- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 27, 2002

The reported split between Vice President Richard Cheney and Secretary of State Colin Powell over Iraq had its beginnings more than a decade ago. Few informed correspondents know about its origins although there is nothing classified about that split.
In his otherwise well-informed New York Times report Sunday, Steven R. Weisman seemed oblivious to a historic event that occurred during the Iraq war and which is largely responsible for that irresolvable split between the two Cabinet members.
In early January 1991, a plan, code-named "Operation Scorpion," was proposed to then President George Bush. The plan had the enthusiastic backing of then Defense Secretary Richard Cheney and then Undersecretary of Defense, now Deputy Secretary, Paul Wolfowitz. It was never adopted because of the opposition of Gen. Colin Powell, erstwhile chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, the field commander. Their influence with President Papa Bush exceeded Mr. Cheney's to what must be Mr. Bush's everlasting regret.
"Operation Scorpion," described in a 1995 issue of the National Interest magazine, was written by the author of the plan, Henry Rowen, assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs during the Gulf war. He is a former president of the prestigious RAND Corp. and a former chairman of the CIA National Intelligence Council. Presently, he is a colleague at the Hoover Institution and director of Asia Pacific Research Centre at Stanford University. I reported on this article in a July 1995 column in The Washington Times.
Mr. Rowen's article, titled "Inchon in the desert: My rejected plan," refers to the surprise amphibious landing in September 1950 on Korea's west coast by Gen. Douglas MacArthur during the Korean War. His outnumbered troops were pinned down in southern Korea in what was then known as the "Pusan Perimeter." By using U.S. naval and air superiority, MacArthur transformed the military situation on the Korean Peninsula in favor of the U.N. troops.
The Rowen plan was analogous to the successful Inchon landing although the medium for the operation this time was not sea-water but the sands of Iraq's Western Desert. The desert lands were to be occupied within a 24-hour span west to Jordan and north to the Euphrates by American land forces the 82d and 101st airborne divisions aided by mobile armored and mechanized ground forces. Iraqi opposition would be minimal because most of Saddam's troops were either in Kuwait wreaking havoc or in the north facing Turkey or east facing Iran.
Mr. Rowen's idea had its inception with the first attacks by an Iraqi Scud on Israel and Saudi Arabia on the evening of January 16, 1991. "Operation Scorpion" was based on a valid assumption that because of the Scud's limited range its launchers had to be somewhere in the Western Desert. Occupying this area, Mr. Rowen writes "would effectively eliminate the danger of Scud attacks on Israel, along with all the attendant destruction and political risks to the [anti-Iraq] coalition," By "political risks," Mr. Rowen meant that, had Israel effectively entered the war by responding to the Scud attacks with her own missile counterattacks on Iraq, some Arab countries might have quit the anti-Iraq coalition. "Operation Scorpion" might have provided a highly attractive gain: Saddam's possible overthrow because occupation of the Western Desert would bring coalition troops within 60 miles of Baghdad, the Iraqi capital.
The plan was presented to Defense Secretary Cheney who instructed Mr. Rowen to set up a planning cell and "to tell no one else about it; he would take the idea from here. Indeed he did," wrote Mr. Rowen. To President Papa Bush himself.
The small planning group was headed by retired Army Lt. Gen. Dale Vesser who, writes Mr. Rowen, was "someone not easily taken in by some civilian's cockamamie ideas about military affairs." In other words, Gen. Vesser supported the Inchon idea.
Mr. Rowen says he was troubled at the revelation that Gen. Schwarzkopf's first tactical concept entailed going "up the middle" against Iraqi forces. Such a concept if activated, Mr. Rowen told Mr. Cheney, "could be the charge of the Light Brigade into the Wadi of Death. And no one had a clue about how to deal with the predictable Scud attacks."
The plan was approved by President Bush but he did nothing to push it. Gen. Schwarzkopf in his autobiography, "It Doesn't Take a Hero," described the plan "as bad as it possibly could be." Gen. Powell shared this view, says Mr. Rowen, and developed a different plan a western envelopment around Kuwait that did occur. Successful as it was, it had two drawbacks, says Mr. Rowen "the Scuds flew and Saddam is still in power.
Another critic of Gen. Powell's conduct of the Gulf war is Professor Donald Kagan, military historian at Yale University. In a June 1995 essay-review in Commentary magazine titled, "Colin Powell's War," Professor Kagan blames the general for playing "a leading role in bringing [the Gulf war] to a premature conclusion." He writes: "Instead of being the first act in the establishment of a New World Order of peace, the war was the prelude to a period of disorder in such disparate places as the former Yugoslavia, Somalia, Haiti, Korea and Chechnya."
Professor Kagan found it "especially ironic" that, despite Gen. Powell's opposition to the war and his erroneous prediction that the war would exact a great cost, that he "should have emerged as a major national hero, mentioned as a serious contender for a position on a national ticket and as a possible third-party candidate for president."
For the record, U.S. casualties in battle totaled 148 dead, 458 wounded. Other coalition members suffered 92 dead and 318 wounded. The war lasted 100 hours. Had it continued for another few hours, there might today be no Saddam Hussein, and as for the Middle East, it might have a different look.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide