Ricochets and Replies

Aerospace Power Journal, Winter 2001 | Go to article overview

Ricochets and Replies


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MYTHS? OR TRUTHS WITH ASTERISKS?

Lt Col Martin Wojtysiak is to be commended for taking the time to write his article "Another View of the Myths of the Gulf War" (Fall 2001), in which he rebuts my earlier article "Myths of the Gulf War: Some 'Lessons' Not to Learn" (Fall 1998). I set out to be purposely provocative and feared that I may have failed in provoking a response. Apparently, I did not.

Rather than rebut his views point by point, which seems overly academic, let me make some general comments about his remarks. First, the bulk of my article was a presentation given to the chief of staff of the Air Force's Airpower Symposium, a gathering of general officers and major-command participants held at Maxwell Air Force Base in the fall of 1992, well before most of the works Colonel Wojtysiak cites as making some of the same arguments that I make. I just didn't get around to publishing it outside the professional military education environment for some time. But these arguments have been made and reiterated within the Air Force, by me and others, for some time. The overselling of the capability of airpower is a problem for airmen too, not merely "Western politicians."

Second, if he prefers to call these statements of mine "truths with asterisks" instead of myths, that is fine. In doing so, he accepts the point of the exercise in saying that we ought not be overwhelmed with the military triumph without examining some of the questions about it. It is like making claims about the best team in baseball in 1994. That was the strike season-the division winners are listed as of August, when the strike occurred, but there were no play-offs, no pennant winners for the year, and no World Series. It is "truth with an asterisk." That is, one needs some extra explanation to put the listing of accomplishments in proper perspective.

Third, a "militarily intact Iraq" does not control Kuwait. While that is a truly good outcome of the Gulf War, it is not the whole story. Iraq is largely militarily intact, and Saddam is stronger in many ways-with less domestic opposition (from Kurds or Marsh Arabs), even after the destruction in the war and despite the sanctions, the no-fly zones, the inspections by the United Nations Special Commission, and so forth-than was the case before the war. Iraq's weapons of mass destruction have not been destroyed, the Republican Guard has been largely reequipped, the sanctions leak like a sieve, and regularly scheduled Iraqi airliners fly routinely in the supposed "no-fly zones," as do helicopters. And more than a decade after the Gulf War, Iraq represents a threat to the region and the US forces stationed there. I suspect that many people expected more from a "victory."

Fourth, Colonel Wojtysiak points to the Gulf War Air Power Survey (GWAPS) and the Department of Defense's (DOD) Report on the Conduct of the Gulf War as sources of information on the Air Force's performance in the Gulf War. The DOD report, a major publicrelations effort, is at variance with several other analyses, including RAND studies and Government Accounting Office reports, also commissioned by the US government. The GWAPS report-designed as an equivalent to the United States Strategic Bombing Survey-has an interesting history. Originally, there were to be some 3,000 unclassified copies printed. But some senior Air Force officers and civilian officials wished to suppress it because it was more objective and critical than they wished. Ultimately, the print run was changed to only 500 copies on a carefully controlled distribution list. That does not promote truth and trust in the Air Force. …

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