Air Battle Force
Arlington National Cemetery
The next morning
I apologize for holding this press conference in this kind of weather, with no shelter," former president of the United States Kevin Martindale began. As he did, the early-morning downpour seemed to intensify. "Out of respect for this place, I chose not to set up any tents or shelters and add any more to the circuslike atmosphere I'm already creating here. It's also why we're out here in the visitors' parking lot instead of on the grounds themselves, and why I requested that no cameras be aimed toward the cemetery itself. But I did come to Arlington for a reason."
Despite the weather, Kevin Martindale, standing on the running board of his armored Suburban, looked as groomed and polished as if he were in a television studio. In his early fifties, tall and handsome, a former two-time vice president and one-term chief executive, Martindale still looked every inch the political pro and commander in chief. He kept himself in good shape; he still dressed impeccably; he had shaved his beard and cut his hair for this appearance. The famous "photographer's dream" was still there, even in the rain -- the two locks of silver hair that automatically mirrored his mood. If he was angry, they curled enacingly across his forehead, as they did right now; when he was contented, they swept gracefully back across his salt-and-pepper mane.
"I asked you to meet me out here today so I might make an observation and an announcement," Martindale said. "The weather happens to match my mood pretty well."
"Today is a very solemn anniversary: the twelfth anniversary of the last postwar combat deaths of Operation Desert Storm. Two weeks after the Iraqi army was decimated and a cease-fire was declared, a U.S. Army Blackhawk helicopter went down in bad weather over Kuwait, and six brave soldiers were lost. Some of those heroes are interred here in Section H at Arlington National Cemetery. That these losses happened at all is a huge tragedy, but to suffer such a loss after such a great victory against the Iraqi army makes the loss even more grievous.
"Yet it was a great victory for freedom. The mission to release Kuwait from the clutches of Saddam Hussein took only six weeks to accomplish; Iraq surrendered just one hundred hours after the ground war began, after being pummeled into submission by forty days of continuous aerial bombardment. Coalition forces lost just five hundred brave soldiers, against nearly one hundred thousand Iraqi casualties. It was clearly one of the most lopsided wars in history. Those soldiers' deaths were tragic, but it was a mission I feel the United States needed to accomplish. They did not die in vain.
"I bring all this to your attention today to point out an alarming fact: that the United States does not now have the capability to perform that same fight for freedom," Martindale went on. "The United States mobilized two hundred and fifty thousand soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen in six months to fight that last battle. Today it would take us years to mobilize and move the same number of troops and send them halfway across the world to fight. We have no ground forces stationed overseas -- none. We have a total of fifty thousand Marines deployed aboard ships around the world with aircraft-carrier battle groups. Those are the only ground forces that can respond to an emergency. We also happen to have two fewer aircraft-carrier battle groups operational, which in essence leaves one-fifth of the world unpatrolled at any given time.
"In addition, the forty-first president managed to commit, organize, mobilize, and direct another two hundred and fifty thousand troops from fifty-seven nations in the war against Saddam Hussein, including those from six Arabic-speaking nations and another seventeen Islamic nations," Martindale continued. "The current administration has managed to ignore, cancel, violate, and abrogate dozens of treaties; it has alienated most of our allies, created distrust among the nonaligned world, and angered our enemies.
"Thomas Thorn continues to cut the size of the United States military at a ridiculous rate, especially our Army,"Martindale said, his voice rising in anger. "The Army is now one-half the size it was just two years ago, and it continues to shrink. The size of the Reserves and National Guard has increased, but the overall force is still one-third smaller. We have abrogated numerous mutual-defense and cooperation treaties with dozens of nations, most important among them the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which in my opinion has ensured the safety and security of the entire world for almost half a century. Thanks to Thomas Thorn's shortsightedness, the United States is a friendless, futureless desert island hopelessly lost and forgotten in the sea of global geopolitical affairs. We are not adrift -- we are being purposely and maliciously steered around every tragedy, every responsibility, and every crisis, all in the name of splendid isolationism. It is time for that policy to end.
"Now for my announcement: I am hereby announcing the formation of an exploratory committee to become the Republican Party nominee for president of the United States."
Even from this group of Washington reporters, who had been hearing rumors about such an announcement for weeks, there was a loud murmur of surprise. Martindale's aide stepped toward the former president, whispering in his ear that several networks wanted to go live with this press conference. Martindale turned from the podium for several moments as if adjusting his trench coat, but he didn't need to do so -- everyone in attendance knew what was happening. Less than ten seconds later the networks gave the sign that they were ready ... Air Battle Force
. Copyright © by Dale Brown. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.