You have to hand it to Big Dog. He knows how to hit ‘em where it hurts. As WFB pointed out in a recent column, the French are most vulnerable in their pride. Gallic pride — based on a past growing distant, grasping for any present reality — is a rather delicate illusion. In the past few weeks, Mr. Rumsfeld made two decisions that both galled the Gauls. The important one is about Red Flag and Cope Thunder.
Uncle is the sponsor of the two air war-games that anyone who is: (a) a good guy; and (b) serious about having an air force needs to attend. Red Flag — next scheduled for March ‘04 — is the bigger of the two. Held at Nellis AFB in Nevada (yes, Andrew, where Area 51 is, but not usually over it) Red Flag tests and develops tactics. The fly-guys get to do air-combat maneuvering at supersonic speed, and the threats that test their skills are unmatched except in combat. There you find the Aggressor Squadron, a highly experienced bunch of airborne pirates whose principal duty is to study how our guys fight, and find ways to defeat them in ACM. The Aggressors fly everything from our stuff to the latest aircraft of other nations whose birds fall into our hands by defection and, ah, otherwise. Surface-to-air-missile threats are very realistic, and lotsa classified stuff goes on. These days, Nellis runs the Predator and Global Hawk UAVs, so they’re part of the exercise too.
The French air force has traditionally been on the limited invitation lists for Red Flag and its smaller cousin, Cope Thunder (which follows Red Flag by a few months and is held in Alaska). So when Rumsfeld told the Frenchies they were disinvited to both Red Flag and Cope Thunder, their air-force guys were shocked. Being excluded from the best war games sends two unmistakable messages. First, we don’t need you. Second, we don’t want you. Capiche?
Less important but still fun is Rumsfeld’s action on the Paris Air Show, one of the highlights of the business/political social season. One of the most elaborate parties in the world, the Paris Air Show is where the major nations’ air forces and commercial aircraft manufacturers strut their stuff. Russian MiGs, French Mirages, and American F-15s and F-16s have always been the headline entertainment, with pretty cool aerobatic displays.
The Paris show is one of the few occasions that industry, the military, the pols, and the press can get together legally. The parties are elaborate, and the “chateaux” rented by the exhibitors are where businessmen and politicians can accomplish much in a little time. Not this year.
This year, American military aircraft will be on display, but none will fly. And no American officer above the rank of colonel will attend. So the Paris social season will have far fewer bits of gossip about those ill-mannered cowboys who flew into Paris in all those smelly old aircraft. Our aircraft manufacturers will squawk about lost chances for foreign sales of aircraft, but anyone who wants the stuff that just kicked butt in Afghanistan and Iraq knows where to find it. In places such as Fort Worth, St. Louis, and Seattle, thank you very much.
Or at the Farnborough Air Show next year in Britain. The USAF will be there with bells on, and all the guys with stars on their shoulders will have a year of absence to make up for in politicking. This year, the American presence — and the lack of rank in it — at Paris will serve as a powerful and understated reminder of our scorn for the French.
American combat aircraft — the usual assortment of F-15 Eagles, the F/A-18 Hornets, F-16 Falcons, the B-2s and maybe even the F-117s — will sit on the runway while the others caper aloft. Like the gold medallists who watch the consolation game to see who finishes third and fourth, our quiet war birds will speak loudly. Parlez vous francais? Who the hell cares?
— Jed Babbin was a deputy undersecretary of defense in the first Bush administration, and is the author of the novel, Legacy of Valor. He often appears as a defense commentator on the Fox News Channel and MSNBC.