Pentagon Rigs $250M War Game,
Evoking Yawns from Major Media
Back on August 16 the Army Times ran a long and exceptionally solid
story on how the Defense Departments rigged of a $250 million war game
to show how easily our boys could crush an unnamed foe in the Persian Gulf.
A quarter billion here, a quarter billion there, and pretty soon youre
talking real money. Whats more, Mr. Bush is desperately seeking an
actual war in the Persian Gulf at this very moment, with a named
foe in mind.
Youd think, then, that the press would have paid major attention. Not
Britney Spears or Eminem attention, of course, but maybe at least at
Martha Stewart level.
You would be wrong.
On August 20 a socialist web site, Socialist Worker Online, ran an article based on the
Army Times piece. Next day The Virginian-Pilot ran a piece which added a quote or two. It
was a hometown story for the Virginian-Pilot, as the games were headquartered in Norfolk.
That was it, until the New York Times administered the coup de grace
on August 20. This journalistic piece of work ran under the catchy headline,
U.S. Explores a New World of Warfare. The subhead, too,
clamored for attention: Huge Exercise May Shape Planning.
Readers who waded further into this sludge had to wait till the seventh
paragraph before coming across the first hint that something was fishy:
American forces suffered unexpected losses from a sneak attack early in
the fighting but then emerged victorious.
In the fourteenth paragraph a mysterious figure made a cameo appearance:
Analysis from the enemy commander, played by Paul Van Riper, a retired
Marine Corps lieutenant general, will be incorporated into a final
report. The Mystery Marine then disappeared from the narrative, never no
more to be seen.
To appreciate the significance of this bit of peek-a-boo, I urge you to read
Sean D. Naylors original story in the
Army Times. Now read the full text of Thom Shankers New York Times story debunking it. You be the judge.
Or you can settle for my too-brief summary of Naylors excellent
General Van Riper quit halfway through the game, disgusted because he
wasnt allowed to win. The generals version of the costly exercise,
called Millennium 02, was fully supported by another participant, former
U.S. Ambassador Robert Oakley. The ambassador confirmed that Van Riper had
sunk most of the American fleet. The general quit when he learned that his
orders werent being relayed to his troops in the field -- by command of the
The whole three-week, 13,500-man war game, the general charged, was scripted
to validate the Defense Departments New World of Warfare. (This
is described as a collection of joint-service, high-tech war fighting concepts.)
General Van Riper countered with such low-tech, low-cost concepts as small
fishing boats, light aircraft, and a communications network that relied on
motorcycle couriers and muezzins calling from the minarets of mosques.
Ambassador Oakley told the Army Times that the Joint Forces Command had to halt the
exercise and refloat the fleet before it could continue.
And so on.
And so what, really? The behavior of human beings assembled into large groups
is well understood. The Defense Department is a large group of humans. When
threatened, it can only obey its bureaucratic genes. It closes its eyes, covers
its ears, and spits at the enemy.
The New York Times comprises a much smaller group, but carries the
same bureaucratic genes. Its first institutional reaction to a good story
uncovered by some tiny trade publication will not typically be one of
admiration and large-hearted generosity. Nor would the Times be in
any big hurry to offer its readers this new and instructive information, nor
to hire the journalist who beat out its own Washington bureau.
Instead the first reaction of the reporter who missed the story and the
editors who hired him will be to bury this little upstarts story,
preferably in public. Mr. Shankers article is an excellent example
of how the big boys handle such matters.
Once the Timess man had helped the Pentagon trash the original Army
Times story, further eruptions of it elsewhere could be shrugged off
easily. We here at the real Times had one of our top men look
into that, actually, and unfortunately this Van Riper fellow turned out to be
something of a nut job.
And thus the story died, was buried -- and then, astonishingly, was
resurrected in the New York Times itself. Columnist Nicholas D.
Kristof ran an op-ed piece about the rigged war games on September 6 quoting
General Van Riper and Ambassador Oakley and coming to this conclusion:
Id feel reassured if the decision to invade (Iraq) was being made
honestly, after a rigorous weighing of all the risks. Instead I detect a
cheery Vietnam-style faith that obstacles can be assumed away. That only
works in war games.
Unfortunately Mr. Kristofs column didnt motivate his editors to
call in the old Whitewater team and see what it could do if assigned to a story of
actual significance. But Mr. Kristofs point remains.
This isnt the first rigged war game in Pentagon history, after all.
There was a precedent back in 1962, called Omega. This little-known and
long-forgotten exercise ended with Ho Chi Minh controlling most of Indochina,
in spite of 500,000 American troops on the ground. Since such a result was
obvious nonsense, the strategic planners went back to the drawing board. But
the second dress rehearsal, Omega II, ended the same way.
And so did the play itself, after a bloody run of thirteen years.
(The story of Omega I and II is to be found in
Shooting at the Moon, Roger Warners excellent history of the
secret war in Laos. Ive posted these pages of
his book , and hope youll take a look. Afterwards you can write a
letter to your congressman or to George W. Bush himself, for all the good
itll do you.)