Drops a Load
October 3, 2002
By Jerome Doolittle
Until it became convenient, which was yesterday, the Pentagon
flat out refused to release videotape of our planes bombing
targets in the no-fly zone of Iraq. The risk to our pilots
was simply too great.
Now that this has been judged to be no longer the case,
on Monday the Defense Department showed reporters gun-camera
tape that purported to show an Iraqi missile battery aiming
and firing at one of our planes.
I say "purported" because I was once the spokesman for a
secretive air war carried out in Laos by the U.S. Air Force.
A succession of junior State Department officers was assigned
to ride herd on the air force's bombardments. Their impossible
job was to monitor hundreds of sortie requests daily. Some
years ago I wrote a novel called The Bombing
Officer about the moral dilemma these State Department
To a man they believed -- and could demonstrate -- that
the Air Force consistently lied to them about target selection,
intelligence reports, map coordinates of the targets themselves,
and bomb damage assessments.
And so I read today's New York Times account of
the Pentagon's newest reality show with a certain lack of
Go and read the full story. Okay, now that you've now done so, let me
point out a few things that caught my eye.
"At today's news conference, the Pentagon officials said
Iraq fired at allied warplanes patrolling the northern and
southern zones 642 times in 2000, 647 in 2001 and 416 times
This comes to a total of 1,705. It averages out to 53.5
attacks per month in 2000, and 53.9 last year, and 46.2 so
far this year.
The response of Lt. George W. Bush, Texas Air National Guard
(ret.) to this slight downturn in alleged attacks on our planes
has been to step up our retaliatory bombing in the last couple
The Russians immediately suggested that these strikes were
intended to "influence talks opening in Vienna over procedures
for allowing United Nations inspectors back into Iraq."
But bluff, straight-talking Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
called it "'nonsensical' to blame the United States and Britain
for responding to increasing attempts by Iraq to shoot down
allied warplanes patrolling the no-flight zones."
Evidently none of the Pentagon reporters thought to ask
the secretary how a decrease in Iraqi attempts on our airplanes
had morphed into an increase.
Nonetheless, it only takes one missile to kill you. And
so here is Secretary Rumsfeld again, expanding on the diminishing
peril to which we had increased our response:
"Here you have U.S. and British planes flying daily to enforce
the U.N. resolutions, putting their lives at risk, these pilots
and air crews, day after day after day for years, and the
U.N. not enforcing its own resolutions. With each missile
launched at our air crews, Iraq expresses its contempt for
the U.N. resolutions -- a fact that must be kept in mind as
their latest inspection offers are evaluated."
But here's a curious fact that must be kept in mind as Mr.
Rumsfeld's latest straight talk is evaluated: every one of
those 1,705 attacks failed to hit every one of those allied
planes. In nearly three full seasons, the Iraqi gunners are
batting an impressive 0.000.
And yet we are told by the Defense Department: "Iraq has
successfully rebuilt its air defense to levels that existed
before the Persian Gulf war in 1991, and the integrated system,
connected by Chinese-made fiber optics, is formidable, the
officials said. General Myers said Iraq has 'got a pretty
good supply of long-range radars.'
Naturally such formidable defenses require an equally formidable
response, and thus:
"The military has changed its tactics to attack their command-and-control
and communications buildings to 'try and degrade this and
we've had some success there.'"
But apparently not much, because:
"The Pentagon officials acknowledged that the retaliatory
strikes had not deterred Iraq from firing on the allied planes.
'It's difficult for us to impose a level of damage that would
make it in their interest to adhere to the U.N. resolutions,'
Mr. Rumsfeld said."
As a veteran air war spokesman in an earlier imperial adventure,
all this strikes me as being the exact same color as chocolate
ice cream. But if I were you I wouldn't pick it up off the
sidewalk and eat it.