Pentagon Bites Back?
October 23, 2002

Maria Tomchick

Now that Congress has given up its duty to rein in George Bush and his Security Council, our best hope to stop the war against the Iraq may just be the dissidents within the Bush administration itself.

On Wednesday, October 16, George Bush signed the Congressional resolution granting him unchecked war powers against Iraq and then spent his day entertaining Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (including giving Sharon the message that it's fine to slaughter Palestinian civilians with missiles and artillery fire).

On the same day, the UN was undergoing an unprecedented open discussion about whether or not to use force against Iraq. The consensus: inspections and diplomacy should prevail. Nation after nation stood up to shake its finger at the USA and condemn the "military option," including a key country that the US had assumed was on our side: Kuwait. The Kuwaiti representative's exact words were: "any use of force must be a last resort and within the United Nations framework."

Then on Thursday, as the State Department hurriedly rewrote the UN resolution to remove all references to the use of military force, the hawks in the administration announced that the US would reserve the right to attack Iraq on its own if the UN refused to take action. But as the State Department agreed to remove other key sections of the draft resolution--the parts calling for troops to accompany inspection teams and that would allow any representative of any of the five veto-wielding nations on the Security Council to join the inspection teams in Iraq at any time--the go-it-alone statement seemed to be just a lot of face-saving bluster.

Why the sudden change? Certainly losing Kuwait's support was part of the reason. But there must be others. Perhaps the Bush administration is distracted by more immediate matters: Sharon's visit, the upcoming visit by Chinese Premier Jiang Zemin, congressional hearings on what was known prior to 9/11, frantic fundraising and campaigning for the November elections, and, of course, the roller-coaster economy.

Maybe. But my favorite explanation for the US' humiliating climbdown at the UN is the split at the Pentagon, State Department, and the intelligence agencies over the impending war. That split is hemorrhaging bits of information that are slowly eroding the Bush administration's push for war.

Just in the last two weeks we've seen charges from the CIA that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his minion, the vile Paul Wolfowitz, are pushing senior CIA analysts to skew data on Iraq in order to support the war drive. Last week, the Washington Post reported rumors that Rumsfeld has been abusive to Pentagon personnel who produce data or opinions that don't fit the program. And just a few days ago, the respected General Anthony Zinni took a strong public stand against Rumsfeld and the other "civilians" in the Bush administration: "I'm not sure what planet they live on, because it isn't the one that I travel." And Zinni has traveled the Middle East extensively in his current role as envoy to Israel and Palestine, and in his former roles as head of US Central Command (which includes the Middle East) and commander of troops in the Gulf War and Somalia.

Other embarrassing leaks have tinged the debate. No sooner had George Bush given his speech to the American people on why we should go to war against Iraq--replete with mentions of "dangerous gases" and "he [Saddam] gassed his own people"--than the Pentagon released classified documents showing that the US government had approved military experiments during the 1960s in which it had tested chemical and biological weapons on its own troops, released dispersal agents over populated areas of the US and Canada, and had tested these agents on British and Canadian troops, too. Some of the chemical agents included VX gas and Sarin.

And last week, the biggest leak of all came from the State Department: North Korea has a nuclear weapons program far more advanced than Iraq's. North Korean officials admitted as much to a US envoy on October 4, but the Bush administration had kept a lid on this information for 13 days, obviously to prevent it from effecting the congressional vote on war with Iraq. Finally, some high-level anonymous source at the State Department was too disgusted to keep it a secret any longer and leaked it to the major wire services, putting the Bush administration into the uncomfortable position of trying to explain why North Korea, a member of the vaunted "Axis of Evil," is now somehow different from Iraq.

Then there were the analysts who verified that North Korea got its nuclear technology from Pakistan, the Bush administration's closest ally in the "War on Terrorism," a nation that more clearly fits the role of arming and financing terrorist groups (the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and Kashmiri rebels) and possessing and passing out weapons of mass destruction to other nations around the world than Iraq ever has.

And let's not forget the sharp, military wake-up call that the US press gave scant attention to back in August. The combined US military forces staged their summer exercise--the "Millennium Challenge"--over three weeks in late July and early August. Planned over the course of two years, it was the most elaborate war game ever attempted, involving 13,000 troops from all branches of the military and sophisticated virtual reality computer models. The scenario was as follows: the Blue Team (representing the US military) would undertake an invasion of Red, a Middle Eastern country in the Persian Gulf ruled by an evil dictator. Obviously, it was a dress rehearsal for the invasion of Iraq.

The Red Team was led by a retired Lt. General and Vietnam Veteran named Paul Van Riper. Van Riper managed in the first few days of the game to bring the war to a halt and defeat the combined US military forces before the invasion has even begun. How did he do it? He sank the entire US naval fleet.

Van Riper used small speed boats, fishing boats, civilian yachts, and small propeller planes armed with conventional explosives. As the US naval fleet steamed towards Red, Van Riper gave a coded signal--broadcast not as a radio transmission (which could have been jammed by US technology), but as a call to prayer from the minarets of mosques. The fleet of kamikaze boats and planes then went to work, smashing into US military ships and airbases in the same way that terrorists had bombed the USS Cole in Yemen two years ago. In addition, some of the small boats were armed with a few Chinese Silkworm-type cruise missiles, which they used to sink the US' only aircraft carrier and two marine helicopter carriers. Within hours, Red had won the war.

That was when the US military planners who were refereeing the exercises called a halt and resurrected the US navy from its watery grave. In addition, they told Van Riper that US planes he had already bombed to pieces had just flown over his country and destroyed his microwave communications system. He would have to use satellites and cell phones. Oh no, Van Riper insisted, we'll use motorcycle couriers and make announcements from the mosques. When it looked like he was going to win a second time, the planners told him to turn off his air defenses and move his troops away from the beaches so the Blue Team could land and invade. Even with these improbable handicaps, Van Riper managed to inflict significant casualties on invading US forces. Finally, when Van Riper found out that his orders to subordinates were being countermanded by the referees, he quit in disgust.

Van Riper's conclusion is that the US military learned nothing from this exercise, but I'm not so sure. With Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, and now Kuwait refusing to go along with the plan, the US will have to rely more heavily on aircraft carriers to stage the kind of huge bombing campaign that was a hallmark of the US wars in Afghanistan and Yugoslavia. A large number of uniformed officers at the Pentagon will have the disastrous "Millennium Challenge" on their minds as the civilian hawks in the Bush administration (Rumsfeld, Cheney, Rice, Wolfowitz, etc.) push for an invasion of Iraq.

If retired Marine Gen. Anthony Zinni is any indication, they may be able to put the brakes on this insane idea.

The juiciest sources for this article: "In the Council: Pleas for Unity and a Debate on Resuming Arms Inspections," excerpts from statements made before the UN Security Council, The New York Times, 10/17/02; "France Holds Key to Deal in UN Debate on Iraq," Evelyn Leopold, Reuters, 10/18/02; "CIA Feels Heat on Iraq Data," Greg Miller and Bob Drogin, Los Angeles Times, 10/11/02; "Toxic agents tested on US soil," Thom Shanker, NY Times, reprinted in Seattle P-I, 10/9/02, A1; "Marine General Speaks Out Against Bush's War Plans," Eric Boehlert, Salon, reposted on Alternet, 10/17/02,; "US Says Pakistan Gave Technology to North Korea," David E. Sanger and James Dao, NY Times, 10/17/02; "Wake-up call," Manchester Guardian Weekly, 9/26-10/2/02, p 20; and "In Small Iraqi Port, Saddam's Handouts Keep Boats Afloat," Wall Street Journal, 10/7/02, A1.