This is an old tale. Long forgotten. But like all good political bedtime stories, it’s well worth telling again.
Once upon a time, there was a retired general named Paul Van Riper. In 1966, as a young Marine officer and American advisor in Vietnam, he was wounded in action; he later became the first president of the Marine Corps University, retired from the Corps as a Lieutenant General, and then took up the task of leading the enemy side in Pentagon war games.
Over the years, Van Riper had developed into a free-wheeling military thinker, given to quoting Von Clausewitz and Sun-tzu, and dubious about the ability of the latest technology to conquer all in its path. If you wanted to wage war, he thought, it might at least be reasonable to study war seriously (if not go to war yourself) rather than just fall in love with military power. It seemed to him that you took a risk any time you dismissed your enemy as without resources (or a prayer) against your awesome power and imagined your campaign to come as a sure-fire “cakewalk.” As he pointed out, “Many enemies are not frightened by that overwhelming force. They put their minds to the problem and think through: how can I adapt and avoid that overwhelming force and yet do damage against the United States?”
As a result, Van Riper took the task of simulated enemy commander quite seriously. He also had a few issues with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s much vaunted “military transformation,” his desire to create a sleek, high-tech, agile military that would drive everything before it. He thought the Rumsfeld program added up to just so many “shallow,” “fundamentally flawed” slogans. (“There’s very little intellectual content to what they say… ‘Information dominance,’ ‘network-centric warfare,’ ‘focused logistics’ — you could fill a book with all of these slogans.”)
In July 2002, he got the chance to test that proposition. At the cost of a quarter-billion dollars, the Pentagon launched the most elaborate war games in its history, immodestly entitled “Millennium Challenge 02.” These involved all four services in “17 simulation locations and nine live-force training sites.” Officially a war against a fictional country in the Persian Gulf region–but obviously Iraq–it was specifically scripted to prove the efficacy of the Rumsfeld-style invasion that the Bush administration had already decided to launch.
Lt. Gen. Van Riper commanded the “Red Team”–the Iraqis of this simulation-–against the “Blue Team,” U.S. forces; and, unfortunately for Rumsfeld, he promptly stepped out of the script. Knowing that sometimes the only effective response to high-tech warfare was the lowest tech warfare imaginable, he employed some of the very techniques the Iraqi insurgency would begin to use all-too-successfully a year or two later.