Department of Offense
April 22, 2003
Once again, I'm a bit confused about this country in which
we live. Amongst the two Bushes which have found themselves
in the Presidency, this current insanity of ours is the fourth
premeditated war in, to date, the six years of their tenure.
Current Bush administration officials are hinting at new
targets - even as we simply try to get our bearings on our
military location in Iraq - through warnings issued almost
simultaneously by Rice, Rumsfeld, Bolton, et al, to Iran and
Syria. North Korea awaits.
These wars (in Panama, the Persian Gulf, twice, and in Afghanistan),
have all been surrounded with a good deal of secrecy and phony
motives in one way or another - the destruction in Panama
was clearly a police action designed to obtain habeas corpus
of Manuel Noriega, whereupon he was tried in strict secrecy
in the United States (for purposes of national security, mind
you), and ferreted away to a jail cell, incommunicado, for
a very long time.
The first Gulf War, as we only found out later, was largely
a carefully orchestrated event intended to sucker Saddam Hussein
into a mistake, which we could then use as an attempt to obliterate
The war in Afghanistan, much heralded as a humanitarian action
to free women there of the burqa, was, in fact, a warning
to the Taliban that they should play ball with American corporations
regarding the no small matter of a pipeline, and secondarily,
was a bloodletting to avenge the events of Sept. 11, 2001.
This latest war, oft heralded as a liberation, has also been
described by this Bush administration as an international
response to Iraq's failure to comply with UN resolutions,
as a move for "regime change," as the elimination of weapons
of mass destruction and, wrongly, as a response to terrorism.
The reason shifts with the winds of the Arabian desert, it
What characterizes each of these wars, the events leading
up to them and their aftermaths, is a profound belief that
military force can be used in expeditionary and imperialistic
ways to fix screw-ups, to manipulate other nations and to
micromanage the world economy. It seems, from the evidence,
that this belief is one singularly held by the Bushes and
by the truly weird people they attract from the right wing
of the political spectrum.
The military has been under the civilian control of, first,
the Secretary of War. During the years prior to WWII, that
office was a somewhat sleepy one, and during WWII, was very
busy, under the administration of Henry Stimson, formerly
Secretary of State under Herbert Hoover. After WWII, the National
Security Act, signed by Truman in July, 1947, created a Department
of Defense (designed as a measure to contain, according to
George F. Kennan's policy suggestions, the increasing threat
of the Soviet Union, which Kennan has recently suggested might
not have been the best course of action), and a new service,
the US Air Force, out of the Army Air Corps. At the same time,
the spooks of the wartime Office of Strategic Services, the
OSS, lobbied for the creation of what we now know as the CIA,
created by that same legislation.
Henry Stimson was out of government in 1946, elderly and
retired, but his influence continued on, especially through
a curious little club on the Yale campus known as Skull and
Bones. Stimson, a member of that secret society, held sway
as the warhawk emeritus of the group, and his ideas and occasional
visits permeated the lives of that club's members. Both the
elder and younger Bushes are members of that secret society,
and came under the sway of Stimson's views.
Stimson liked war - he viewed it as a national purgative,
and according to one of his biographers, felt that a war was
necessary every generation. And he liked the idea of war as
a test of leadership. George H.W. Bush is said to have often
been seen at Camp David in the months leading up to the first
Gulf War with his copy of Stimson's biography, The Colonel:
The Life and Wars of Henry Stimson.
What, though, has caused these two Bushes to imagine war
as needing to be fought in serial fashion, one after another,
as quickly as possible?
The influence of the right wing certainly has something to
do with this program of perpetual war for political gain -
of that there is no question. The history of the Department
of Defense, though, might offer other reasons. On every Strategic
Air Command base throughout the last decades, one could find
a sign at the main gate with the shield of the Air Force,
and the slogan, "Peace is Our Profession." This was indicative
of the original mission of the Department of Defense - deterring
harm through show of force - a warning to the Soviets that
swift and violent retaliation was inevitable, if we were to
Three or four decades ago, that was a big if, and the principle
of "mutually assured destruction" kept both the Soviets and
the US from mutually-enabled holocaust, even though the US
carried a much bigger nuclear stick at the time. But, around
the time of the late '50s, Eisenhower got itchy. The military
scared him about runaway communism in the Third World, and
he sent in a trickle of "advisors" to Viet Nam. By 1960, he
was worried about the "military-industrial complex" but had
done nothing to limit its power. The threat of communism seemed
greater. The right-wing in the military had made its point
Our intervention in Viet Nam is seen now as a military and
political misadventure, but it was still the first major lapse
in the Department of Defense's original mandate for defense,
rather than offense, in the post-WWII world. The CIA had been,
on its own, meddling in the Middle East, Africa and Latin
America, but those covert actions did not require a fully-outfitted
commitment from the military to either further or protect,
such as the war in Viet Nam eventually made necessary.
The effective loss of that war, the effective failure of
diplomacy to stop the war (in part because so much of what
formerly the State Department had done had been taken over
by the CIA and the military) humbled the military. For nearly
ten years, the principles of overwhelming force and superior
technology had been touted by the military, particularly under
Gen. Westmoreland, as the means to victory, and yet, there
was no victory, the grubby guerillas of the Viet Cong having
brought down the military giant, by the same means Gen. Washington's
forces overcame Cornwallis' two hundred years prior.
In the years after the official conclusion of that war, in
April, 1975, I would guess that there were many long, subdued
conversations in the Pentagon about the reasons for that failure.
Some may have blamed the administration politicians (certainly
the CEOs of that war, such as McNamara, the whiz of Ford Motor
Co. and, apparently, little else, deserved some blame). Others
probably blamed Congress for getting them into it (but, after
all, it was DoD's fudged intelligence which was presented
to Congress as the basis for the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution).
Some, thinking more deeply about it, likely came to the conclusion
that it was the military itself which helped promote a war
it then could not win.
Much has been made of the 1962 "Northwoods" plan (detailed
in James Bamford's recent book Body of Secrets) as
an example of the government's willingness to deceive for
political purposes, but this analysis misses an essential
point. The plan was conceived entirely within the minds of
a few individuals among the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and those
military men were mightily coerced by the thinking of far
right-wing organizations such as the John Birch Society.
The plan, to "frame" Cuba for attacks on US citizens and
force an invasion of the island, was dismissed by the civilian
government, John Kennedy's administration. Top military leaders
sought to persuade their civilian overseers of the need for
pre-emptive action, rather than taking direction from the
civilians. Through the military, the far right wing sought
to influence US policy in a way no sensible person would consider.
Kennedy would have nothing of the plan, and a few months after
its offering to McNamara, its prime signator, Army Gen. Lyman
Lemnitzer, was removed from the chairmanship of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff and quietly reassigned, as a warning to the
others not to meddle too deeply in the affairs of the government.
But, meddle they continued to do, and in 1964, handed Lyndon
Johnson a cobbled-up bit of evidence to suggest that the Vietnamese
had attacked one of our vessels (which just happened to be
spying on the Vietnamese) in the Gulf of Tonkin. Johnson took
the bait, and the far right wing, via the military, finally
had their shooting war against communism.
In the fifteen or so years between the end of the Viet Nam
war and the first Bush administration, the leaders and thinkers
in the armed services had lots of time to analyze what went
wrong in Viet Nam, and a few undoubtedly came to the conclusion
that their leadership had overstepped the bounds of its mission
of defense, had fallen prey to the sirens of the right, and
once in the soup, had to swim in it, for seventeen long years.
Military leadership, while still well to the right, politically,
of the average American, came to understand that Viet Nam
was largely a mistake of its own making.
By that time, however, Ronald Reagan was President and was,
through the far right, rattling the communists' cage. It is
telling, in a way, that after Reagan ordered Marines to Lebanon
in support of Israel's failed policy of police occupation
there, the military did not demand that America respond with
a massive retaliation after the Marines' barracks were attacked
by suicide bombers. The Joint Chiefs then, implicitly, understood
that they shouldn't have been there in the first place.
Even more telling is that Reagan's response to that suicide
bombing was to divert troops already headed for the Middle
East to Grenada for an impromptu and unplanned war against
- who else? - the communists. A small-arms locker at the end
of a runway and a few Cuban construction workers were enough
to make an election snit and political assassination in Grenada
the new Cuban Missile Crisis, replete with reconnaissance
photos. While the press made much of distraught medical-school
students arriving at Florida airports, PBS' "Frontline" documented,
years later, the truth of the encounter - including Marines
being given tourist maps with which to direct artillery and
air strikes. Quite clearly, the above-ground military establishment
had stopped actively planning for any and all regional wars
But the far right-wing had not. Hawks in the Reagan administration,
many of whom are now in the Bush II administration (the remainder
having retired to the relative comfort and wealth afforded
them by hosting right-wing radio talk shows), sought to engage
in a wholly illegal war of terrorism against the Marxist government
of Nicaragua, at one point enlisting the always helpful CIA
to mine that country's harbors. By this time in Reagan's administration,
the "Great Communicator" was having difficulty with any task
without the help of 3x5 cards, and much of the drudge work
fell onto the shoulders of George Herbert Walker Bush, former
CIA chief, vice-president and political godchild of Henry
Stimson, the master of war.
Bush, largely by virtue of a weak Democratic candidate and
the help of an obscure black convict by the name of Willie
Horton, became the 41st President of the United States, and
likely intended to continue the right-wing tradition of fightin'
communism, except that, suddenly, there wasn't any communist
enemy to speak of any longer. The Soviet Union's collapse
was in full bloom by 1989, and Bush was the staunch anti-communist
president with no one in jackboots with whom to dance.
The far right, not knowing what to do without a strong enemy,
immediately sought out another. No available candidates? Look
for one. And Bush, rummaging through his Rolodex of old CIA
acquaintances, found one - Manuel Noriega. Suddenly, after
years of not being noticed by anyone except the CIA, an occasional
old girlfriend, the Panamanian public and much of Latin America,
Noriega was the US's dictator to hate and America's political
center of attention. The elder Bush excoriated Noriega for
drug-dealing (must have been a shock to the old man, what
with Noriega being a CIA paid informant and all), brutalizing
his Panama constituents and being an all-round pervert.
Nary a word of consequence, throughout this political build-up
to war, was heard from the military. Then, when an American
soldier was shot dead by a PDF guard, Bush, ignoring treaties
with both Panama and the OAS, launched in late 1989 "Operation
Just Cause," which, apart from some very serious and unnecessary
bombing of civilian areas of Panama City, rapidly devolved
into a Keystone Kops police action. Noriega, by most news
reports, was finally captured in the Vatican embassy, but
not before the press had a chance to gleefully tell America
of his hole-in-the-wall, purportedly filled to overflowing
with pornography and cocaine.
Afterwards, the Commander in Chief of the Air Force opined
that "it was give up Panama or go in all the way." Otherwise,
there was no suggestion that the military had any great desire
to bomb, strafe and debilitate Panama. Quite the contrary,
it was the civilian government, with the support of the far
right and George Bush, and his Secretary of Defense, one Richard
Cheney, which made that decision. Full reparations to Panama,
as promised, have yet to have been made.
Then, on the heels of that triumph of democracy through military
power, Bush set his sights on bigger fry - a real dictator
- Saddam Hussein. Support of Hussein's dictatorial regime
throughout the Reagan administration and well into the first
Bush administration has already been well-documented and needs
no further elucidation.
What does need some further explanation is exactly how Bush
suckered Hussein into invading Kuwait. Hussein virtually bankrupted
Iraq in his pursuit of war against Iran during most of the
1980s. Unable to pay his debts, or to sell enough oil, Hussein
borrowed money from Kuwait, postponed other debts to Kuwait,
and allowed Saudi Arabia to pump extra oil as if it were Iraq's
own, but not for free - rather, as a loan. There was the decades-long
dispute over the border with Kuwait, too. But, the final straw,
in Hussein's mind, was that Kuwait was found to be slant-drilling
into Iraqi oil pools under and across an already-contested
border. Kuwait would offer no relief for Iraq's war debts
and was stealing its oil, besides. US intelligence knew all
of this. As well, US intelligence also knew that Iraq was
negotiating with the other Arab states to keep all of the
Shatt al Arab waterway as a condition for dropping its complaints
In the summer of 1990, Iraq began to move troops, mostly
inexperienced conscripts backed by Republican Guards at the
rear, to the Iraq-Kuwait border. Bush, Cheney and other far
right US defense policy civilians sensed an opportunity. On
July 25, 1990, the US Ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, met
with Hussein to discuss his troop movements. Hussein made
clear his demands about Kuwait to Glaspie, and she asked,
according to the transcript of a tape Hussein was making secretly,
"what solutions would be acceptable?" Hussein then explains
if they must live with only their half of the waterway, they
would instead give up all the waterway to pursue action against
Kuwait. He then asks of Glaspie, "What is the United States'
opinion on this?"
At this point, Glaspie, the diplomat, might have offered
that the US desired not to usurp any authority from the Arab
League, but would be happy to offer all its diplomatic services
to avoid bloodshed and restore harmony to the region, and
could have warned that the US would take a dim view of any
Iraqi aggression without all diplomatic avenues being first
explored. Glaspie, to further emphasize the point, might have
suggested that after almost nine years of war, Iraq's finances
were the central issue, and US diplomatic help with the Arab
League and OPEC might improve that situation. That, indeed,
would have been the diplomatic way.
But, that's not what she said - not even close. Instead,
she is recorded to have told Hussein, "We have no opinion
on your Arab - Arab conflicts, such as your dispute with Kuwait.
Secretary [of State, James] Baker has directed me to emphasize
the instruction, first given to Iraq in the 1960s, that the
Kuwait issue is not associated with America."
Ambassador Glaspie quotes her boss, James Baker, to make
it clear that the green traffic signal is policy and not just
the independent musings of an ambassador. Eight days later,
Iraq invades Kuwait, on Aug. 2, 1990.
Moreover, what is less quoted from the same transcript is
Glaspie stroking Hussein, telling him not to be concerned
about an unfavorable US news program about him, saying, "I
saw the Diane Sawyer program on ABC. And what happened in
that program was cheap and unjust. And this is a real picture
of what happens in the American media - even to American politicians
themselves. These are the methods the Western media employs.
I am pleased that you add your voice to the diplomats who
stand up to the media. Because your appearance in the media,
even for five minutes, would help us to make the American
people understand Iraq. This would increase mutual understanding.
If the American President had control of the media, his job
would be much easier."
If that transcript had been read to Congress before the debate
on a resolution for war in the Persian Gulf, instead of false
testimony from the intentionally misidentified daughter of
the Kuwaiti ambassador about babies being thrown out of their
incubators, the vote likely would have been much different
than the 55 for, 45 against that it was.
The important point, again, is that the far right in the
White House, in concert with its State Department, were the
instigators in this conflict, not the higher-ups of the military.
The military was still mindful of the lessons it had learned
from Viet Nam and before, and of the hawks in its midst.
Hussein takes the bait, and Bush, Cheney, Baker and the far
right defense civilians pounce on him for the kill. Hussein
is demonized by the Bush administration in the same manner
as was Noriega. Hussein, though, being a bigger fish, demands
that a bigger hook be used, and the Bush administration pulls
out all the stops, albeit selectively. Hussein ordered the
use of poison gas against Iranian troops during his war with
that country (no mention of our knowledge of that three weeks
prior to the visit in 1983 of our special envoy, Donald Rumsfeld,
with Hussein); Hussein used poison gas on his own people (without
mention that the Kurds were not exactly his own people, having
fought for autonomous control of their region in Iraq, nor
mentioning that CIA analysis of that attack in Halabja in
1988 was less than sure about the deaths originating from
Iraqi actions - as former CIA senior analyst Stephen Pelletiere
has suggested, many of the Kurdish deaths stemmed from cyanide-based
gas, which Iran was known to use, rather than from mustard
gas, which Iraq was believed to have used in that battle with
Iranian forces); the story of the babies thrown on the hospital
floor was repeated by Pres. Bush ad infinitum, even
after the suspicions of the press had been aroused; stories
of torture abounded from the administration, as well as those
of Hussein having starved his people to build weapons of mass
destruction to support his wars and opulent palaces to support
As before "Operation Just Cause," there was a period of some
months of cheerleading from the Bush administration before
"Operation Desert Storm," the gleefulness in it barely disguised,
its clear intent to bring the press and the public into line.
Some of the stories, no doubt, were true (Saddam Hussein being
fundamentally ruthless), while many more were exaggerated
for effect. Iraqi citizens, for example, before the first
Gulf War and the sanctions, were reasonably well-fed and not
well-down on the indices of general health, as they are now.
The emphasis, in Panama and the first Gulf war, was not on
furthering civilization, but rather was of a Stimsonian show
of force, purgative war.
Much the same process has occurred with the right's, and
Bush's, wars against evil. Afghanistan was "freed," but only
for the cameras. In the year afterwards, as many have documented,
the country has fallen once again into chaos - the pipeline
deal has been signed, but the Taliban are taking territory
in the southwest of the country, bombings and assassinations
continue in the former Taliban stronghold of Kandahar, and
aid organizations are pulling people out. After three brutal
weeks of killing in Iraq in this, the second Gulf war in a
decade or so, that country is in chaos, in the grip of uncontrolled
looting and arson, US Marines indifferent to the damage done
to museums and ordinary citizens alike. What was important
was not the stated goals, but rather, the right's show of
force, and the furtherance of corporate aims.
None of the wars initiated by the elder and younger Bushes
are over. They've left bitter sores in Panama, Iraq, Afghanistan,
sores which, without the antibiotics of diplomatic energy
and independence, will fester into future terrorist acts against
us and our few allies in these crusades.
The reason for these failures is the determination of the
right to turn the Department of Defense into the Department
of Offense, to use economic and military might for perverse
aims, for purposes of conquest and empire, first by trying
to turn the heads of the military, and failing in that, turning
the heads of the civilian government.
From the end of the Korean conflict until September 11, 2001,
our military has been used offensively - in places as remote
as Viet Nam, Somalia, Iraq, Libya, the Philippines, Grenada,
Lebanon, Latin America - to no ultimately good effect. Terrorism
and despotism remain. And yet, in the one single instance
since WWII which required truly defensive action to protect
our own territory and people, the hijacking of airliners on
September 11, the Department of Defense failed utterly. The
entire system of defense, from the web of civilian radar to
the massive monitoring capability of NORAD to the fighter
aircraft of the Tactical Air Command to the predictive values
of our intelligence services, broke down and failed to defend
Whatever conclusions the commission on terrorism may eventually
make, one truth is evident. Our military, used as it has been
for fifty years for offensive purposes, has lost sight of
its mission, which is, simply, that of defense of territory
and citizens. Lately, it has done so at the bidding of just
a few fanatical men in our midst, men who boldly imagine themselves
modern-day Machiavellis advising the twenty-first century's
punpirate is a New Mexico writer who ponders 479 A.D.