Twilight of the Bombs

This book by Richard Rhodes has the long subtitle, “Recent challenges, New Dangers, and Prospects for a World without Nuclear Weapons.” I was eager to read the book because of previous Rhodes books, Making the Atomic Bomb and Dark Sun. I considered the author to be a diligent researcher, but was surprised to read his assessment of the down-sizing of the nuclear-weapon production “.  .  .partly in response to unilateral and negotiated arms reductions, partly because public concern had caught up with its environmentally abandoned ways. The FBI had actually raided the Department of Energy’s plutonium-production facility at Rocky Flats, in Colorado, in 1989, looking for evidence (which it found in abundance) that the DOE and Rockwell International, a contractor, had violated environmental-protection laws.” (212-213) Rhodes obviously read the headlines and didn’t bother with careful research that would have told him there were not actual violations of environmental laws. He could have learned the complicated truth about the outcome of the raid by reading my book, An Insider’s View of Rocky Flats: Urban Myths Debunked. Regardless of that major flaw, the book contains interesting information. Rhodes also mentions that “.  .  .Rocky Flats, the only facility capable of producing plutonium pits, was permanently closed.” (page 218) That statement would have been more accurate if it had said Rocky Flats had produced most of the plutonium pits for several years. Continue reading

America’s Plans for War Against the Soviet Union, 1945-1950, Vol. 14, Long Range Planning, Dropshot

A review was posted last week of Vol. 13 in the series of books edited by Steven T. Ross and David Alan Rosenberg. That book evaluated the military plan called “OFFTACKLE,” which called for being prepared to engage in war with the Soviet Union in the late 1940s to early 1950s with 220 atomic bombs dropped on Soviet targets followed by conventional bombing. Volume 14 carries the plan into the future with the Soviet attack into Europe expected to occur in 1957. The extra time allowed the planners to produce the war plan with the code name “DROPSHOT,” which expanded the scale of the attacks. DROPSHOT was being prepared when NSC-68 was written, which was a planning document calling for an extensive U.S. rearmament plan. The Korean War and the fall of China to the Communists reinforced belief that World War III with the Soviets was inevitable. This volume1 contains the declassified (from top secret) facsimiles of the Joint Chiefs of Staff document JCS 1950/5 prepared in three sections. The basic assumption is that “…war against the USSR has been forced upon the United States by an act of aggression of the USSR and/or her satellites.”

It was believed that the massive Soviet conventional forces would sweep into and through Europe when the Soviet leaders decided that war would be to their advantage. Their armies were expected to be in control of Western Europe in twenty days. The report indicates that there was more confidence in intelligence about Soviet capabilities that in previous war plans. For example, “The committee is now informed that the Joint Intelligence Committee has available a revised estimate of the 1957 Soviet atomic bomb stock pile.” One aspect of planning that didn’t change was that it was considered strategically important to hold the oil producing areas of the Near and Middle East. Continue reading

Ending the Iraq War: A Primer

I previously reviewed the book “The Good Soldiers” by David Finkel about an infantry battalion that was part of the surge, and that led me to read a book that gives the anti-Iraq war perspective. This book by Phyllis Bennis certainly fits that description. There are quotes from a report by the National institute for Strategic Studies describing the war as creating “…an incubator for terrorism.” I may have chosen poorly, since the book has not had a single review posted on Amazon.

I attempt in my reviews to let authors tell their side of the story without editorial comment and then post disagreements in a posting on the blog link. There were sections that gave me difficulty complying with that approach. The book does contain interesting information about the history of Iraq and its ethnic diversity.

I thought using “frequently asked questions” to introduce discussion was a good approach. One question was, “Didn’t the ‘surge’ strategy work?” General Petraeus’s reported that the surge was working. The author disagreed, writing that the reduction in violence in Iraq came from the unilaterally declared ceasefire by Moqtada al-Sadar and his Mahdi Army militia and also because of payments given to Sunni militias in exchange for them not targeting US and UK occupation troops. Violence spiked in 2008 when Prime Minister Maliki ordered an attack on Sadr’s militia in Basra. Large numbers of Iraqi soldiers and police defected to Sadr. Iran arranged a ceasefire between the two Shi’a forces.

Many of the conflicts are between the Sunnis and Shi’a (most books use the term Shiite) militias. Sunnis Arabs make up 15-20 percent of the population and were disproportionally privileged in wealth and power in Saddam Hussein’s Ba’ath Party. Shi’as are 55-60 percent of the population. The Kurds are primarily Sunnis.The Kurds have been protected by the US and are the most supportive of US policy. (There are an estimated 30 million Kurds in the world, and they are often named as the largest ethnic group without a state of their own.) Some have tried to make people think of themselves as Iraqis instead of Sunni, Shi’a, or Kurd, but with little success. One fact that is not in dispute is that there are fewer Iraqis in the country because of the war. An estimated two million Iraqis fled mostly to Jordan and Syria.

The borders of Middle East countries were established by “…the French-British trading schemes…” Faisal was appointed by the British to be king in 1921, and his son and grandson succeeded him. Faisal II was overthrown in a revolution against the monarchy in 1958. The Ba’athist government was officially secular but dominated by Sunnis. The book mentions that the CIA “…helped orchestrate the coup…” Saddam Hussein took control in 1968.

There are criticisms of several U.S. politicians to include Henry Kissinger, who developed and funded a plan for Iraqi Kurds to launch an uprising against Baghdad to weaken Iraq in its war against Iran. The Kurds were abandoned and were overrun by the Iraqi military after the war. Kissinger was said to have commented “…covert work should not be confused with missionary work.” President Clinton is criticized for claiming the U.S. was required by the UN to enforce the “no fly zone.” No UN resolution mentions creation or enforcement of such zones. All politicians arguing whether Iraq should be divided in three parts or united are said to be “…rooted in a set of thoroughly colonial assumptions about who has the ‘right’ to impose their will on Iraq and Iraqis from outside.”

The book frequently mentions “lie after lie” by the Bush administration in advocating the start of the war. Specifics include weapons of mass destruction, nuclear weapons programs, uranium yellowcake in Niger, Iraqi links to al-Qaeda, and Iraqi involvement in 9/11. There is a question whether U.S. actions brought a constitution to Iraq. There was a constitution adopted in 2005, but it was drafted mostly by U.S. lawyers under contract to the State Department.

The question “What war crimes have been committed in Iraq?” begins with bombing civilian targets and a long list of other actions designated as war crimes during the Operation Desert Storm in 1991. The twelve years of economic sanctions that followed were said to have resulted in the death of half a million Iraqi children. Secretary of State Madeline Albright infamously replied to a question about the children, “We think the price is worth it.” The invasion of Iraq is characterized “…as what the Nuremberg principles identify as the worst war crime: a crime against peace in the form of a war of aggression.” The “…congressional authorization passed in November 2002 granting Bush permission to go to war…” did not make the invasion legal.

Part II of the book presents the Bush administration’s arguments for the war and, in the opinion of the author, dispels them. The war is said to have increased recruitment of terrorists instead of making us safer. Iraq had carefully controlled borders before the war, but the U.S. demobilized the border guards. “Iraq has been transformed into a gathering place…for global terrorists…” The author says the real reasons the U.S. wanted a war were, “…oil, power, and ideology.” There are lengthy discussions that oil was main objective. There is a sarcastic comment in a couple of places that Americans seem to think the invading troops would be welcomed “…with sweets and flowers and singing in the streets.”

Part III discusses global effects of the Iraq war. The brutal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein was ruthlessly secular and not a safe place for fundamentalist Islamic terrorists. Iraq now “…is global center stage for a concentrated host of terrorist forces.” The war has “…accelerated recruitment for al-Qaeda.”

There is an interesting discussion of how many Shi’a sought refuge in Iran during Saddam Hussein’s rule, and many of those have now returned to Iraq. Iran was one of the first countries in the region to recognize the government of Maliki, and one of the few to maintain full diplomatic relations. The other powerful Iraqi Shi’a, al-Sadr, spends much of his time in Iran “…burnishing his religious credentials…”

Part IV is about ending the war, and I don’t intend to spend much time with that since U.S. combat troops were withdrawn in December 2011 after the book was published. The author directs strong criticism toward the U.S. Congress which “…essentially abdicated its constitutional responsibility to declare or reject war in 2002 when it gave the Bush administration the power to decide whether to go to war against Iraq. Congress could have ended the war at any time by refusing to vote supplemental war funding bills out of committee.

See the posting on the blog link for an update about current events in Iraq.

Why George H. W. Bush Ended Operation Desert Shield in Iraq

I recently posted a review of the book “Second Chance:  Three Presidents and the Crisis of American Superpower” by Zbigniew Brzezinski in which he gives President George H. W. Bush a “solid B” for his foreign policy performance. However he said that Bush I’s greatest failure was stopping the Persian Gulf War,or “Operation Desert Shield,” before the last twenty divisions of Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guard were attacked and destroyed. As a result, the Guard was able to crush a Shiite rebellion that followed the withdrawal of collation forces, which allowed Hussein to remain in power. My recollection was that Bush ended the war because that was what was required by United Nations resolutions. I decided this was a subject worth researching, because the decision has had far-reaching foreign policy effects.

The first thing I found in researching the issue was a YouTube video of Bush announcing the end of the war to a joint session of Congress. Most of the over five minute video is of standing ovations by every member of Congress. The longest ovation was for Cheney and Powell for their role for planning and executing the war.

The Persian Gulf War Resolution was adopted by the House of Representatives and Senate January 12, 1991 and authorized the use of U.S. military force against Iraq “pursuant to United Nations Security Council Resolution 678.”  That resolution gave Hussein until January 15, 1991 to withdraw from Kuwait. The UN would employ “all necessary means” to liberate Kuwait after that date. In addition to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the resolution specifically mentions the risks of Iraq using weapons of mass destruction. “Whereas, Iraq’s conventional, chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs and its demonstrated willingness to use weapons of mass destruction pose a grave threat to world peace…”  “Operation Desert Shield” was the name selected for the operation probably because of the intent to prevent Hussein from expanding his invasion into Saudi Arabia.

The war began on January 16 with heavy bombing and missile strikes. The land war began on February 23 after Iraq set massive fires in Kuwait’s oil fields. The war lasted a mere 100 hours with coalition forces easily and brutally rolling up the badly outmatched Iraq forces.

UN Resolution 686 states that the members would “…bring their military presence in Iraq to an end as soon as possible consistent with achieving the objectives…” Therefore, after Kuwait had been liberated and the Iraqi army was in full retreat, the UN stipulated that hostilities would end. Those were the orders given by Bush I.

An excellent report on the war and why Bush decided to end it when he did clearly states the war was ended in concert with the UN resolutions that were so crucial in arranging the delicate coalition of Arab and other countries to end Iraq’s occupation of Kuwait. Bush knew that the war had been approved by the UN to end to occupation of Kuwait, and any expansion would result in difficulties for the coalition and perhaps an even bigger war. There was also the question of swinging the balance of power from Iraq to Iran.

History has shown that the failure to take out the last divisions of Hussein’s Republican Guard has had a long lasting and obviously negative effect on the foreign policies of the United States. It is quite easy with the clarity of a rear view mirror to see what should have been done. However, I can’t help but wonder what skilled diplomats, such as Zbigniew Brzezinski, would have done or what they would have counseled should have been done if they had been in the position of advising Bush I. Would they have advised ignoring the UN resolutions that had been so skillfully crafted and negotiated that led to the liberation of Kuwait, or would they have been more aggressive and “imperialist” and ordered coalition forces to crush remaining Iraq forces in violation of the UN resolutions. It doesn’t take too much imagination to picture what would have happened in Iraq if the Republican Guard and effectively the government of Iraq had been destroyed. The Shiite uprising would undoubtedly have created a civil war that would, I speculate, make the current instability in Iraq look mild. What would the United States have done then? Would Brzezinski have advised Bush he needed to establish control to fill the vacuum left by the defeat of Hussein?

My rear view mirror assessment of what Bush I did in Iraq was exactly what most diplomats would have recommended, and he would have been criticized even more strongly if he had ignored the intent of UN resolutions and taken out the Iraq government. Too bad things didn’t work out well after his decisions, but I predict things would have been worse absent his decisions.

Atomic Obsession: Nuclear Alarmism from Hiroshima to Al-Qaeda

The front flap of John Mueller’s book begins with, “Ever since the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, the prospect of nuclear annihilation has haunted the modern world. And since September 11, 2001 the view that nuclear terrorism is the most serious threat to security of the United State or, for that matter, of the world has been virtually universal.” The author then goes to great lengths to say the risks have been exaggerated… Chapter 5 begins with “Although nuclear weapons seem to have had at most a quite limited substantive impact on actual historical evens…they had a tremendous influence on our agonies and obsessions.” The antinuclear movement is mentioned as an example of the agonies and obsessions.

The author says in the Preface he wanted the book to be a remedy for insomnia and that the purpose is to put to rest “…excessive anxiety about nuclear weapons.”  Many others have created anxiety with warnings about al Qaeda acquiring nuclear bombs and the nuclear ambitions of North Korea and Iran. There were similar warnings about China, India, and Pakistan, but no calamity has yet resulted by those nations joining the “nuclear club.”

Part 1 is about the effects of nuclear weapons. “Beyond doubt, nuclear weapons are the most effective devices ever fabricated for killing vast numbers of people…” However, Part 2 discusses why nuclear weapons have had an exaggerated role in international politics. The author repeatedly mentions the enormous financial and resource costs in development of massive arsenals in the United States, the former Soviet Union, and other countries that would have been better spent on other ventures.

Risks from radiation that would be released by a “dirty bomb” are exaggerated because “…ghoulish copy sells.”  The greatest risk would be caused by the panic by people who have been inculcated that even traces of radioactive materials are deadly. About 20 percent of the general population will develop cancer, and people in the area where a “dirty bomb” is exploded will have a barely measurable increase in risk. Chernobyl raised the risk of thyroid cancer, but the risk of other cancers was increased by less than one percentage point with no increase in birth defects. (I expect some readers will object to this statement and many others from the book.)

There is interesting information postulating that the Soviets never wanted to see World War III; the memories of the horrors and massive losses of World War II told them another world war was to be avoided. “Indeed, three central rules for Soviet leaders were ‘avoid adventures, do not yield to provocation, and know when to stop’.” They did know when to stop during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Khrushchev said there was not a single person among the Communist leaders who believed that the Soviets “…could defeat the United States, or that we were seriously preparing for a nuclear war with the United States. No one, as far as I know, had this absurd notion.” The United States demonstrated its manufacturing might to the Soviets during World War II by supplying them with hundreds of thousands of military vehicles, millions of boots, and “…over one-half pound of food for every Soviet soldier for every day of the war (much of it Spam).”

Some countries that had nuclear weapons decided to not keep them. South Africa dismantled theirs after deciding they were more trouble than they were worth. Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan sent the weapons in their countries back to Russia after the Soviet Union collapsed. The Ukraine in particular wanted no part of nuclear weapons with the memories of Chernobyl. Libya terminated its nuclear weapons development program when it noticed the ease with which Iraqi military was defeated.  

I bogged down because of the redundancies in the book, but became reenergized by Chapter 10 titled “Costs of the Proliferation Fixation,” and Iraq takes center stage. Economic sanctions imposed against Iraq over many years did little to weaken Saddam Hussein. However they did result in “…hundreds of thousands of deaths in the country, most of them children under the age of five…” Madeleine Albright, the Ambassador to the United Nations, was asked on a 60 Minute show whether it was worth it to have a million children die as the result of sanctions. Albright did not dispute the number and answered, “We think the price is worth it.” She later said she regretted her answer. The comments “…went completely unremarked upon by the country’s media. Osama bin Laden did use the sanctions as a centerpiece of his diatribes against Americans. Several hundred thousand Iraqis would then die in the war that began in 2003 with the premise that an invasion was justified because Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. (See the blog posting titled “Which President Lied About Weapons of Mass Destruction?” for more information.)

The policy of punishing countries wanting to build nuclear weapons continues. Sanctions are in place against North Korea where millions of people are now underfed or starving. North Korea was called “the world’s first nuclear-armed, missile-wielding beggar.”  They have been able to “…hit the Pacific Ocean several times…” with their missiles. Their policy seems to be more extortion than aggression. Sanctions are increasing against Iran where citizens are also suffering.

Part III titled “The Atomic Terrorist” analyzes whether it is likely al Qaeda or some other terrorist group will be able to acquire and use nuclear weapons. The short answer is that it is quite unlikely. Terrorist wouldn’t be able to arm and use a stolen weapon because of all the safeguards all countries build into their weapons. It is also unlikely that a country would sell weapons to terrorists, since forensics after a blast would easily trace the weapon back to its source. No country would be willing to face the certain response to such an act.

The author gave me pause to be skeptical about the views presented in the book by writing that 85 foreign policy experts were polled on whether there would be a nuclear explosion in the world in the next ten years. They “…concluded on average that there was a 29 percent likelihood…” That doesn’t sound sufficiently unlikely to make me comfortable. The author disagrees. Referring back to his goal of curing insomnia by putting fears to rest, he closes the book by saying most states do not want nuclear weapons and they are out of reach of terrorists. “Sleep well.

There are positions taken by the author which disagree with other sources. He trivializes the effect of Soviet espionage against the U.S. during World War II. I’m guessing he never read about the results of the Venona project, which identified hundreds of Soviet agents in the U.S. government and military. Soviet agents were able to steal information and material that allowed the successful recreation of the Trinity nuclear device. He also writes that North Korea had to convince Stalin about their plans to invade the south. Other books report Stalin demanded the invasion as the North Koreans insisted their forces weren’t ready. All of this reinforces the thoughts of the brilliant person who said “History is interpretive.”

Iraq and Nuclear and Chemical Weapons

A review of the book “Atomic Obsession:  Nuclear Alarmism from Hiroshima to Al-Qaeda” by John Mueller was recently posted, and there were a few comments in that book  about Iraq’s  interest in chemical and nuclear weapons that, in my opinion, give an incomplete picture.

There is a comment that the Israeli attack on a nuclear reactor in Iraq in 1981 was ineffective. Wikipedia has extensive information about the reactor and the attack. The reactor was purchased from France in 1976 along with 72 kilograms of 93% enriched uranium. The purchase agreement stipulated that the reactor would not be used for military purposes, and French engineers said the reactor was “…unsuitable for making bombs.”

The Israelis were not the first to attack the facility. Iran had attacked and damaged the site with two bombers in 1980 shortly after the outbreak of the Iran-Iraq war. Israeli officials had encouraged the Iranian attack. The Israelis attack involved eight bombers that flew through Saudi and Jordanian airspace in their attack speaking in Saudi Arabic and using Jordanian signals for cover. Eight of the sixteen bombs struck the containment dome of the reactor. On the issue of whether the attack had disabled the reactor, the French originally agreed to aid in reconstruction, but withdrew from the project in 1984. The reactor “…remained in its damaged state until the 1991 Persian Gulf War, when it was completely destroyed by coalition air strikes…”

Perhaps the reference to the ineffectiveness of the strike did not refer to the reactor that was damaged and not rebuilt. Saddam Hussein ordered “…a much larger underground program…” The reactor that was attacked was estimated to have been able to produce enough plutonium to construct one nuclear weapon per year and the new program was designed to make six bombs a year.

An article titled “Papers From Iraqi Archive Reveal Conspiratorial Mind-Set of Hussein” by Michael R. Gordon published in the New York Times on October 25, 2011 provides some interesting information about Iraq and chemical and nuclear weapons. American forces captured extensive archives of discussions between Hussein and government officials during the 2003 invasion. One document quoted Hussein boasting “…that Iraq had a chemical weapons arsenal (during the Iraq-Iran war) that would ‘exterminate by the thousands’.” He also said “Once Iraq walks out victorious (over Iran) there will be no Israel.” He said of the Israeli attack on the reactor, “Technically, they are right in all of their attempts to harm Iraq.”

On the subject of chemical weapons, there was a post titled “Which President Lied About Weapons of Mass Destruction” dated December 31, 2010 that gives details of Saddam Hussein using chemical agents both in the war with Iran and against Kurds in his own country. According to a report on 60 Minutes Hussein admitted to his U.S. interrogator George L. Piro that he had feared he could not survive an inevitable attack from Iran “without the perception he had weapons of mass destruction. He told his generals that he would order the use of chemical weapons if Iraq was attacked, and he did that to hold Iran at bay. Saddam Hussein lied, and Bush and his advisors believed the lie.”