General Barry McCaffrey, War Criminal?
Jude Wanniski
May 24, 2000


To: Robert L. Bartley, Wall St. Journal editor
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: The Gulf War ‘Turkey Shoot’

I was happy to see you run the op-ed by General McCaffrey, defending himself against “The New Yorker’s Revisionist History.” I’d read the 25,000-word piece by Seymour Hersh in the May 22 edition of the New Yorker, “Overwhelming Force,” and found it very persuasive. I’ve known Sy Hersh and his work and have considered him to be a first-class reporter, one who leaves no stone unturned as he digs into a controversial story. The case he makes against McCaffrey, who is now Clinton’s “drug czar,” is one that has been in the rumor mill for the last ten years, so I was happy to see Hersh decide to devote a year or more out of his life to reporting and writing what might be termed the case for the prosecution. That is, was McCaffrey justified in ordering an all-out attack on the Iraqi Republican Guard two days after the Gulf War ended, as its army headed back to Baghdad? As Hersh writes in the magazine article:

The Iraqis were driving toward a causeway over Lake Hammar, one of five exit routes from the Euphrates River Valley to the safety of Baghdad. Overriding a warning from the division operations officer, McCaffrey ordered an assault in force – an all-out attack. His decision stunned some officers in the Allied command structure in Saudi Arabia, and provoked unease in Washington. Apache attack helicopters, Bradley fighting vehicles, and artillery units from the 24th Division pummeled the five-mile-long Iraqi column for hours, destroying some seven hundred Iraqi tanks, armored cars, and trucks, and killing not only Iraqi soldiers but civilians and children as well. Many of the dead were buried soon after the engagement, and no accurate count of the victims could be made. McCaffrey later described the carnage as “one of the most astounding scenes of destruction I have ever participated in.” There were no serious American combat casualties.

In his defense on your Monday editorial page, Bob, McCaffrey argues that he ordered the all-out attack upon learning that “Sagger missiles and enemy rounds were fired” by the Iraqi army. He also points out that there was an official inquiry and that he was cleared of wrong-doing. He also quotes a man we all greatly admire, Gen. Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the war, who he says “called the article ‘an attempt at character assassination of a soldier named Barry McCaffrey who served his nation proudly and did everything he could to protect the GIs entrusted to his care.’” McCaffrey notes that Hersh says “the Iraqi forces at Rumaylah were ‘in retreat.’ But he wasn’t there, facing an Iraqi force spanning five miles and made up of hundreds of tanks, trucks and armored personnel.”

You have not yet commented on this clash of opinion and perhaps you will decide to give McCaffrey the last word as far as the readers of the WSJournal are concerned. I would, though, recommend you take the trouble of reading the Hersh article, or at least that portion from pages 62 to 67 that describe the events that led to McCaffrey’s decision. It would be easy to clear him of wrongdoing in my own mind if there had been no time lapse between the time when reports came in that shots were fired from the direction of the retreating Iraqi army. But Hersh finds a significant time lapse before the order is given by McCaffrey, who only heard of the shots fired after there were discussions among his subordinates on what they meant and what should be done about them. He quotes Patrick Lamar, the division’s operations officer, responsible, in war, for relaying McCaffrey’s orders to the field units.

According to Lamar, the interval after the first skirmishing by Ware’s battalion provoked a debate inside McCaffrey’s assault command post. “There was no incoming,” Lamar told me. “I know that for a fact. He described the entire battle as a giant hoax. The Iraqis were doing absolutely nothing. I told McCaffrey I was having trouble confirming the incoming.” It didn’t matter, Lamar added. McCaffrey wanted to attack.

If I were you, Bob, I would at least give Colin Powell a call and ask him to confirm the quote ascribed to him by McCaffrey about the Hersh article. If Powell really read the article and saw the time lines and quotes from senior commanders and generals and still insists that this is “character assassination,” it would at least be reassuring. The reason I think Powell is so loved by the American people is that he was the fellow who stopped the “turkey shoot,” the mass slaughter of young Iraqi men who were trying to get home. You have written enough editorials over the years criticizing Powell for not continuing the “turkey shoot” and going all the way to Baghdad, but I assume your own national security advisors cornered you into that position.

You know, though, that I believe the Gulf War has been built on a series of lies, lies being covered up one at a time. The lies began from the moment when our ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, told Saddam Hussein it was all right with our state department if he chose to invade Kuwait in his longstanding dispute over the Rumaylah oil fields. They have been covered up and covered up, but history has a way of uncovering lies, Bob. They are now catching up with McCaffrey and eventually history will discover the Gulf War was unnecessary -- that Saddam had a white flag up even before we first began shooting. We continue the cover up even though in ten years the cost has been the lives of at least a million Iraqi civilians, half of them children. And the lies continue as cover-up as we bomb Iraq every other day, as further proof to our Establishment that they did not make a monstrous mistake from the very first day.

Do I want McCaffrey punished? Of course I do, if he was responsible for the mass slaughter of troops who were flying a white flag. How much punishment? Well, I would suggest he be removed as Drug Czar in the Clinton administration and retired completely to private life. For him to suggest that Sy Hersh began this assault on him because Sy objects to him fighting against drugs in Columbia is itself disquieting, to say the least.

Why do I pick on you? Because the political class will not police itself. That’s why we have a Free Press, isn’t it? But when the Political Establishment controls all the major media, there is no policing, no discussion or debate. McCaffrey’s just one fellow, but he is a metaphor for what has been happening to our country as we sit triumphantly on top of the planet. To put a spotlight on one man who decided to satisfy his own blood lust and was given medals by our government as a result may help us turn a corner as a nation. We’ve become the bullies of the world, bombing whoever gets in our way, and we kid ourselves into thinking these are the necessary costs of being the world leader. It’s not right. What doth it profit a man if he gains the whole world, but loses his soul? The same is true of a nation.