Is the United States headed for World War III?
Last week, at a Pentagon “town hall” meeting between Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and members of the U.S. armed forces, someone asked Rumsfeld if the U.S. decides to invade Iraq what would the U.S. do if the situation in North Korea boils over while troops are fighting a war in Iraq?
Rumsfeld responded by saying that the U.S., if need be, would wage a simultaneous war with North Korea. North Korea is part of the “axis of evil” President Bush referred to in his State of the Union address in 2002.
“That question was asked recently at a meeting that General Myers and I were having, and that was his answer, `yes,'” Rumsfeld said. The U.S. “would wage a major conflict in a theater and occupy a country, and near simultaneously swiftly defeat in another theater, and in addition be capable of conducting a variety of lesser contingencies such as things like Bosnia or Kosovo or what’s currently going on in Afghanistan.
“The reason I say that is it is a big order, let there be no doubt. But we’ve spent a great deal of time over the past two years fashioning a new defense strategy,” Rumsfeld said. “We then had that tested in the tank by the chiefs, and they conducted a table-top — series of, I guess there were two exercises to look at it and analyze it and make judgments about it as to whether or not we would in fact be able to fulfill that assignment; specifically, and the answer was that in any exercise like that or activity like that or analysis you obviously see things that you wish were somewhat better than they are…I think if you asked any of the gentlemen here who were involved in it they would say that we are well arranged and we feel good about the deterrent and the defensive capability that the United States has. ”
According to the latest Gallup Poll, most Americans believe that North Korea poses a greater threat to the U.S. than Iraq because of the country’s ability, according to the Central Intelligence Agency, to launch ballistic missiles onto U.S. soil.
Secretary of State Colin Powell has said that the U.S. could deal with North Korea’s President Kim Jong Il and the threat the country poses peacefully by asking other countries, including Japan and China, to help broker a solution to the crisis there. With the U.S. focusing on overthrowing Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, North Korea has restarted its nuclear reactor and has made repeated threats that it would launch a nuclear attack on the U.S. if any attempt were made to shut down the facility.
Rumsfeld said last week that the U.S. might withdraw 37,000 troops from South Korea, part of the rethink of a deployment in place since the end of the Korean War in 1953.
“Whether the forces come home or whether they will move further south of the [Korean] peninsula or whether to some neighboring area are the kinds of things that are being sorted out,” Rumsfeld said.
But Pentagon officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that if the situation in North Korea heats up while troops are fighting a war in Iraq “Secretary Rumsfeld has contingencies in place to deal with North Korea using military force.”
The so-called “major theater war,” which means that the U.S. could wage two simultaneous wars, was designed specifically so the U.S. would be in a position to launch attacks on the Iraq and North Korea, according to the September 2000 report “Rebuilding America’s Defense Strategy,” released by the right-wing think tank Project for the New American Century. The full report, which names North Korea, Iraq and Iran as threats to U.S. interests, can be viewed at here.
Rumsfeld, along with Vice President Dick Cheney, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz and others, were involved with PNAC in the 1990s before becoming members of the Bush Administration. The think-tank has been a major influence on Bush’s foreign and defense policies and was successful in getting the administration to cancel the Army’s multibillion dollar Crusader Artillery project and recommending that Bush ask Congress for an additional $48 billion for defense, which he did.
The 76-page PNAC report calls for the United States to wage “a series of multiple, simultaneous major theater wars,” beginning with the occupation of Iraq.
“The United States must retain sufficient forces able to rapidly deploy and win multiple simultaneous large-scale wars and also be able to respond to unanticipated contingencies in regions where it does not maintain forward-based forces,” the report says. “The theater-war analysis assumed that Kim Jong Il and Saddam Hussein each could begin a war–perhaps while employing chemical, biological or even nuclear weapons. “In the past, Pentagon wargames have given little or no consideration to the force requirements necessary not only to defeat an attack but to remove these regimes from power.”
U.S. Army Major Gregory Pickell wrote on the global security in February 2000 that “while both Iraq and North Korea show up as major theater war candidates and both MTWs affect US strategic interests, the Iraqi MTW poses little immediate threat to US military assets, while the threat on the Korean peninsula is immediate and undeniable.”
However, Pickell said he does not believe the U.S. is prepared to win a war in North Korea while a war is being fought in Iraq.
“Korea is the military’s nightmare, and with good reason–the United States is unprepared to engage in a Korean MTW, and the reasons are as numerous as those that account for U.S. success in Desert Storm,” he said.
But it’s PNAC, not Pickell, that influences the Bush Administration and the nation’s defense policy. The think-tank has a long history of lobbying the Clinton Administration and the Bush Administration to start a war with Iraq and overthrow Saddam Hussein, which at this point seems inevitable. But judging from Rumsfeld’s comments to the soldiers at the town hall meeting North Korea may be next.
JASON LEOPOLD can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org