Wed Oct 16, 2002

War Games

Two interesting posts, one from William Burton and one from the Daily Kos about the lack of communication between civilian war hawks (with no military experience) and military and intelligence experts who know how to plan a combat operation. Burton digs up a fascinating old item from Suck about Norman Schwartzkopf’s autobiography. I remember “Stormin’ Norman” had a public image as a just-do-it kind of guy. Turns out that was mostly PR, and he was very careful about what he was doing with his forces. More careful than the Secretary of Defence wanted him to be:

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Colin Powell called to warn the Desert Storm commander that he was being loudly compared, by a top administration official, to George McClellan . “My God,” the official supposedly complained. “He’s got all the force he needs. Why won’t he just attack?” Schwarzkopf notes that the unnamed official who’d made the comment “was a civilian who knew next to nothing about military affairs, but he’d been watching the Civil War documentary on public television and was now an expert.”

And then, twenty pages later, Schwarzkopf casually drops the information that he got an inspirational gift from Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney right before the air war finally got under way. Cheney was presenting a gift to a military man, and he chose something with an appropriate theme: “(A) complete set of videotapes of Ken Burns’s PBS series, The Civil War.”

But that wasn’t the only gift that Dick Cheney had for Norman Schwarzkopf. Having figured out that the general was being too cautious with his fourth combat command in three decades of soldiering, Cheney got his staff busy and began presenting Schwarzkopf with his own ideas about how to fight the Iraqis: What if we parachute the 82nd Airborne into the far western part of Iraq , hundreds of miles from Kuwait and totally cut off from any kind of support, and seize a couple of missile sites, then line up along the highway and drive for Baghdad? Schwarzkopf charitably describes the plan as being “as bad as it could possibly be… But despite our criticism, the western excursion wouldn’t die: three times in that week alone Powell called with new variations from Cheney’s staff. The most bizarre involved capturing a town in western Iraq and offering it to Saddam in exchange for Kuwait.” (Throw in a Pete Rose rookie card?) None of this Walter Mitty posturing especially surprised Schwarzkopf, who points out that he’d already known Cheney as “one of the fiercest cold warriors in Congress.”

Burton and Kos provide the commentary. The insulation of a group of decisionmakers from experts and new information, and the arrogation of expertise to one’s trusted circle, are both strong symptoms of Groupthink.