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COLUMN SEVENTY-EIGHT, NOVEMBER 1, 2002
(Copyright © 2002 The Blacklisted Journalist)
BY NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
HOW WE WON THE WAR
NYTimes.com Article: How We Won the War
Date: Fri, 6 Sep 2002 08:36:55 -0400 (EDT)
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September 6, 2002
How We Won the War
By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
The American fleet confidently steamed off to war in the
Persian Gulf recently " and promptly got creamed.
This was an elaborate war game, not the real thing, but it
reminds us that an invasion of Iraq won't necessarily be a cakewalk. Moreover, a
general who participated says that the war game was fiddled with in ways that
raise questions about whether the government is returning to a Vietnam-style
overoptimism and myopia.
The game, Millennium Challenge 2002, was the largest such
simulation ever held, involving 13,500 people. It began, key participants say,
with the Americans confidently assuming that they could intercept enemy
communications and predict enemy movements.
But the enemy didn't cooperate. It used motorcycle couriers
instead of radio and electronic messages, and sent orders as code words inserted
into the muezzins' call to prayer " and this went right by the American
The upshot was that the enemy "sank" much of the
American fleet as the exercise opened. Oops.
"It shows that a relatively primitive or
unsophisticated enemy can find ways to surprise you," said Robert Oakley, a
veteran American ambassador who played the role of the enemy leader in the war
Millennium Challenge was not directly about Iraq. It was
scripted as a war against Iran set in 2007. Moreover, Saddam Hussein's best
options were not available to the enemy, as the war games did not permit
terrorist attacks in America, shelling of Israel, use of chemical or biological
weapons, or urban fighting.
Still, the $235 million exercise should teach us one clear
lesson relating to Iraq: Hubris kills.
This was a simulation. So the Pentagon miraculously
reconstituted its sunken fleet and attacked again.
That's standard for war games, where the idea is not just
to win but also to test equipment and concepts. But the absurdism got worse. The
people running the war games even ordered the enemy to pull its forces back in
order to allow American units to land safely, according to Paul Van Riper, a
retired Marine lieutenant general, who played the enemy's military commander.
"Then I asked to use chemical weapons," General
Van Riper recalled. "That was refused."
The people running the war games even ordered the enemy to
disclose some of its troop locations so that the Americans could find them,
General Van Riper said. And when the enemy figured out how to move its chemical
weapons around so that the Americans could not find them, that caused problems
for the simulation " so control of the chemical weapons was handed over to the
Americans, who then managed to destroy them.
The Pentagon view of the exercise, not surprisingly, is
more glowing: U.S. technology and coordination shined (and the U.S. crushed the
enemy in the end). Gen. Peter Pace, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,
indicated that such war games are artificial scenarios that inevitably require a
certain amount of unreality, like reviving the dead.
"I absolutely believe that it was not rigged,"
General Pace said. Allowing the enemy to use chemical weapons against the
Americans, he said, would have disrupted the entire exercise and added to its
O.K., it's true that war games are not hell. The test will
be whether the Pentagon studies the mistakes made, applies lessons to Iraq
planning, and sticks pins into Bushies who are unreasonably overconfident about
I asked General Van Riper if the war games should make us
nervous. "There's an unfortunate culture developing in the American
military that maybe should make you nervous," he said. "I don't see
the rich intellectual discussions that we had after Vietnam. I see mostly
slogans, clich's and unreadable materials."
General Van Riper said the mood reminded him of the mindset
in Vietnam: excessive faith in technology, inadequate appreciation of the fog of
war, lack of understanding of the enemy, and simple hubris.
Myself, I'm a wimp on Iraq: I'm in favor of invading, but
only if we can win easily. So can we?
I'd feel reassured if the decision to invade 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.
Copyright The New York Times Company ##
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