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How Did We Get Into This War?

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By John E. Carey
December 10, 2006

During the autumn of 1990, the leadership of the United States military and its civilian government, planned an assault upon Saddam Hussein and his forces. Saddam had pushed his military into Kuwait. President George H. W. Bush said, "This will not stand."

The players were an all star cast. Most had mutual respect if not admiration for the others. And they all got along. Colin Powell was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs. Dick Cheney was Secretary of Defense. James Baker was Secretary of Defense. General H. Norman Schwarzkopf ("Stormin' Norman") was named to head the fighting forces. And a man that had headed he CIA, served at the nation's ambassador to China and Vice President under Ronald Reagan for eight years was president: George H. W. Bush.

The assault upon Saddam's troops in 1991 was carefully planned and regulated within the limit of the "Powell Doctrine."

General Colin Powell articulated the Powell Doctrine, also known as the Powell Doctrine of Overwhelming Force in the run up to the 1990-1991 Gulf War. The Powell Doctrine is more probing questions than a recipe for success. In fact, its questions look like a way to avoid catastrophe not assure success.

The questions of the Powell Doctrine need to be answered affirmatively. The questions of the Powell Doctrine are listed here and the questions are truly on the mark when contemplating a large scale military effort against another country:

1. Is a vital national security interest threatened?
2. Do we have a clear attainable objective?
3. Have the risks and costs been fully and frankly analyzed?
4. Have all other non-violent policy means been fully exhausted?
5. Is there a plausible exit strategy to avoid endless entanglement?
6. Have the consequences of our action been fully considered?
7. Is the action supported by the American people?
8. Do we have genuine broad international support?

When President George W. Bush became president, he appointed Donald Rumsfeld as his Secretary of Defense. Rumsfeld had been chairman of a commission advocating the acceleration of America's missile defense effort. He also loudly advocated drastic changes for the Pentagon. "Transformation" became the lingo of revolutionary change in the Department of Defense.

In a speech at the National Defense University in January 2002, Don Rumsfeld spoke about his vision for transformation. With war already raging in Afghanistan, the Secretary of Defense said, "This is precisely what transformation is about. Here we are in 2002, fighting the first war of the 21st Century, and the horse cavalry was back-and being used in previously unimaginable ways. It shows that a revolution in military affairs is about more than building new high-tech weapons-though that is certainly part of it. It is also about new ways of thinking... and new ways of fighting.....preparing for the future will require us to think differently, and develop the kinds of forces and capabilities that can adapt quickly to new challenges and unexpected circumstances."

Mr. Rumsfeld continued, "We decided to move away from the two Major Theater War (MTW) construct for sizing our forces-an approach that called for maintaining two massive occupation forces, capable of marching on and occupying the capitals of two aggressors at the same time and changing their regimes. This approach served us well in the immediate post-Cold War period, but it threatened to leave us over-prepared for two specific conflicts, and under-prepared for unexpected contingencies and 21st Century challenges."

But not everyone agreed with this vision of the future size and composition of the U.S. military. A key voice of dissent came from the Chief of Staff of the United States Army itself: General Eric Shinseki. The Army read "transformation" as a prescription for a smaller, lighter force devoid of heavy artillery and stripped of other heavy weapons. Rumsfeld favored Special Operations and other expeditionary forces. The Army had a stake in big numbers and big budgets.

Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld replaced General Shinseki with a Special Forces man who had already retired: General Peter J. Schoomaker. This was an affront to many leaders in the Army who saw many highly capable contenders for the job already serving and not yet retired. The "buzz" among Army personnel in the Pentagon was "Rumsfeld has rejected all of us."

Bill Gertz, the national security reporter of the Washington Times recorded the nomination of Shinseki this way: "The choice of Gen. Schoomaker is seen as part of Mr. Rumsfeld's effort to reshape the service from a structure of large, heavily armored divisions into a more agile force modeled on Special Forces commandos, who played key roles in recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Mr. Rumsfeld hopes the smaller units also can move around the world quickly and easily. The pick is viewed as a slap at the current roster of Army four-star and three-star generals vying for the service's top post, because defense secretaries do not usually reach outside the ranks of current active-duty officers to pick a chief of staff."

To make the affront worse, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld sent his regrets when invited to the retirement ceremony of General Shinseki. A retirement ceremony of a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is normally a "command performance" for the SecDef and even the president. Rumsfeld had signaled again that he would not tolerate any dissention on his plan for a smaller Army.

General Shinseki had made his views known on the plan to invade Iraq. He thought the plan just had too few troops to ensure security once the fighting ended. His uneasiness spilled into the media: enraging Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfawitz and the other civilian leaders devoted to Mr. Rumsfeld.

All this shows the strain in the Pentagon in the run up to the war to depose Saddam. Secretary Rumsfeld said again and again he was pushing for new thinking: and one of the things lost while thinking new thoughts was the Powell Doctrine.

It is easy to become a back seat driver or an arm chair quarterback; so I will not elaborate further. But if reasonable people look at the questions of the Powell Doctrine and ask themselves how these questions might have been answered before the invasion of Iraq; many will conclude that there were troubling signs of failure even before the military action commenced.

And why didn't General Colin Powell himself insist upon strict adherence to the Powell Doctrine before the war? Because protocol limited his ability to dissent. Powell had retired from the military and was now the Secretary of State. In the normal business of the U.S. government, he was encouraged not to "meddle" in the affairs of the Pentagon.

Furthermore, two very strong personalities, Don Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, stood squarely and firmly in Powell's way. Combined with CIA Director Tenet saying, in the presence of the president and the other key leaders, that the evolution was a "slam dunk," Powell certainly felt that there was a consensus to go to war with or without him.
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John E. Carey is the former president of International Defense Consultants, Inc.
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