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Josh Marshall

Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.

Articles by Josh

I don't normally like doing tit-for-tats with other bloggers because I think such exchanges get too insidery and readers get bored with them. But let me take a few moments to respond to a post from Andrew Sullivan criticizing my recent writings on the progress of the war. I've said some very pointed things over the last several days -- both here and in the Washington Monthly -- about the folks running this operation. So I suspect Andrew is not the only one thinking along these lines.

You can read what he has to say here. But I'd summarize it as basically two criticisms. 1) I'm overstating how bad the military situation is. 2) I've "staked a certain amount of cred on being just, well, so much smarter than anyone in the administration, but a hawk as well" and I have an axe to grind because I'm "one of those neolibs [who is] trying to be hawks without being neocons."

Let's start with the first.

Sullivan says the military situation actually isn't that bad and that we can still win. I agree that it's hard for me to disagree with this claim. But that's largely because I've actually said the exact same thing at least two or three times over the last several days. What I have said fairly clearly is that some major mistakes have been made on the planning of this campaign, but that our actual military situation isn't all that bad. What I do think is that the conduct of the war to this point has shown pretty clearly that our political situation is much worse and that the political assumptions on which the administration based its policy were deeply flawed.

Let me explain each point.

First, it's seems inarguable to me now that Don Rumsfeld under-gunned the force we sent to the Gulf and that we're paying a price for it now. What else does one have to say but that we're two weeks into the war and one of the most important components we really need on the ground in Iraq is currently on the ground in Texas? Frankly, that seems like pretty good prime facie evidence of a screw-up.

Sullivan says that we just shot for the moon (early "shock and awe" etc.) and didn't quite make it. But that's okay because the plan is flexible enough to take a little longer and finish the job. On the one hand, yes, we can reconfigure a bit, regroup, and win it the old-fashioned way. But that's largely because we have a great military and it's flexible and professional enough to roll with the punches. And, at the end, of the day we're just a hell of a lot stronger than the Iraqi army. But as an argument, Sullivan's pretty far short. I don't like to get too far into the nitty-gritty of military doctrine and strategy because it's something I'm definitely not an expert on. But I think I know enough to see through this argument.

If it were true that we were just shooting for the moon knowing that it might fail and that we'd then hit them with a more conventional infantry and armor attack, we'd already have our infantry and armor in place. We don't. So I don't find that argument particularly credible.

I also don't get the impression that this is the way the US military likes to fight wars. And for good reason. First of all, if we have to wait a while now to get everything in place, we have a lot of American soldiers and Marines getting in some pretty nasty fire-fights while we're waiting. The most important point, however, is that you don't try one risky plan and then, when it doesn't work, come up with something else.

From my conversations with war planners I get the impression that, given the preponderance of our military power, what you want to do is hit the enemy with massive and unstoppable force from the start. Partly, this makes your own casualties fewer. But also, by not dragging it out and by not giving the enemy any good way to resist, you make it much more likely that the enemy will fold quickly.

Wouldn't it be nice if we had so much armor and cavalry on the ground that we could brush off these fedayeen who are harassing our supply lines? At this point, we've given the Iraqis are really hard whack and they're still standing. That's a huge boost for their morale. And I don't think there's any question that it has emboldened them and kept our potential friends among the Iraqis hesitant to make a stand in our favor. It also seems like it's emboldened people in the neighboring states as well states like Syria and Iran.

So, as I say, the military situation isn't so bad and we can certainly recover from it. But that's because we have a massive and extremely professional military and that gives us the luxury of being able to recover from some early goofs.

The problem is that our political situation is not nearly as good as our military one. And our ultimate goals are political, not military.

The administration premised virtually all of its strategy and most of its tactics on the assumption that the civilian population would treat us as liberators. Unfortunately, that basic assumption has been shown itself to be fundamentally flawed. Our military strategy was based on the idea that the Iraqis would be so happy we'd shown up that they wouldn't harass our supply lines on the way to Baghdad. That hasn't panned out.

Far more importantly, the administration's regional and international diplomatic strategies were also based on this assumption. We were so confident that the Iraqis would welcome our presence that we figured that they'd make our case to the Saudis, the Palestinians, the French and the Germans after the fact. Sure, they figured, the French and Germans are pissed now. But how stupid are they going to look when we find lots of WMD and the Iraqis are thanking us for bringing them democracy? Same difference in the region itself. Yes, the Arab street will seethe, they figured. But how long can it seethe when the Iraqis are counting their blessings and thanking us for ridding them of Saddam?

What it comes down to is that this whole operation was, shall we say heavily leveraged. So the lack of a best case scenario with the civilian population is a serious problem.

Let me be clear. I don't think we're universally hated in Iraq. Far from it. Nor do I think that even a long war will make that true. I think most Iraqis despise Saddam. Almost all will be happy for him to go. And many will be happy we got rid of him. What I do think, however, is that the Iraqis are a good deal more ambivalent about our presence than the White House thought. And there's at least a minority of Iraqis and other Muslims from neighboring countries who are willing to harass and kill American soldiers. That makes our post-war occupation of Iraq much more problematic. And it makes White House's hoped for ripple-effect -- the spread of democracy and pro-American feelings -- a lot less credible.

I'll be honest. I'd like to say that I knew we'd face this much resistance, even in the South. But I didn't. I thought we'd face a good deal less. But I knew it was a distinct possibility. (Remember: Hope is not a plan.) And that's why it was so important to go in with a top-flight war plan and a serious multilateral alliance. Without either, I think we're in a bit of a jam. If we'd drawn three aces and two kings, we'd be sitting pretty. But we didn't.

So my basic point is this: our military situation isn't that bad. We can still win and we should be able to rapidly pull together the right mix of forces to make it happen. The problem is that given what we've seen so far 'victory' itself looks a lot more problematic.

Now to the second point: Sullivan's contention that I've "staked a certain amount of cred on being just, well, so much smarter than anyone in the administration, but a hawk as well" and that I have an axe to grind because I'm "one of those neolibs [who is] trying to be hawks without being neocons."

I've heard this criticism a number of times. But I'm not quite sure what to make of it. The idea seems to be that there is something brazen or illegitimate about being serious-minded about national security and comfortable with the use of military force in foreign affairs and yet still not willing to sign on to the party line of the Weekly Standard. What does this mean exactly? I can't for the life of me see the problem with being a "hawk" on some issues and yet still resisting very point of enthusiasm or ridiculousness that this or that "neo-con" signs on to.

All I can figure with Sullivan, in this case, is that he wants to create a false dualism in which everybody is either a neo-con, a fellow traveler of neo-cons, or else some hopelessly soft-headed peacenik who secretly longs for Saddam's affection. I can see where this would make the debate easier. But I don't think it's a realistic view of the situation.

Finally, in Sullivan's post, there's a generalized claim that I'm somehow gleeful at the chance that certain of the administration heavyweights may be discredited by this and perhaps that I'm even enjoying seeing the difficult time we're having in Iraq.

Human nature is probably too frail not to have some moments of satisfaction at predictions being vindicated. But there's no glee in the points I'm trying to make about the people who've gotten us into this situation. If there's some extra intensity in the postings of late it comes from two principal reasons.

1) Not having to finish and revise a dissertation manuscript frees up a lot of time and mental energy.

2) Far more importantly, I don't like watching people risk American blood, treasure and honor on unproven and often improbable theories. I don't want to see similar mistakes made in North Korea or on the West Bank or in Europe or elsewhere. And I don't want to see these folks passing the blame off on others.

It's very important that the American people know that people in this administration acted recklessly and unwisely since that's the best way to prevent it from happening again.

Sullivan concludes by saying that I may be "haunted" by what I've written over the last week. Presumably, I'll be haunted one or two months from now when we're off on an easy occupation of Baghdad, governing a peaceful nation of thankful Iraqis, and resting easier since we've cowed Syria, Iran and the Palestinians into quiescence.

I'll be honest, if that happens, my reputation as a predictor of future events will take something of a hit. But I'll happily take that hit given how much better a situation it would mean for the country. My feeling about this situation isn't one of exhilaration but rather mortification for the situation that we're in.

Among old lefties, there always used to be this line that you couldn't say socialism or communism had failed because it had never really been tried. I told a friend a few days ago, that for better or worse, after this is done, we're not going to be able to say the same thing about neo-conservatism. This is their show. If it all pans out great, they'll really be able to crow. If it doesn't, there will be nowhere to run.

A few days ago I did a post about a book called Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen, and Leadership in Wartime. It's by a guy named Eliot Cohen. And the book played a key role in the debate last year over the relationship between the civilians and the military at the Pentagon. In that post I wrote ...

The thesis of Eliot's book is that the best wartime leaders are those who heavily involve themselves in military planning. They don't just leave it to the generals. They question and prod and, when needed -- and that's fairly often -- overrule them. A key premise of Cohen's argument is that generals and admirals are often overly risk-averse, trapped in the thinking of the last war, and sometimes overly devoted to the institutional agendas of their particular service.
Cohen sent me an email in which he said the following ...
If you are going to quote me ... would you kindly do so correctly? You recently declared that my book, SUPREME COMMAND has as its thesis the argument that competent statesmen "question and prod and, when needed -- and that's fairly often -- overrule them [their generals]."

You admit that that's an oversimplification. Its not. Its a misrepresentation. Check out the final chapter (and note its title), "The Unequal Dialogue" "Interestingly enough, none of these men [Lincoln, Clemenceau, Churchill, Ben Gurion] dictated to their subordinates. They might coax or bully, interrogate or probe, but rarely do we see them issuing orders or acting like a generalissimo." "Rarely" doesn't mean "fairly often." p. 208.

It seems to me that you owe me a correction, preferably by publishing this email.

Eliot Cohen

Here's my response.

My description was based on my recollection of the book from almost a year ago. That is my recollection. But Cohen has a quote which belies a key part of that recollection -- namely, the frequency with which civilian leaders actually do or should overrule their generals, as opposed to jawbone and coax and prod and so forth. So I went back and reread my notes, and interviews I did with others in which Cohen's book came up, and reviews of Cohen's book.

Having done that, I have to concede that my sense of the book was likely colored by conducting those subsequent interviews and reading those subsequent reviews.

Now, having said that, I think I was right about the role Cohen's book played in the debate over the last year between Rumsfeld's advocates and those of the Joint Chiefs and Joint Staff. The book was used as cover for those who thought the civilians at the Pentagon should feel a wide latitude in overruling their military subordinates. (For more on what I mean by this, see the original post.)

But how others interpreted or misinterpreted Cohen's book is a separate issue and in my post I said what Cohen's thesis actually was. I haven't gone back and reread the whole book, but based on my conversation with Cohen I think I probably did overstate a key element of his argument -- namely the frequency with which great civilian wartime leaders have, or should, dictate policy to their generals. So, Mr. Cohen, please consider the correction issued.

P.S. Now that I've been set straight on this frequency issue, the following occurs to me: If Don Rumsfeld had read Cohen's book a bit more closely, maybe we wouldn't be in this jam either ...

“'All we have now is front-line positions,' the former intelligence official told me. 'Everything else is missing.'"

That's from Sy Hersh's new piece in The New Yorker, now up and on-line. It reads like it was a tad rushed. But sometimes the goods you have are so choice and the story is moving so quickly that it's well worth pushing ahead into print. This is one of those times. Hersh's piece is unquestionably today's required reading.

Also, don't miss the long, ominous quote from Robert Baer, a former CIA middle east operator (don't ask) who is the author of See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the Cia's War on Terrorism. Though not one of them by any means, Baer used to be one of those guys who the neos would send you to to get a sense of what it was like in Iraq in the 1990s. So he's not one they can easily dismiss.

And there's yet another troubling development. We continue to hear that it is only the presence of the fedayeen Saddam that is preventing more Iraqis from rallying to our banner. I have no doubt this is true to some degree. But it is at least partly belied by the apparently substantial number of Iraqis who are leaving Jordan to go back to Iraq to fight against us.

The flacks at the DOD now say they may release new information on Saddam's repression and human rights violations. But this has the troubling sound of an institution and an argument in a feedback loop. We know Saddam's a beast. The fact simply doesn't seem to be leading to the result that some had anticipated. More evidence that he's a beast is off point. Sure, we may find the Iraqis' response hard to fathom. But why did Anne Murray ever sell so many records? Why did CNN ever have Talkback Live? Some things are just inexplicable ...

More food for thought ...

What [the Iraqis have] got going for them is that our maladroitness politically and diplomatically has put us in a real bind. There is no doubt in my mind that Saddam Hussein is an unpopular guy in Iraq, but he's running against George Bush. If you're an Iraqi, you've gotta decide who you're going to vote for here.

...

I hate it when military plans are made with optimistic assumptions of that kind. I never made a plan that relied on the courage of my own troops. You hope that -- and they generally will -- fight bravely. Your plan ought to be predicated on more realistic assumptions.

And if we sent the 3rd Infantry up there naked, by themselves, because somebody assessed that they'd be throwing bouquets at us, that's the worst thing you could say about political leadership, is that they made optimistic assumptions about warfare.

Michael Moore? Dan Rather? Phil Donohue?

Nope. General Merrill A. McPeak, former Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force 1990-94, from an interview which appeared in the Thursday edition of the Oregonian.

"President Bush's aides did not forcefully present him with dissenting views from CIA and State and Defense Department officials who warned that U.S.-led forces could face stiff resistance in Iraq, according to three senior administration officials. Instead, Bush embraced predictions of top administration hawks, beginning with Vice President Dick Cheney, who predicted Iraqis would joyously greet coalition troops as liberators and that the entire conflict might be over in a matter of weeks, the officials said."

That's the devastating lede of Warren Strobel's piece on the administration meltdown.

At a certain level, of course, we already knew this. Either the president's chief advisors deliberately kept from him the warnings streaming in from all around (which I doubt) or they convinced him that he could ignore such advice because it came from people who weren't credible (which I believe happened). (The standard line among the neos and hawks is that the folks at State and CIA are just a bunch of discredited, Arabist, softies -- or worse. And any nay-saying from them can be safely ignored.) One might also suspect that he was fully briefed on all the downside potentialities but simply chose to move ahead regardless. But I think that third possibility is highly unlikely.

Whichever is true, for the moment, it's a secondary matter. What makes this article such big news is the attribution: "three senior administration officials".

A responsible journalist -- and the author, Warren Strobel, definitely qualifies -- reserves that classification for a very select group of people: cabinet secretaries, deputy secretaries, VPs, chiefs of staff, NSC Directors, Communications Directors, press secretaries, senior political advisors, and so forth. It might be squeezed open a bit further maybe. But these three aren't assistant-deputy-sub-deputies over at Interior or Commerce.

It's a narrow enough designation that I think you can say clearly that there simply aren't "three senior administration officials" at the State Department. Indeed, this has all the looks of a story leaked right out of the White House. Presumably, we can scratch Dick Cheney's name off the list since they finger him as the person most responsible for selling the president a bill of goods. Of course, we said months ago that Cheney was the living, breathing disaster at the heart of this administration. But we'll get back to that later.

In any case, the attribution is what makes this such a big story. The White House is in such a state of pandemonium and implosion that they are discarding the policy -- indeed, they are positively undermining it -- in the hopes of insulating the president from the immense fall-out that they can see barreling down the track. Consider also that, saying the president was "out of the loop" -- seemingly a family failing -- on the central policy of his administration is a devastating admission of incompetence on its own. So that tells you what they think of the consequences of remaining attached to the policy.

If you need some evidence that our country is in some trouble, there it is.

Another snippet from my interview with Richard Perle from April 2002 ...

Everything depends on what happens in Iraq. Suppose the Iraqis are dancing in the streets after Saddam is gone. So why does an Egyptian get inflamed if the Iraqis themselves are saying 'Thank god, Thank Allah, we've been liberated' ... By the way, if you went back and looked at the predictions [about the first Gulf War], some of us were right and others were wrong. And people have forgotten where they were at that time. And I said we're going to win this and we're going to win it very quickly. And I was even asked about the role of the ground forces and I said, 'They will be taking down names, ranks and serial numbers. That's the essential role of the ground forces.' Because it was basically over before anybody touched Iraqi soil, as a result of the air campaign. And our abilities today are by orders of magnitude better than they were then. We were primitive in 1991 by comparison to what we can do today …
More soon ...

Here are the first two grafs from Vernon Loeb's piece in Sunday's Washington Post ...

Current and former U.S. military officers are blaming Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and his aides for the inadequate troop strength on the ground in Iraq, saying the civilian leaders "micromanaged" the deployment plan out of mistrust of the generals and an attempt to prove their own theory that a light, maneuverable force could handily defeat Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

More than a dozen officers interviewed, including a senior officer in Iraq, said Rumsfeld took significant risks by leaving key units in the United States and Germany at the start of the war. That resulted in an invasion force that is too small, strung out, underprotected, undersupplied and awaiting tens of thousands of reinforcements who will not get there for weeks.

Be sure to read the rest.

Here's the second graf of Rick Atkinson and Tom Ricks' piece in the Post ...

Top Army officers in Iraq say they now believe that they effectively need to restart the war. Before launching a major ground attack on Iraq's Republican Guard, they want to secure their supply lines and build up their own combat power. Some timelines for the likely duration of the war now extend well into the summer, they say.
Also, don't miss Jonathan Finer's excellent piece on house-to-house sweeps by Marines looking for weapons. LATE UPDATE: Don't miss this new article filed by Finer several hours later. It's the Marines on a similar mission but getting a better and more hopeful result by working through apparently cooperative village leaders -- an optimistic sign in some pretty dark days.

Here's something I'd like to share with you. This is an email I received this evening from a former career diplomat who served as U.S. ambassador to a Muslim country. He also studied military strategy at the National War College with retired four-stars like Wes Clark, Hugh Shelton, and others.

As the author of the email himself says, many parts of it are speculative. Perhaps they'll prove correct, perhaps not. Who knows? But I found the discussion and predictions fascinating and full of insights, if profoundly ominous in their implications ...

Your latest posting raises the question of what is going to happen. You write that we still have to come up with a strategy to protect our troops and complete the mission. Yogi Berra said never to make predictions, especially about the future. But I have had a pretty good track record over the years in predicting the future. (That's the sin of pride, and not a Nostradamus complex.) So, looking into my crystal ball, I do not believe that we will be able to complete the mission on OUR terms, which were to eliminate weapons of mass destruction, overthrow Saddam, and liberate the Iraqi people.

Not only has this not been a cakewalk, the most telling point is that we still have not been able to secure Basra in the Shiite south. That was supposed to be easy. So how we will be able to enter and secure Baghdad, so much larger, so much more populated, so much more Sunni, so much angrier at us (after days and nights of bombing), defended by the toughest of the Republican Guard, and so much more critical to Saddam? Baghdad is the "prize," the center of gravity (in Clausewitz's phrase). Without Baghdad, there is no regime change. And how will we be able to take it without getting bloodied, both militarily and politically? Are we really prepared to bomb the bejeezus out of it (and the people who live there)? Are we prepared to be drawn into urban warfare in such a large place -- a mega-Mogadishu -- when Saddam & Co. already have demonstrated that they are prepared to use every trick in the book to thwart us (irregulars in civilian clothes, terrorism, suicide bombers, human shields, etc.)? And where, as in Vietnam, we cannot distinguish friend from foe?

Holbrooke predicts in a new NY Times story by Johnny Apple as follows:

--"Saddam won't win," said Richard C. Holbrooke, the former United States representative at the United Nations. "Unlike L.B.J. in Vietnam, Bush won't quit. He's a different kind of Texan.(**) He'll escalate and keep escalating. In the end his military strategy will probably succeed in destroying Saddam.

--"But it may result in a Muslim jihad against us and our friends. Achieving our narrow objective of regime change may take so long and trigger so many consequences that it's no victory at all. Our ultimate goal, which is promoting stability in the Middle East, may well prove elusive."

The war obviously is not going to end the way that Rumsfeld, Cheney, Perle, Kristol, etc. all predicted. I see three scenarios:

1. We will hesitate to enter the city for fear of losing large numbers of US casualties in urban warfare. We therefore will have to engage in major bombing in Baghdad, including in civilian areas. To use the Vietnam era phrase, "we had to destroy the village in order to save it." International outrage will be overwhelming, and we will pay the price in the Arab and Muslim worlds for years to come. Operation Iraqi Freedom becomes Operation Iraqi Conquest.

2. Like the Russians against Napoleon and later the Nazis, there is "defense in depth." Let them get deep inside your country, and then start nibbling at them and making their life miserable. It's already happened -- we were rolling to Baghdad with little opposition against our main and heavily-armed forces, and then all hell broke loose against our lighter armed but critical logistics chain that is in the rear. Following this pattern, Saddam eventually will make it "easy" (that's in quotes, because it won't be that easy) for us to enter Baghdad as a ruse, and once we are there, with only 20 to 30K troops inside an unfamiliar and large city of 5 million, his forces will engage in hit and run, guerrilla, terrorist tactics against us. We will have to retreat from the city, bloodied and demoralized -- to borrow your phrase, this is the chickenhawk down scenario. There will be calls from within the US (and certainly from Britain) to pull out of Iraq all together, because the mission has failed. How do you spell "Dunkirk?" We will have to get us forces safely out of the country across 300 miles. (Is that the distance from Baghdad back to Kuwait?) Remember April 1775? The British lost more troops marching back to Boston than they did at Lexington and Concord.

3. This is what I think is the most likely scenario. Cooler heads such as Colin Powell and our senior military leaders will be able to convince Bush that Option 1 and 2 are not "viable," to use a USG phrase. (It will be a tough sell, because Bush personally will prefer Option 1, the stay the course, show the world (and Daddy) how tough and determined and "focused" I am). Our military leaders, already mad at Rummy and company for not giving them the forces they needed to do the job, will simply not want to engage in such butchery or subject their forces to heavy casualties. Tony Blair will make the same point. But what to do? We will need to surround the city, secure the rest of the country, and then play the game of "political standoff." Somebody will have to blink.

If there is this political standoff (option 3), then others in the world -- the UN, our European allies, responsible NAM members -- will push to eliminate two of our objectives (regime change and liberation) and return to what 1441 was all about, which is inspections and disarmament. With our forces in country, we will have in effect what Jessica Matthews called for before the war started -- "robust inspections." With US military force at hand, UN inspectors should be able to go anywhere they want to outside Baghdad. If Saddam wants the rest of his country back, he would have to agree to robust inspections within the 50 miles radius of Baghdad as well.

After Option 3 goes into play, Bush will need to deflect blame in order to try and save his political skin. He will let Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz know that he wants their resignations. The finger pointing around town will be staggering. Career military officers and CIA/DIA analysts will continue to leak damaging stories of how their concerns were suppressed at "the political level." A number of military officers will resign/retire because the honor of their service and the lives of their men/women were needlessly squandered by an arrogant and deaf political leadership. There will be calls from the talking heads that if Bush wants to be re-elected, he should start to focus on the economy and replace the disgraced Cheney on the ticket in 2004 with Colin Powell. The Democrats will be as ineffectual as ever in taking advantage of all this.

(**) Comment. Right. LBJ's self-doubts about the war are not only in Doris Kearns's biography, but also have been revealed in the transcripts of his phone conversations with Sen. Richard Russell (even in 1964-65). And when he saw that it wasn't working, he halted the bombing and went to the peace table. As for GWB, he is not given to self-doubts, second thoughts, or self-reflection.

Food for thought. Like syrup of ipecac ...

TPM can chatter about the Rumsfeld debacle. But it looks like Sy Hersh has the goods and then some. Here's the sneak preview. I'd say this is going to be the big article.

Here are just a few examples from an article just sent out by Reuters ...

"He thought he knew better. He was the decision-maker at every turn," the article quoted an unidentified senior Pentagon planner as saying. "This is the mess Rummy put himself in because he didn't want a heavy footprint on the ground."

It also said Rumsfeld had overruled advice from war commander Gen. Tommy Franks to delay the invasion until troops denied access through Turkey could be brought in by another route and miscalculated the level of Iraqi resistance.

"They've got no resources. He was so focused on proving his point -- that the Iraqis were going to fall apart," the article, by veteran journalist Seymour Hersh, cited an unnamed former high-level intelligence official as saying.

...

Hersh, however, quoted the former intelligence official as saying the war was now a stalemate.

Much of the supply of Tomahawk cruise missiles has been expended, aircraft carriers were going to run out of precision guided bombs and there were serious maintenance problems with tanks, armored vehicles and other equipment, the article said.

"The only hope is that they can hold out until reinforcements arrive," the former official said.

The article quoted the senior planner as saying Rumsfeld had wanted to "do the war on the cheap" and believed that precision bombing would bring victory.

We've got a great military, great commanders and great troops. They can do this. But we owe them far better civilian leaders.

Humanitarian relief? This report is good news, bad news. Luckily more of the former than the latter, at least in the medium to long term. According to this AFP report, refugees streaming south to avoid fighting gave food to US Marines. That's a good sign of goodwill from Iraqi civilians -- possibly a sign of underlying support, kept in check for the moment by fear of Saddam's reprisals. But it does rather beg the question of why our troops are having to get food from Iraqi refugees. Isn't it supposed to be going the other way? Numerous news organizations are reporting that Marines at the tip of the spear have had to ration their food, limiting themselves to one MRE (meal) a day, because of supply-line disruptions farther south.

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