As US military officials study the impact of NATO's 78-day air war over Yugoslavia, they are in danger of missing the real lessons to be learned about the use of air power.
During the war, NATO made claims of large damage to Serb forces, partly to help maintain the unity of its 19-member alliance. (Remember the claims during the Gulf War about the Patriot antimissile system?)
Now the Pentagon would like us to believe the Serb military was forced into submission by the "rolling thunder" of bombs. But, sorry, those forces remained largely intact. The number of tanks destroyed was minimal. And the quick exit of Serb forces showed they were still a fighting force with high morale.
The bombing in Kosovo itself was driven by a political necessity to show that NATO was trying to prevent the forced exodus of ethnic Albanians, an attempt that largely failed.
The real lesson is that strategic bombing of economic targets in Serbia - bridges, factories, power plants, TV stations - forced Sloboban Milosevic to capitulate.
For his political survival, Mr. Milosevic probably also calculated that he couldn't split NATO unity, gain help from Russia, keep the Kosovo Liberation Army from growing, or prevent an eventual NATO troop invasion.
The war was won not by one military destroying another, but basically when NATO finally began to seriously damage Serbia's civilian "assets."
War - and lessons from wars - are too important to be left to generals. Let's not allow the Pentagon alone assess the effectiveness of air power in this war. A misreading could lead to increased spending in the wrong areas. President Clinton should set up an independent commission immediately to sift out the lessons of this air war for future conflicts.