Read Your History, Mr. Hersh!

Between the cacophony at the White House press room yesterday morning and the furor on talk radio and in many of the daily newspapers, one would think we had gone to war with Iran already. With his just-released article in the New Yorker pointing to a secret administration plan for bombing Iran, Seymour Hersh has created his biggest public flap since describing John F. Kennedy’s seemingly unusual personal peccadilloes in “The Dark Side of Camelot” nearly 10 years ago.

There’s one problem with Hersh’s scenario of this plan to flatten the mullahs in Tehran before they “go nuclear:” It’s nothing new.

Contingency plans to attack and invade other countries, friend and foe, have been staples of the Department of Defense for generations. “Playing war” and simulating attacks on foreign soil and means of defending our soil from foreign attacks are full-time assignments for some officers in the Pentagon. (One member of the U.S. Army with whom I traveled to Germany in 1995 regaled me with stories of his assignment to the office of “Perceived Threats,” in which participants mapped out what the world would look like in a decade; “It’s too good to be true,” he said of his colleagues’ perception of the future—demonstrating in retrospect that perceptions of the future are not always the way it turns out).

On Dec. 4, 1941, the banner headlines of the Chicago Tribune blared: “FDR’s War Plans” and revealed what President Franklin D. Roosevelt had been repeatedly denying: that he was planning a U.S. strike against Germany, with whom our country was not yet at war. “The source of the reporter’s information was no less than a verbatim copy of Rainbow Five, the top-secret war plan drawn up at FDR’s order by the joint board of the United States Army and Navy,” according to historian Thomas Fleming in “The New Dealers’ War.” (Tribune Washington correspondent Chesly Manly, who broke the story, was light years ahead of where Hersh is on Iran; the New Yorker article cites only “former” administration officials and sources).

Rainbow Five, according to historian Fleming, “called for the creation of a 10-million man army, including an expeditionary force of 5-million men that would invade Europe in 1943 to defeat Adolf Hitler’s war machine. “To all appearances, the story was an enormous embarrassment to President Roosevelt. When he ran for a third term in 1940, the president had vowed that he would never send American soldiers to fight beyond America’s shores.”

History repeated itself at the White House on Monday morning.  “Are we going to war with Iran?”  White House press room grande dame Helen Thomas shouted at Press Secretary Scott McClellan. The Hersh story rivaled the immigrants’ march on Washington as a topic for reporters’ question and McClellan’s answers.

Citing the contingency plan for an attack on Germany before we were at war and noting that similar plans are crafted for attacks on other nations, I asked McClellan if it might not be easier for the administration to point out that it and its predecessors have been drawing up these “what if” plans for years. He replied: “I don’t get into talking about military planning.”

“There probably is a plan somewhere to attack Canada,” mused my friend Henry Champ, the distinguished correspondent from the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. Sure enough, the cover teaser on the latest Harper’s Magazine reads: “The Secret Plan to Attack Canada.”