport culture. Although he did fly special operations gunships, his experience is rooted in moving cargo, not strategic bombing.

Today, no chief seems interested in stopping Iran via the military — which is Gates’ firm position.

Adm. Michael Mullen, Joint Chiefs chairman, has all but ruled out military action. He says there are not enough American troops to fight in Afghanistan, much less mount any kind of campaign against Iran.

Gen. George Casey, the Army chief of staff, is focused on improving Army readiness — something he cannot doe if additional soldiers are committed to an Iranian counter-attack against Iraq. Bob Woodward’s latest insider book says Bush doubted Casey’s commitment to winning in Iraq.

“There is no man in uniform who can give the president options the way Moseley could,” said the associate.