Democratic Underground  

The Department of Offense
April 22, 2003
By punpirate

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 him.

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 seems.

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 be attacked.

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 to Eisenhower.

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 against communism.

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 against Kuwait.

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 his ego.

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 us.

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 lesser princes.

punpirate is a New Mexico writer who ponders 479 A.D.

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