Just Above Sunset
Volume 5, Number 10
March 11, 2007

War Games

 The world as seen from Just Above Sunset -

"Notes on how things seem from out here in Hollywood..."

How One Learns What to Do

Now these simulation games must have been interesting, as SALON.COM has published passages from Andrew Cockburn's new book, Rumsfeld: His Rise, Fall, and Catastrophic Legacy.  What's covered here begins just after the 1988 elections, with Rumsfeld, his presidential ambitions dashed, finding solace elsewhere.  He had, after all, dropped out of the race for the Republican nomination, and he had then pinned his hopes on being the running mate of his preferred candidate - Bob Dole.  But George Bush - the first one - really disliked Rumsfeld, and then won the Republican nomination and the general election, and Rumsfeld got nothing, not even the post as Ambassador to Japan that he had requested of the first Bush.  Drat - or perhaps, "Rats - foiled again!"

So here's what you do when you're that unhappy -

    A few months after the inauguration, Donald Rumsfeld was invited to play the role of president of the United States in an exercise devised by a Washington think tank. In this scenario, "President" Rumsfeld was intent on securing congressional approval to go to war. "I don't care what you tell them," he barked at White House chief of staff Ed Markey, "just get over to Capitol Hill and make them do it, and make sure there are no constraints."

    "It was an exercise devised by the Center for Strategic and International Studies [CSIS] to study the functioning of the War Powers Act," remembers Markey, a liberal Democratic congressman from Massachusetts. "We acted out roles. I accepted the role of Chief of Staff because I figured that was my only shot at the job." Rumsfeld may have felt the same way. At the age of fifty-seven he appears to have concluded that if he could no longer realistically aspire to be president, he could at least act the part.

    By all accounts "President" Rumsfeld played his role in that 1989 exercise for CSIS with great gusto, raging at the obdurate Congress and deploying the "White House spokesman" (played by the venerable broadcast journalist Daniel Schorr) to maneuver the press into supporting his martial position. But this Washington exercise was a comparatively lighthearted affair compared to Rumsfeld's role in games that were far more elaborate, and deeply secret. Well away from journalists and others lacking highly restricted security clearances, he could perform not merely as a chief executive, but one faced with the awesome responsibility of waging nuclear war.

These second "secret games" were actually official government business - a program known as COG, Continuity of Government - gaming what would happen if the Soviets tried to take out our leadership with a sneak attack.  No one was supposed to know much about them.

And here we go -

    Rumsfeld loved these games. There were others who were frequent players in the exercises, notably Dick Cheney. "Cheney and the others often had other priorities," recalls the former Pentagon official. "Rumsfeld always came." He wasn't just trying to organize a devastated country. He was fighting World War III, or at least simulating what nuclear theory suggested such a conflict would be like.

    Herein lies an aspect of Rumsfeld's career - and character - that remained deeply buried even after word of his participation in the COG exercises leaked out. Faced with the most awesome choices a simulated environment could present, placed in a situation that was designed and advertised as a rehearsal for what might one day be terrifyingly real, Rumsfeld had one primary response. He always tried to unleash the maximum amount of nuclear firepower possible.

    The teams taking part in the game were presented with two main tasks: reconstitution of some sort of working government, and retaliation against whomever had inflicted the disaster. The first of these, reconstruction, was generally considered the most urgent. But this part, according to fellow players, did not interest Rumsfeld. "He always wanted to move on to retaliation as quickly as possible," recalls a former senior official in the office of the secretary of defense, "he was one who always went for the extreme option."

    A former participant, enlisted to take the role of a senior national security official, described how his "war" began with a limited Soviet attack in Europe. "It seemed quite possible to defuse the crisis," he recalled, stressing that the State Department "team," was working to avoid an all-out thermonuclear exchange. Rumsfeld, however, had a different agenda. From the outset, this participant remembers, the once and future defense secretary was determined to "launch everything we had left" at the entire communist bloc, Russians and Chinese together.

    The individual playing the part of secretary of state, however, a canny retired diplomat, was no less determined to stop Rumsfeld obliterating several million people. Using every tactic and stratagem he had learned over the course of a long career, the diplomat waged bureaucratic warfare over the post-nuclear communications system linking the secret hideouts. As an added note of realism, the State Department official playing the role of deputy to the "secretary" evidently thought that his real-life career would be enhanced by supporting Rumsfeld, and therefore did his best surreptitiously to undermine his notional superior. Even so, the diplomat ultimately prevailed. The northern hemisphere survived. Rumsfeld, deeply chagrined at having lost the argument, never forgave his antagonist.

This sounds very familiar, and Andrew Cockburn notes this -

    Insofar as the COG games gave the illusion of reality, they taught Rumsfeld and his fellow players some dangerous lessons, particularly when the fall of the Soviet Union induced some changes in the usual scenarios. Although the exercises continued, still budgeted at over $200 million a year in the Clinton era, the vanished Soviets were now customarily replaced by terrorists. The terrorism envisaged, however, was almost always state-sponsored. Terrorists were never autonomous, but invariably acted on behalf of a government. "That was the conventional wisdom," recalled retired air force colonel Sam Gardner, who has designed dozens of war games for the Pentagon and related entities. "Behind the terrorist, there was always something bigger, and the games reflected that."

    There were other changes too. In earlier times the specialists selected to run the "shadow government" had been drawn from across the political spectrum, Democrats and Republicans alike. But now, down in the bunkers, Rumsfeld found himself in politically congenial company, the players' roster being filled almost exclusively with Republican hawks.

    "It was one way for these people to stay in touch. They'd meet, do the exercise but also sit around and castigate the Clinton administration in the most extreme way," a former Pentagon official with direct knowledge of the phenomenon told me. "You could say this was a secret government-in-waiting. The Clinton administration was extraordinarily inattentive, [they had] no idea what was going on."

All the pieces fall into place - claiming unlimited war powers by steamrolling a witless and silly congress into agreeing to anything at all, and no consideration of "defusing" anything - just go all out and wipe out the bad guys. And add the more realistic Secretary of State fighting you all the way - in the games he lost, but when the real event came along, Colin Powell was shown the door.  You learn from the games, after all.  Add to that getting the nature of the enemy wrong - misidentifying the source of the terrorist problem as really "a nation" that had to be eliminated and not something not tied to any particular country at all - and surrounding yourself with like-minded people who offer no alterative views.  Could you say this was a secret government-in-waiting?  Yes, you could.

This may be a minor news scoop - more historical than useful now, as Rumsfeld is gone. But it does seem to identify the workshop where all the issues were worked out, and role-played so the "failures" didn't happen in real time. You work out how you will handle those who oppose massive nuclear war - you see how they thwart you in the games, and figure out how to make sure they don't do that in real life, if and when you actually run things. It is useful training - making your mistakes in a test environment so you don't mess up when the real thing comes along.

So, with almost everyone agreeing that the White House will announce, sometime soon, that we have begun bombing Iran with nuclear "bunker-busters" to take out their facilities that might be being used to develop nuclear weapons, and begun widespread massive precision bombing to take out the command and control structures, and even more widespread bombing to cut their supply lines (road and bridges and airfields and railroad) to any facilities, the question is clear. Has the administration - now without Rumsfeld but with others who worked hard, trial-and-embarrassing-error, in the test environment - figured out how to pull this off?

The BBC has already reported the details of the Iran attack plans -

    US contingency plans for air strikes on Iran extend beyond nuclear sites and include most of the country's military infrastructure, the BBC has learned.

    It is understood that any such attack - if ordered - would target Iranian air bases, naval bases, missile facilities and command-and-control centres.

    The US insists it is not planning to attack, and is trying to persuade Tehran to stop uranium enrichment.

    … But diplomatic sources have told the BBC that as a fallback plan, senior officials at Central Command in Florida have already selected their target sets inside Iran.

    That list includes Iran's uranium enrichment plant at Natanz. Facilities at Isfahan, Arak and Bushehr are also on the target list, the sources say.

    … BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner says the trigger for such an attack reportedly includes any confirmation that Iran was developing a nuclear weapon - which it denies.

    Alternatively, our correspondent adds, a high-casualty attack on US forces in neighboring Iraq could also trigger a bombing campaign if it were traced directly back to Tehran.

Of course the second alternative is a matter of who does the tracing back. We just need to say that high-casualty attack obviously was Iran doing the bad deed. The American people will buy that.  An angry need for revenge never involves careful thinking, or much proof. When you're mad you're mad - using both senses of that word.

The odd thing is those games in the test environment probably didn't chuck in this variable -

    Some of America's most senior military commanders are prepared to resign if the White House orders a military strike against Iran, according to highly placed defense and intelligence sources.

    Tension in the Gulf region has raised fears that an attack on Iran is becoming increasingly likely before President George Bush leaves office. The Sunday Times has learnt that up to five generals and admirals are willing to resign rather than approve what they consider would be a reckless attack.

    "There are four or five generals and admirals we know of who would resign if Bush ordered an attack on Iran," a source with close ties to British intelligence said. "There is simply no stomach for it in the Pentagon, and a lot of people question whether such an attack would be effective or even possible."

    A British defense source confirmed that there were deep misgivings inside the Pentagon about a military strike. "All the generals are perfectly clear that they don't have the military capacity to take Iran on in any meaningful fashion. Nobody wants to do it and it would be a matter of conscience for them.

    "There are enough people who feel this would be an error of judgment too far for there to be resignations."

    A generals' revolt on such a scale would be unprecedented. "American generals usually stay and fight until they get fired," said a Pentagon source. Robert Gates, the defense secretary, has repeatedly warned against striking Iran and is believed to represent the view of his senior commanders.

So while America was consumed with the Oscar business - and no, when Al Gore held up his Oscar he didn't announce he'd run for president again (video here) - there's word of possible mutiny, or something like it.

On the other hand, that variable may have been in the games, and a way of dealing with it already worked out.

Is this all alarmist nonsense?

Much earlier Newsweek had indicated no - "At least one former White House official contends that some Bush advisers secretly want an excuse to attack Iran. 'They intend to be as provocative as possible and make the Iranians do something [America] would be forced to retaliate for,' says Hillary Mann, the administration's former National Security Council director for Iran and Persian Gulf Affairs."

Enter the nation's preeminent investigative reporter, that pesky fellow who long ago broke the story of the My Lai Massacre and not so long ago broke the story of the Abu Ghraib business - the hooded guy on the stool with the electrodes, the beatings and torture and humiliation and all the rest.  That would be Seymour Hersh with his new piece in the New Yorker.

He is a pain, and opens with this -

    In the past few months, as the situation in Iraq has deteriorated, the Bush Administration, in both its public diplomacy and its covert operations, has significantly shifted its Middle East strategy. The "redirection," as some inside the White House have called the new strategy, has brought the United States closer to an open confrontation with Iran and, in parts of the region, propelled it into a widening sectarian conflict between Shiite and Sunni Muslims.

    To undermine Iran, which is predominantly Shiite, the Bush Administration has decided, in effect, to reconfigure its priorities in the Middle East. In Lebanon, the Administration has coöperated with Saudi Arabia's government, which is Sunni, in clandestine operations that are intended to weaken Hezbollah, the Shiite organization that is backed by Iran. The U.S. has also taken part in clandestine operations aimed at Iran and its ally Syria. A by-product of these activities has been the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to Al Qaeda.

    One contradictory aspect of the new strategy is that, in Iraq, most of the insurgent violence directed at the American military has come from Sunni forces, and not from Shiites. But, from the Administration's perspective, the most profound - and unintended - strategic consequence of the Iraq war is the empowerment of Iran. Its President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has made defiant pronouncements about the destruction of Israel and his country's right to pursue its nuclear program, and last week its supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said on state television that "realities in the region show that the arrogant front, headed by the U.S. and its allies, will be the principal loser in the region."

    After the revolution of 1979 brought a religious government to power, the United States broke with Iran and cultivated closer relations with the leaders of Sunni Arab states such as Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. That calculation became more complex after the September 11th attacks, especially with regard to the Saudis. Al Qaeda is Sunni, and many of its operatives came from extremist religious circles inside Saudi Arabia. Before the invasion of Iraq, in 2003, Administration officials, influenced by neoconservative ideologues, assumed that a Shiite government there could provide a pro-American balance to Sunni extremists, since Iraq's Shiite majority had been oppressed under Saddam Hussein. They ignored warnings from the intelligence community about the ties between Iraqi Shiite leaders and Iran, where some had lived in exile for years. Now, to the distress of the White House, Iran has forged a close relationship with the Shiite-dominated government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki.

    The new American policy, in its broad outlines, has been discussed publicly. In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in January, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that there is "a new strategic alignment in the Middle East," separating "reformers" and "extremists"; she pointed to the Sunni states as centers of moderation, and said that Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah were "on the other side of that divide." (Syria's Sunni majority is dominated by the Alawi sect.) Iran and Syria, she said, "have made their choice and their choice is to destabilize."

What?  If that seems to make no sense, that's because it doesn't, or, as one commentator says -

    Think about this for a moment. The crackerjack Bush administration - which failed to anticipate the rise of Iran once they removed its dangerous enemy from the scene - is supposed to be able to recognize who's who among these various Muslim players and deftly play all the factions against one another in a very discrete and high stakes game in which they finesse a final outcome that brings about peace and security.

    Oh. My God.

Ah… yes. It's a bit distressing as in -

    In case anyone forgot, Al Qaeda are Sunni radicals. And most of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudis. But let's assume they weren't. Can anyone believe that this administration is capable of playing such a delicate geopolitical chess game? Dear God, these are people whose idea of playing checkers is to up-end the board and do a victory dance. Let's just say that subtlety isn't their strong suit.

    This is what Bush and Cheney are talking about when they say that history will vindicate them. The believe that by tearing the middle east to pieces, when it finally settles down after years of carnage and bloodshed, they will get credit for the clever plan that set it in motion.

That does seem to be the idea - and the bulk of the New Yorker item covers how the vice president is directing widespread clandestine operations with no one's approval at all, with the same funds that went missing in Iraq, and doing it "contra style" (as in the Iran-Contra thing where what congress forbade by law was done on the sly). And that is why John Negroponte resigned, or so Hersh was told -

    The government consultant said that Negroponte shared the White House's policy goals but "wanted to do it by the book." The Pentagon consultant also told me that "there was a sense at the senior-ranks level that he wasn't fully on board with the more adventurous clandestine initiatives." It was also true, he said, that Negroponte "had problems with this Rube Goldberg policy contraption for fixing the Middle East."

    The Pentagon consultant added that one difficulty, in terms of oversight, was accounting for covert funds. "There are many, many pots of black money, scattered in many places and used all over the world on a variety of missions," he said. The budgetary chaos in Iraq, where billions of dollars are unaccounted for, has made it a vehicle for such transactions, according to the former senior intelligence official and the retired four-star general.

    "This goes back to Iran-Contra," a former National Security Council aide told me. "And much of what they're doing is to keep the agency out of it." He said that Congress was not being briefed on the full extent of the U.S.-Saudi operations. And, he said, "The CIA is asking, 'What's going on?' They're concerned, because they think it's amateur hour."

And it seems to all be run out of the vice president's office - bypassing all the intelligence agencies and the military. This is very odd.

And then there is this video of Seymour Hersh on Oscar morning on CNN with Wolf Blitzer -

    HERSH: And in looking into that story, and I saw him in December, I found this. That we have been pumping money, a great deal of money, without congressional authority, without any congressional oversight, Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia is putting up some of this money, for covert operations in many areas of the Middle East where we think that the - we want to stop the Shiite spread or the Shiite influence.

    They call it the "Shiite Crescent." And a lot of this money, and I can't tell you with absolute certainty how - exactly when and how, but this money has gotten into the hands - among other places, in Lebanon, into the hands of three - at least three jihadist groups.

    There are three Sunni jihadist groups whose main claim to fame inside Lebanon right now is that they are very tough. These are people connected to al Qaeda who want to take on Hezbollah. So this government, at the minimum, we may not directly be funneling money to them, but we certainly know that these groups exist.

    … We are simply in a situation where this president is really taking his notion of executive privilege to the absolute limit here, running covert operations, using money that was not authorized by Congress, supporting groups indirectly that are involved with the same people that did 9/11, and we should be arresting these people rather than looking the other way.

Maybe we should go to war with Iran. It would be easier than shoving money into the hands of the Sunni-based terrorists that are killing our guys, hoping they'll help us contain Shi'a Iran, a government that the Shi'a Iraq government we set up supports.  A few nukes would be less complicated - except for what happens after.

Richard Einhorn is upset by what's in the New Yorker item -

    As you read it - and you'll have to read it several times even to begin to understand the vertigo-inducing complexities - perhaps, like me, you will shudder to remember that the US is led by a "gentleman's C+" and a demented flake who shot his friend in the face, neither of which have had a lick of genuine experience in the Middle East, not to mention a glimmer of understanding as to how the world works. These are the people who deliberately are sending your children, your friends, and your neighbors to mutilation and death in a faraway desert for no sensible purpose whatsoever.

    Not only that, they've been trained on how to overcome the objections of those who say no to nuking everyone in sight, and on how to work around any laws they pass to stop such things.

All that on the Sunday that gave us this -

    Composer Gustavo Santaolalla won his second straight Oscar for original score for "Babel," a film "that helped us understand better who we are and why and what we are here for," he said. He won the same prize a year ago for "Brokeback Mountain."

That's nice.

This item posted in final version - March 4, 2007

[War Games]

Last updated Saturday, March 10, 2007, 10:30 pm Pacific Time

All text and photos, unless otherwise noted, Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007 - Alan M. Pavlik