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Rumsfeld 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 officers faced.

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 gullibility.

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 year."

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 of weeks.

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.

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