Is another global conflict a question of if… or when?
A top military expert illustrates how America’s next major armed conflict may have already begun.



World War III

Maxim, Aug 2000

By Col. David H. Hackworth

You think the world is a safe place, right? The cold war is history? The planet’s sole superpower is untouchable?

Think again.

We live in a world of rogue states armed to the max, juju warriors stoned on religious, ideological, and tribal hatreds. Richard Butler—the U.N. weapons inspector sent after Saddam Hussein—now says, “The greatest threat to life on earth is weapons of mass destruction. They can decimate cities, infect countries, poison millions.”

Drawing on inside sources in the Pentagon and intelligence communities, Colonel David H. Hackworth, one of our nation’s most decorated soldiers and the best-selling author of The Price of Honor, has created the three most likely scenarios that could draw the U.S. into war. Right now they are fiction. But the players, the flash points, and the military details are all based on fact. It could happen here.

WWIII Scenario 1: Moles for Muhammad

America is a prime target for religious zealots. Who will be safe when their war hits our shores?

June 4, 2005, 2050 hours, NBA Playoffs, Conseco Fieldhouse, Indianapolis, Indiana

Jesus. Pollen count must be through the roof. First the headache, now the blurry eyes and scratchy throat. Melissa Hanford, 28, an office worker from Gary, rises unsteadily from her prime seat in the purple tier at the Indiana Pacers’ end of the court. Doesn’t make sense. My allergies aren’t usually this bad in air-conditioned places. She steals a glance at her boyfriend. Nick, the hoops freak. Blew the works on $120 seats for the playoffs against the Knicks. What’ll he think, me cutting out? Nose plugged up now, a sudden stab of pain in the belly. Another peek at Nick. Screw it. I’m outta here.

She heads for the aisle. Legs feel like rubber; a vise tightens under her breasts as she shoves through the door marked women. Twelve stalls, one open. She bolts for it, vomits into the bowl, and leans back, an agonizing convulsion knotting her gut. A hot needle of pain, then an uncontrollable spasm as her bowels and bladder empty, soaking her navy-blue skirt. Omigod. Gotta get home. She tries to stand, but her legs crumple. Her lungs gasp for air as her throat squeezes shut. Dimly she hears women crying for help from the neighboring stalls. She’s drowning in her own mucus. A burning scum blinds her eyes, her heart redlines into cardiac arrest, and then, like a snuffed candle, her brain goes to black.

Melissa becomes the attack’s first victim. But within minutes, there would be others. Thousands of others.

Five years earlier: January 1, 2000, 2300 hours, Kafar Jar Ghar, Afghanistan

Osama bin Laden lets the question fall like a stone to the floor of the basement room. “So, my brothers…where did we go wrong?” First his millennium raid on Seattle, botched at the Canadian border, then the FBI busts that saved Times Square.

Moustafa Gereshk, head of intelligence, and Moulay Charikar, Bin Laden’s finance minister, shift uncomfortably in their chairs. Sulgareh Zargun, chief of operations, studies the floor. “We need more men,” Gereshk says. “More money,” adds Charikar. Zargun says nothing.

“And you, Sulgareh? What do you think?”

“We are too careless. No patience. Our men stand out like horses at the goat market. Too many dark skins. The Americans always see us coming.”

“You would change our genes?”

“Yes. We need our own Timothy McVeigh.” Bin Laden looks up. “What are you proposing?”

March 1, 2000, 0800 hours, Hanover, Washington

Jeff Fullerton, 29, walks past the FOR SALE sign on the lawn in front of his house and heads for the bus stop. Seemes like only yesterday that he was a military intelligence major in charge of security at the nuclear reactor on the Hanover base. Seventeen years of service. Three years short of retirement with medical coverage, he’s downsized straight out of the army. Two weeks later his wife discovers she has cancer. Within six months he’s broke and he’s lost his wife, along with faith in the government.

As he heads for the bus, a black Grand Cherokee with tinted windows pulls up alongside him. A dark, powerfully built guy in Levi’s steps out and hands him an envelope. Jaw tight, Fullerton opens it. Inside is a thick wad of $100 bills secured with a rubber band. “My name doesn’t matter,” the man says, pointing to the open door. What the hell. Fuller steps in. The SUV turns the corner at the bus stop and disappears.

In Dallas the next morning, the same guy picks up Al Medford, dismissed at 35 for sexual harassment after 11 years in the FBI. He’d been riding a desk for the past three when it became known that his balanced breakfast consisted of cornflakes and vodka.

On the last day of March, a 35-foot schooner called the Gallipoli puts to sea at Brisbane, Australia, setting a course north. Medford and Fullerton gather in the aft saloon. With them are Sulgareh Zargun and two freelance trainers, both ex-KGB. Their specialties: small-yield nukes, chemical weapons, biological warfare. A bottle of vodka comes out. Zargun lets it pass.

Sunup on the eighth day out, they drop anchor off a deserted islet tucked among the Flinders Reefs. Zargun points to a Quonset hut behind a screen of palms. “My university,” he says. For the next three months, he and his trainers school their recruits in the art of terror. They are quick studies. At the beginning of June, his two new operatives receive a small nylon gym bag. In the bag are plane tickets back to the U.S., passports, driver’s licenses, and Social Security cards, all stamped with new identities. Each receives one other item: a bank card for a $100,000 account stateside and the electronic codes for $900,000 in a Swiss bank, to be activated upon the success of the mission.

May 31, 2005, 1030 hours, Washington, D.C.

President George W. Bush is feeling good about his record on terror. Not a peep out of Bin Laden or any serious terrorist faction in nearly five years. But then the national security advis-or walks into the Oval Office, waving a decoded message received that morning. “He’s back, Mr. President.” The message is an ultimatum: “You’ve paid billions to make Israel your puppet, you’ve attacked the sacred soil of the Afghans. Now you will lift the economic embargo against our nation and pay us reparations of $2 billion or face the consequences.” The president crumples the message. “Tell the little sonuvabitch I don’t negotiate with terrorists.”

June 4, 2005, 0900 hours, Indianapolis, Indiana

The morning of the Pacers-Knicks game at Conseco Fieldhouse, Jeff Fullerton, now known around the arena as Jeff Fredricks, arrives early for the day shift. Over the last five years, he’s become one of two engineers responsible for the massive air-conditioning unit. No one thinks twice when he arrives with a canvas duffel bag and spends the day puttering around the system’s vast maze of ducts.

In the duffel are two dozen aerosol cans filled with the G-agent called Sarin, an organophosphate nerve gas, colorless, odorless, and 26 times more deadly than cyanide gas. A droplet the size of a pinhead can kill. Working methodically while wearing 12 mm elbow-length rubber gloves and a gas mask, Fullerton handles the cans and sets their timers to release the gas in the second quarter.

“Hey, Sarge,” he says softly, starting the timer. “This Bud’s for you.” As he drives away, he marvels at his easy conscience.

That night at 8:45, the cans pop. Within five minutes, Melissa Hanford is dead in the women’s bathroom. At the same time 18,000 men, women, and children are groping at their eyes and coughing convulsively, trying to get outside.

At 9:20 that night, NBC is the first to break the unfolding story. A reporter is on the screen, looking grim. “An unthinkable scene of horror here in Indianapolis, Indiana…” Across the nation the next day, the newspaper headlines are horrifying. The New York Times’ single banner headline reads: More than 4,000 Feared Dead in Terrorist Gas Attack at Indianapolis Sports Arena. President Bush Declares a State of Emergency.

The entire country is outraged—and terrified.

The following morning, President Bush convenes the National Security Council. Sources lay the blame on Bin Laden. “We’re not going to sit here and take this shit,” he explodes. He orders the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to devise an attack on Bin Laden’s headquarters and report back.

Next the president calls in the heads of the CIA and NSA. “You gotta shut that bastard down!” he shouts. “I want some boys on him in one hour. It doesn’t have to be one of our own. Get the best fucking freelancer out there. I don’t need to know.” Thirty-two hours later, a Pakistani chopper drops a man into the Kafar al Jar. He’s wearing rags and a turban. Under the rags is a 300 Winchester magnum. Thirty-caliber; fitted with a McMillan M-40 sniper’s stock and a Leupold Mark 4 16-power scope; 180 grain load. Best for killing at 1,000 yards.

June 14, 2005, 1030 hours, the White House

President Bush is sitting in the Oval Office, going over the morning’s NSA report. The door opens and the CIA chief comes into the room. “What’s the situation?” the president asks. “Our problem, sir…”

Bush looks sharply up from the desk, says nothing.

“We’ve solved it.”

A smile spreads across the president’s face. He calls his press secretary in from the West Wing. “Press conference in 15 minutes,” he says. “You get all those media losers in here now—and tell their bosses in New York to cover this sumbitch live.”

The cameras show Bush standing with the CJCS in front of a map of Afghanistan. The CIA chief is nowhere in view.

“Those who live by terror reap what they sow,” the president says. “First, it makes me very happy to announce that we are turning the corner on bringing those involved in the June 4th attack in Indianapolis to justice. The monster we were after was Osama bin Laden.” The president pauses for effect. “I can now report to you that this particular murderer is no longer with us. But I’m going to leave that story to General Vahter. He’ll answer your questions.” With a quick smirk of victory, Bush strides out of the pressroom.

November 11, 2005, 2350 hours, New York

On the Staten Island side of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, Al Medford—listed on the city payroll as engineer Al Shea—climbs into a Bridge and Tunnel Authority launch. High above him, road crews are preparing for next day’s 9 a.m. start of the New York City Marathon.

The launch bobs across the Narrows toward Brooklyn. At the far tower, Zargun’s mole tosses a grappling hook up onto the concrete foundation and secures the launch. He takes the ADM (atomic demolition munition) from his bag. It takes just three minutes to attach the 47-pound device to the foot of the tower. Then he scrambles back down to the launch and casts off.

Nine and a half hours later, the sharp crack of the starter’s gun sends nearly 30,000 runners sprinting toward Brooklyn. At precisely three minutes after nine, as the throng pounds toward the far bridge tower, it vanishes. A giant explosion drops the roadway into the swirling waters of the Narrows. The force of the blast blows out cameras, and TV screens across the country go dark. Twenty minutes later, when the picture returns, a dirty gray cloud of debris is drifting toward New Jersey, and the Narrows is filled with what looks like thousands of multicolored ants.

Forty minutes later in Washington, the Oval Office is packed with advisors, congressional leaders, and agency heads. The head of the NSA is holding a crumpled poster. It reads in Arabic, “Jihad. Osama bin Laden is in Paradise. Long live Sulgareh Zargun.” Everyone is arguing furiously. But the room goes silent when Bush picks up the phone and raises the secretary of state. “I want you to go meet Hussein, Kaddafi, and Khatami in Cairo tomorrow,” he says. “Tell ’em if they don’t call off the dogs, I’m going to turn half the Middle East into a fucking parking lot!”

How Likely is This?

Based on what I hear from my best sources, the chances are eight out of 10 that we will see a devastating terrorist attack from abroad within the next 10 years. Up to now we’ve been relatively lucky. But this kind of luck can’t last. Clinton said so this summer at the Coast Guard Academy’s graduation ceremonies, when he revealed publicly that bin Laden was behind the aborted New Year’s Eve raids in Seattle and New York. This dude ain’t gonna give up. Neither will a thousand fanatics like him. It’s a mistake to believe you can stop a terrorist movement by taking out its leader. You can cut off the head, but the body will still live on.

WWIII Scenario 2: Operation Sun-tzu

China wants Taiwan, needs fuel, and isn’t afraid to take both. But first it must get through the U.S.

The order goes out, moving a Sea Wolf nuclear sub into the South China Sea.

Washington, D.C., January 20, 2005, 1200 hours

George W. Bush rises from his seat to take the oath of office. Looking steadily at the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the 44th president of the United States places his left hand on the Bible and raises his right hand.

“I, George W. Bush, do solemnly swear…”

At precisely that moment, in the Nanjing, Jinan, and Guangzhou military regions of the People’s Republic of China, hundreds of techs in brown uniforms start punching their computer keyboards. Across eastern mainland China, the doors of the missile silos slide open.

“…that I will faithfully…”

The techs push more buttons. In the split seconds that follow, a U.S. eye-in-the-sky satellite orbiting hundreds of miles above the earth picks up the heat signature of 500 Chinese M-9 missiles.

“…to the best of my ability…”

The missiles arc, roll to the east, and scorch across the Taiwan Strait toward the country’s airfields, military command and control centers, ports, naval bases, telecommunication facilities, and electrical power stations.

“…to preserve, protect, and defend…”

The broadside from the mainland saturates the island’s TPS 43-F radar with lethal blips. From eight airfields only a handful of F-16 and Mirage 2000-5 fighters manage to scramble aloft before the M-9s smash home. The thunder of explosions rocks the island as the Republic of China air force is destroyed on the ground. Flames lick eerily at the Tsoying naval base, where four 8,000-ton Aegis-class guided-missile destroyers, trapped among the burning hulks of two dozen frigates, fry like catfish.

High over the Pacific, a second Lockheed Martin “Deep Black” imagery satellite now picks up a new group of advanced M-11 missiles shooting directly into space. Then the transmissions break off.

In Washington heads turn in annoyance as a young officer bounds onto the inaugural platform and leans into the ear of General Eric Vahter, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“So help me God,” swears President Bush. Before he can even kiss his wife, Secret Service agents surround the startled president and hustle him to his limo.

“The balloon has gone up, Mr. President,” the general says.
“Where?”
“Taiwan.”
“Let’s go, General.”

The Commander in Chief diverts his motorcade across the Key Bridge to the Pentagon. Once inside the garage, the entourage of 22 men walk through a long concrete tunnel which leads to a locked-down through station for an elevator. The two armed guards allow the group to board. And then they hit the War Room.

Pure chaos. The enormous global situation monitor on the far wall is blank. All contact with the U.S. Seventh Fleet in the Pacific has been lost. No one answers at NORAD. Nothing from NATO. Silence from Europe.

“Good God,” the president says. “What hit us?”

Five years earlier: May 1, 2000, 0800 hours, Zhanjiang, People’s Republic of China

It begins in a small port city on the Chinese mainland about 500 miles southwest of Taiwan. A military staff car pulls up at the headquarters of the People’s Liberation Army. The startled guard at the door snaps to attention as General Fu Quanyou, the PLA’s burly chief of staff, brushes past him. In the cellar bunker, Lieutenant General Xiong Guangkai, the PLA’s chief of intelligence, rises and salutes. On the table in front of him is a scuffed leather attaché case. “Operation Sun-tzu,” he says. “You can read it on the plane.”

The next day General Fu invites Prime Minister Zhu Rongji to his office in Peking. The chubby general walks over to a huge map of China. Pointing at Zhanjiang, he draws his finger to the south, down past Hainan Island, and across the South China Sea. Prime Minister Zhu cranes his head forward. At first he can’t see the tiny dots representing the 104 minuscule reefs and keys and islands hidden under Fu’s thick finger. Then he gets it.

“The Spratlys,” he says quietly.

Hidden beneath the 12 sparsely populated Spratly Islands, 700 miles off Taiwan, is a huge repository of oil and natural gas, enough to jump-start China into the 21st century—if the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, or Malaysia doesn’t get there first. “When we launch Operation Sun-tzu, the real objective will be the Spratlys. The Americans are so obsessed with Taiwan, they won’t know what we’re really up to—until it’s too late.”

“But they have nuclear weapons.”

“So do we, and they have no antimissile defense system. Have you forgotten MAD? Why did the United States let the Soviets crush the Czechs in 1968? Afghanistan in ’79? They won’t sacrifice 200 million Americans for 20 million Taiwanese. And they know we make good on our threats.” “And if they overreact?”

“All Jiang Zemin has to tell them is this: ‘Taiwan is ours. We’re not interested in South Korea. We won’t crowd Japan. But we need to look after our national security, and that’s an autonomous supply of energy.’

“We are not going to make their fucking tennis shoes for the next 100 years,” he continues angrily. “Even Jiang can’t believe all of that warm shit Clinton told him about being ‘strategic partners.’ We need to work for China, and we don’t need America’s permission.”

“All right,” Prime Minister Zhu says, tucking the attaché case under his arm. “I’ll speak to Jiang.”

During the summer of 2000, Congress grants China normal trade relations. That fall voters elect Al Gore over George W. Bush in the closest presidential race since JFK. During the 43rd president’s first meeting with his new security team, the talk turns to China. “What do you guys have?” Gore asks.

“Call it neo-containment,” the NSC chief replies. “We’re going back into Vietnam and the Philippines. We’ll supply Hanoi and Manila with the paint and new fixtures; five years up the road, we’re welcome in Cam Ranh Bay, Da Nang, and Clark Field. With open arms.”

“Good,” says Gore. “You line up Vietnam and the rest. I’ll show China the money.”

Over the next four years, Beijing bellows when the U.S. sells Taiwan 162 Hawk interceptor guided missiles, beefs up the ROC TPS-43F air surveillance radar, delivers four destroyers with Aegis antiaircraft missiles. They even take delivery of the bug-ridden Patriot Pact 3 Theater High Altitude Area Defense missile system. But no invasion.

Gore runs confidently for reelection. Bored even stiffer than last time, the voters swing back to pick a resurgent George W. Bush, who’s dropped compassionate conservatism in favor of a new slogan: It’s time to put America first.

The day after the election, President Jiang Zemin, who has changed his mind about retiring—he’s only 85—looks at General Fu over the glazed bass at dinner and says, “Operation Sun-tzu—are we ready?” General Fu turns to Lt. Gen. Xiong, who nods.

January 20, 2005, 1230 hours, Pentagon War Room

“Jesus,” President Bush whispers. “It’s Pearl Harbor.”

“No, Mr. President,” says General Vahter. “At Pearl Harbor we had Western Union. This time we’re completely deaf, dumb, and blind.”

He pauses. “We need to move to DEFCON 1 immediately, Mr. President.” The room becomes silent. “Move to DEFCON 1,” Bush says quickly, and the silence is replaced by an onslaught of activity.

The general turns his attention to two colonels. “OK, I want every goddamn satellite we have left re-tasked over China…Send some Marines over to their fucking embassy…Get me targeting profiles…Find out what birds are up…and give me a situation on our boats!”

An order goes out from the CINCPAC—Commander in Chief of Pacific—moving a Sea Wolf nuclear sub and a flotilla of Los Angeles–class attack subs into the South China Sea. The subs prep their cruise missiles for launch. Moments later Captain Allen G. Carvey, commanding officer of the 80,000-ton carrier Kitty Hawk and its battle fleet gets the dispatch: Redirect to Taiwan. Engage any and all threats. Weapons free. Target outline forthcoming.

Back in the War Room, the hot line to Beijing comes to life. It’s Jiang Zemin. President Bush shouts, “I’m giving you one minute to stand down.”

“Don’t threaten me,” Jiang Zemin replies, “and don’t underestimate our willingness to use missiles.” “If you want to talk about a nuclear exchange, the United States can end your 6,000-year-old legacy in about 10 minutes.”

“We have new ones. The delivery system is based on your own W-88 model.” President Bush looks at General Vahter, who angrily acknowledges China’s use of the stolen technology.

“What the hell is all this about?” Bush snaps.

“First call off your the Sea Wolfs.”

The Commander in Chief looks at General Vahter. A thin line of sweat trickles down the general’s upper lip. There’s only one real choice. The president calls off the counterattack.

The next day the National Security Agency examines the new satellite data. There is no sign of a Chinese invasion force anywhere near Taiwan. In fact, the PRC’s entire East China Fleet seems to have assembled around the Spratly Islands, where a full PLA division is throwing together fortifications and runways. The Spratlys straddle the strategic sea lines between the Indian Ocean and the Pacific. The Chinese now control the energy lifelines of Japan and Korea.

From out of nowhere, the number one superpower is suddenly looking at a brand-new number two. General Vahter picks up the phone. “Mr. President,” he says. “There’s something you need to know.”

How Likely is This?

The odds are fifty-fifty. Don’t take my word for it. The last guy who sent a carrier to Taiwan was former Defense Secretary William J. Perry, when Beijing acted up in 1995. Perry now says flatly, “We’re heading toward a collision course.” Beijing used to say it would strike only if Taiwan declared independence. Now it says it will act if the island merely drags its ass on negotiations. Ross Munro, the director of Asian Studies at the Center for Security Studies in Washington, says Chinese military leaders disagree only on the speed, tactics and risk of the assault. For the past 200 years, we have systematically underestimated, patronized, and sentimentalized China. That kind of thinking got us World War I and II. Why try for III?

WWIII Scenario 3: In the Jungle of Horror

Could the United States’s new $1.7 billion war on drugs turn Colombia into another Vietnam?

November 27, 2005, 0400 hours, Amazonas Province, Colombia

At the remote Santo Espiritu outpost of the Colombian Army, 30 men—a mixed band of Green Berets, narcs from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, and Colombians—are sleeping fitfully in the wet heat of another night in the jungle. Suddenly the brilliant white light of a Soviet-surplus parachute flare explodes in the darkness above them. There’s a deafening blast as the guard tower, whose machine-gun emplacement controls the dirt road into the camp, collapses in a swirl of flame.

Awakened by the noise, the soldiers grab their weapons and haul ass. The first three out the door are cut down in a hot spatter of AK-47 fire. Two more are killed trying to pull the bodies back behind the cover of the ferroconcrete barracks bunker. From the wreckage of the watchtower come the screams of the dying sentry. Inside the bunker, the radio operator desperately punches out a Mayday.

Far to the north, aboard the U.S.S. Argus, a carrier on station off Panama, a dozing radio operator picks up the call and relays it to the Southern Command in Florida. Within minutes a call wakes President Bush. He listens groggily.

“They need help, Mr. President,” says the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Congress has set a limit of 300 American military personnel in-country, with one exception: a rescue mission.

“Go get ’em,” the President replies.

Thirty minutes later, 15 MV-22 Osprey tilt roters, flying fixed- wing, lift off the USS Argus. Aboard are 300 crack Marine troops. The sun is just cresting the treetops as they home in on a clearing cut in the jungle outside Santo Espiritu.

Defying the laws of physics, rotors on the $80 million aircraft tilt upward, transforming them into helicopters that drop cleanly down to the landing zone. Marines pile out in a silent jungle.

“Hey, it’s a cool LZ,” one amazed leatherneck shouts back up to the pilot. Like a flock of birds, the MV-22s lift off the clearing. The pilots, still tense, slowly make their way skyward.

The jungle suddenly roars.

From concealed foxholes beyond the tree line, three dozen guerrillas pop up. On their shoulders are Stinger missiles. A volley whooshes skyward and decimates the flock of Ospreys. The stunned Marines on the ground look up to see all 15 MV-22s burst into flame and crash. Then remote mines explode all around them. No place to run. Mortar rounds rain down. Snipers strapped in the treetops finish off those who limp to the clearing. Then the mortar rounds walk up to the DEA bunker and blow it away. In less than 10 minutes, the smoke of battle drifts over 300 dead Marines, 30 dead drug busters, 15 Osprey crews and 1.2 billion dollars’ worth of burning birds.

Five and a half years earlier: June 3, 2000, Washington, D.C.

“Because of the rise of narco-traffickers and terrorist activities in Colombia and in other countries, democracy is under great strain in Latin America,” says President Clinton at a meeting on world peace. He’s explaining his support for the $1.7 billion in aid the House recently approved for Colombia. Most of the money goes for items like Blackhawk helicopters and a new army of 2,000 cocaine busters.

The brigade sets up outposts in the southern departamentos of Vichado, Meta, Guaviare, Caqueta, and Putumayo. The land where the coca grows is the size of France, with no good roads. Two million peasants depend on the crop for their survival, and more than 10,000 fighters from the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), led by Tirofijo “Sureshot” Marulanda, the world’s oldest active guerrilla, fight to protect the business. For nearly four years, the brigade spars with Sureshot and other major traffickers. Win some, lose some, get another $2 billion.

October 3, 2005, Washington, D.C.

George Bush turns his attention to President Miguel Santana in Bogotá. “You’re looking bad, amigo,” Bush says in Spanish. “We need more bang for our bucks.”

“It’s hard for us to make major hits with only 2,000 men,” replies Santana. “We need more help.” “If you don’t start showing some better results, we’re gonna have to rethink this aid. You understand?”

The next week, the narco brigade piles aboard its Blackhawks. Spy satellite data sent from Washington takes it deep into Caqueta. The mission is to destroy the departamento’s main storage center and processing lab. Eight Green Berets are riding along. The birds strafe, rocket, and smash everything in sight.

Total success. The raid blows away 200 fighters from FARC and also kills a son of Estevan “The Ear” Mirandez, the low-profile drug lord who is working to return the Cali cartel to glory. Two days later, The Ear and Sureshot meet at a FARC frente, a military camp deep in Putumayo. The Ear is ballistic. “This is your fault, Tirofijo. You don’t know shit about security. I lost a son.”

“What do you know about the fucking American attacks, Estevan?! What am I supposed to do about it? I lost a lot of my own men, my fucking hombres!”

At that instant the two men see that they are only being sentimental. This isn’t about family. It’s about business.

“I have an idea,” The Ear says. “We have to make them bleed.” “It’s going to piss them off.”

“What can they do?” shrugs the Ear. “They want to fight but never die. Use fucking planes and chemicals to destroy our crops. Kill a few, we won’t need to say, ‘Yankee go home.’ They’ll never come back.”

“What if they do?”

“Lost your cojones, Sureshot? Fuck all of the gringos.”

For two months they plan the ambush. They spring their trap on Thanksgiving Day.

November 27, 2005: 0900 hours, the White House

The first reports of the Santo Espiritu Massacre and lost Osprey reach President Bush just after breakfast. He summons his security advisors to the situation room in The White House.

“We need to take off the gloves. The damn press is going crazy,” he says, looking at General Vahter.

“Whaddaya’ got?”

“We can get a battalion there in 36 hours, Mr. President.”

“You kiddin’? My daddy sent 800,000 troops to the gulf, and it was only about oil. We’ve been attacked! We’re talking American honor here. Big time.”

“I think a battalion or two, maybe a regiment, would be enough to control the situation down there, sir.”

“Three-hundred men died! This is a national crisis and I’m not gonna send any men into combat with one hand tied behind their backs. It’s not limp dick time general. Get it?” The general considers his choices: Resign or roll. He rolls. How Likely is This?

The odds on escalation in Colombia are 100 percent. The only questions are how much and how soon. The minute Congress passes that first $1.7 billion, the die will be cast. The idea that 300 or so Special Forces and a handful of drug cops can shepherd Colombia out of the woods would be laughable if it were not so reminiscent of Vietnam in 1962. If we ever commit troops down there, within six months we’ll start seeing the body bags arriving at Dover Air Base in Delaware.