Editors’ Blog

Two questions which one

Two questions which one keeps hearing: Have we drawn up plans for an invasion of Syria? There are plans and plans, of course. It’s in the nature of Joint Staffs to have plans on hand for even most improbable of wars. (If I remember correctly, the US had battle plans even for going to war with Britain as late as the years between the first and second world wars, though perhaps it was earlier than that. Point being, it’s the job of the military to have plans on hand for even the most hard-to-conceive eventualities.) But in this case I mean real plans. The second is whether Ariel Sharon will use this moment to strike at Syria — not an invasion but taking out various stuff from the air. I’m not hearing this from doves or the establishment types, but from the hawks.

There are a slew

There are a slew of reports and images coming out of Iraq tonight, all of which point in one sense or another to the regime crumbling or just melting away. This is not the end of resistance but the end of anything you could credibly call a government in any but a nominal sense. There are some expressions of hostility, many of popular jubilation or simply relief. But some of the most visible images are of what can only be called indifference to our presence: namely, the looting. Looting was always to be expected. This is a country that’s been ruled by terror for at least two generations. And even if we had every person in the US military on the ground in Iraq we still wouldn’t be able to effectively police the place in the immediate chaos surrounding the fall of the government.

There do seem to be at least some instances of vengeance killings occurring. And there are sure to be many more. But what’s really striking is the fairly calm, unhurried looting. This is what happens in a society when everything has been held in check by terror and so many of the bonds which make up society have been slowly ground away.

Some time back I was talking to an Iraqi emigre based in the Washington. (My understanding is that he’s now in Kuwait readying to go back into the country.) This is not one of the name “oppositionists,” but someone who always struck me as the most authentically democratic of the Iraqis I talked to for my various reporting. He had a much less monochromatic sense of at least the original Baath party than we usually hear today, rightly or wrongly, in the US. And he spoke of the “excessive dictatorship” Saddam Hussein had imposed on the country and the way it had ground away all of what we usually call civil society. Ironically, sanctions had only tightened his grip and still furthered the process, giving the state — in its thuggish, smuggler, aid-administrator guise — even greater control over people’s lives.

Obviously, “excessive dictatorship” is a funny phrase to hear from someone I’m calling a democrat. But what he meant was this grinding down of institutions and allegiances and affiliations — everything but the autocratic state and the individual. One of the other distressing points was his description of how this breaking down of civil society had left only those sorts of leaders who could call on atavistic or sectarian loyalties. And this is what you see in most of the Iraqi opposition leaders, the Shi’a Islamists, the Kurdish parties, the various exile groups which have only a very uncertain command over any allegiance inside the country. Many of them, of course, the US essentially created.

The challenge is the lack of national institutions around which you’re going to be able or not going to be able to build some sort of unified state.

Even war with all

Even war with all its horrors has its small eddies and backwaters of farce and hilarity. One of those now comes in the stream of press conferences being held by Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Said al-Sahaf, in which he claims that Iraqi troops are beating back American forces, retaking the airport and perhaps even giving the GIs merciless wedgies in more light-hearted moments. These press opportunities, of course, are originating in a city which is now apparently subject to daily incursions by US troops, a jarring contrast of almost Monty Pythonesque dimensions. One almost expects before too long to see Al-Sahaf — with some embedded reporter’s videophone in hand — broadcasting from an American POW camp, telling listeners that reports of Iraqi battlefield reverses are vastly overstated.

Ralph Peters a retired

Ralph Peters, a retired Army officer, had a good column on Saturday in the New York Post belying the claims of the Rumsfeld cheer-leading squad …

Unable to admit that errors of any kind might have been made in planning the war, OSD spokespersons engage in a combination of outright lies, attacks on critics and highly selective memories.

As far as events proceeding according to plan, well, if your plan is vague enough, with a sufficient number of “branches and sequels,” as the military puts it, even defeat might be presented as having been anticipated.

Fortunately, we are not faced with failure. The outcome of this war, if not the timing of that outcome, truly is not in doubt. But events did not proceed according to plan.

The much-heralded initial airstrikes failed and are now conveniently forgotten. The ground campaign assumed the lead from the first days of the war – which definitely was not according to the plan. And the number of ground forces permitted to the theater commander was inadequate by any honest measure.

These are some of the more choice comments. But read the whole thing because Peters lays out a strong and broad-ranging argument. And he speaks with authority.

I think I can

I think I can say with some certainty that Washington is the only city on the planet these days — at least last night, it was — where one can go to a party and hear someone do a Karaoke rap about regime change and the grand plan to democratize the Middle East. And, lest there be any question, no, the performer wasn’t TPM. Actually, it was pretty good, though I was more than a bit inebriated at that point. So who knows? In any case, I still wasn’t convinced, but I was entertained.

Earlier in the evening — a few hours after getting ambushed on Fox News — I got asked this question: setting aside the potential deceptions involved in getting the US into this broader conflict and the possible costs, do you believe in the goal? In other words, do you believe a) in the goal of democratizing the Middle East and b) that rooting out illiberal governments in both their authoritarian and fundamentalist forms will strike a fundamental blow against terrorism itself?

It’s a tough question on a number of levels. With some equivocation, I said I did. But then, I said, I would have to say I am also in favor of developing warp drive engines. And yet I think that’s a case where the investments required are sufficiently steep and the prospects of success so distant that I’m not sure I think we should really get into it too seriously at this point.

I don’t want to suggest that democratizing every country in the Middle East is as daunting a challenge as creating the technology for faster-than-light space travel. What I do mean, however, is that agreeing to a goal is only one step in a debate. Do you have any good plan to achieve it? What are the costs? Does the public get a say in the matter? Do the advocates of the liberal experiment themselves have deeply illiberal tendencies?

A colleague of mine and I have had a running conversation going for the last couple months over what a neo-con is, what’s the defining trait. Some definitions are biographical and others ideological. Few seem entirely satisfying. And one would want a definition that could be accepted by their supporters and opponents alike — to make it a basis for further discussions. As I noted in the article in the Monthly, I think one trait is a tendency to let advocacy get the better part of honesty, to privilege, shall we say, morality over facts. But the deeper trait or definition I’ve come up with is this: Neocons are people who don’t like muddling through — both in the good and bad senses of what that means.

One other point on this running discussion. I mentioned yesterday an article in Policy Review by Stanley Kurtz. Don’t miss another article in the same issue: “Rage, Hubris, and Regime Change,” by Ken Jowitt. This is a critical appraisal of the Bush administration’s foreign policy doctrines, and one I think only another conservative could write. It’s entertaining and insightful.

Tod Lindberg is the editor of Policy Review, and he is also one of the people I interviewed at length for my Monthly article. I don’t agree with Lindberg’s stance. But far from being one of the deceivers, he is someone who I think fully recognizes the difficulty of a years-long effort to reform and democratize the Middle East and entirely frank and the costs and dangers. He just thinks we have no choice. In any case, it’s a credit to him and Policy Review to have published this dissenting piece. This is an important debate to have so long as we can have it openly and on its own terms.

Mickey Kaus has a

Mickey Kaus has a good run-down on the good-plan, bad-plan debate. And I think his conclusions are pretty much on the mark. His points are especially well-taken on Turkey. There’s one small point he neglects, though. Don Rumsfeld actually thought we could proceed even without the forty-thousand or so British troops now in the theater.

At around 515 PM

At around 5:15 PM EST this afternoon I’ll be going on Fox News to debate whether it’s okay for anyone to question or criticize Don Rumsfeld’s war-planning. We’ve gotten contradictory intelligence reports so far about whether I’ll be greeted as a liberator or an invader over at the Fox studios. So, to prepare for all possible contingencies, I’ll be bringing heavy armaments as well as candy for the children. You know, it always makes sense to be prepared: Hope is not a plan.

Everyone is in Kuwait.

Everyone is in Kuwait. And I mean everyone. I was talking to a couple ex-CIA sources today, trying to get a handle on what’s going on with the Iraqi-occupation-government-to-be. I wanted to figure out who was in and who was out, who was worth trying to get on the phone, and so forth. How about this ex-CIA Iraq-hand? Should I give him a call? Oh, he’s in Kuwait working for General X. That anti-Chalabi Iraqi emigre? Oh, him? In Kuwait. He’s in the mix too.

Some day, and perhaps some day in the not-too-distant future, someone will write this book. How much of the Washington foreign policy politics of the last decade got compressed into this scrum at the head of the Persian Gulf, how everyone who has a theory about what the next government of Iraq should look like, everyone who wants to make money off it — in short, the level-headed, the hopelessly idealistic and the utterly craven — all descended on Kuwait City to jockey for position.

There’s the Pentagon and the State department, the three or four different “Iraqi oppositions” the CIA has courted over the last dozen years, the NGOs, the would-be Lawrence of Arabias, the gun-runners, the gentle-minded rule-of-law mavens, the ex-Generals, the constitutional lawyers, the hotheads and the maniacs.

Everyone’s there or soon will be. And they’re all waiting at the starting line.

Oh yeah, and then there’s the Iraqis …

Good for John Kerry.

Good for John Kerry. A few days ago in New Hampshire, Kerry told an audience “What we need now is not just a regime change in Saddam Hussein and Iraq, but we need a regime change in the United States.”

Following this, Republicans launched a highly coordinated attack, with blistering fire from all the name Republican leaders and equally heavy fire from their email, fax, and talk radio apparatus.

Here’s the text of an email Deputy RNC Chairman, Jack Oliver, sent out to the loyal GOP faithful …

Yesterday, John Kerry shocked many Americans when he called for “regime change” right here in the U.S. By comparing our commander-in-chief to Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime at a time of war, Kerry showed just what he is willing to say to appeal to liberal Democrat primary voters.

RNC, Chairman Marc Racicot quickly responded saying, “Senator Kerry crossed a grave line when he dared to suggest the replacement of America’s commander-in- chief at a time when America is at war. Critical analysis offered in the best interests of the country is part of a healthy democracy. But this use of self- serving rhetoric designed to further Senator Kerry’s political ambitions at a time when the lives of America’s sons and daughters are at stake reflects a complete lack of judgment.”

Senator Kerry’s shocking comments come just three weeks after he said he would end any criticism if America goes to war, saying, “It’s what you owe the troops … if America is at war, I won’t speak a word without measuring how it’ll sound to the guys doing the fighting.” It appears Senator Kerry is more interested in appealing to a small, radical faction of voters than leading all Americans.

These comments are just the latest example of Democrat leaders blaming America first. Last week, Tom Daschle echoed the French line, blaming our nation for the war, even after the United Nations gave Iraq 12 years to disarm. Joe Lieberman called President Bush a “greater threat to peace than Saddam Hussein.” Dick Gephardt claimed that President Bush is “bullying” the world.

Do you think these Democrat comments go too far?

Shocking! Did I remember to say shocking? Did I remember to say AMBITIOUS? Shocked many Americans … Compared Bush to Saddam Hussein! Please …

I’m just finishing up a study about how one group of people used overwhelming displays of violence to overawe and terrorize another group into docility and obedience. So, even though this is verbal rather than physical violence, I think I have an idea how this works.

The RNC is using the cover of war — ‘using’ isn’t too strong a term, though ‘exploiting’ may be better — to set a standard in which any critical comment about the president uttered by a political rival is greeted by an overwhelming fusillade. The idea is to set the standard for criticism extraordinarily high and scare any Democrat from criticizing the president at all as long as the war or probably even the reconstruction of Iraq goes on. It’s reminiscent of the cheap bullying Dick Cheney tried to pull in the months after 9/11.

John Kerry responded thus …

The Republicans have tried to make a practice of attacking anybody who speaks out strongly by questioning their patriotism. I refuse to have my patriotism or right to speak out questioned. I fought for and earned the right to express my views in this country … If they want to pick a fight, they’ve picked a fight with the wrong guy … I watched what they did to Max Cleland last year. Shame on them for doing it then and shame on them for trying to do it now.

As it happens, I think Kerry’s original remarks are precisely on the mark. The 2004 election would always have been an important election. But the events of recent months have made it perhaps one of the most important elections in the last century. And the future of the country depends greatly on President Bush not being reelected.

But more on that point later.

For the purposes of our present discussion, the particulars of Kerry’s remark are almost beside the point. This is no better than cheap bullying practiced by the president’s hacks. And, in political life as in personal life, there is only one way to deal with bullies: you must fight back against them with at least the ferocity and intensity that they use against you. They understand nothing else and deserve nothing better. There’s no reasoning with them, no apologizing to them, no hashing out the particulars of remarks you’ve made.

Bullying, bluff and aggression have been the signature modus operandi of the president’s political operatives in domestic politics for the last two years. How many veterans will get their patriotism questioned by the president’s operatives and placemen before we see the mainline pundits say enough is enough? Recently, we’ve seen Tom Daschle, Dick Gephardt and now John Kerry get the treatment. The president’s operatives are using the presence of an American army in the field — Americans fighting and dying in Iraq– not only to land a few easy shots on the president’s opponents but to hit them so hard that they’re afraid to hit back. Don’t miss the point of this: it’s to scare anyone out of uttering any criticism. And it’s a cheap use of American blood.

It’s nice to see Kerry at least putting out word that he won’t stand for it. No one should.

Ive gotten a lot

I’ve gotten a lot of response to my article (“Practice to Deceive“) in the new issue of The Washington Monthly. But the most interesting response has been the lack of response or criticism from the main advocates of regime change in Iraq. I can’t say that I’ve received a lot of plaudits or thank yous. But it confirms a point I made on a radio show yesterday: there’s really no denying any of this because it’s really an open secret, if it’s even a secret at all. It’s been discussed and canvassed and argued over in The Weekly Standard, The National Review and various other publications.

In Los Angeles on Wednesday Jim Woolsey, one of the top regime change advocates, called this effort “this fourth world war [which], I think, will last considerably longer than either World Wars I or II did for us. Hopefully not the full four-plus decades of the Cold War.” It’s a war, he said, against the mullahs of Iran, the “fascists” in Iraq and Syria and al Qaida. Addressing the Saudis and Hosni Mubarak, he said “We want you nervous. We want you to realize now, for the fourth time in a hundred years, this country and its allies are on the march and that we are on the side of those whom you — the Mubaraks, the Saudi Royal family — most fear: We’re on the side of your own people.”

Jim Woolsey is currently in line for a top post in the American occupation government.

This afternoon I’m reading Stanley Kurtz’s “Democratic Imperialism: A Blueprint” in the new issue of Policy Review. As I noted in the article, there are a number of different flavors of our would-be imperial project in the Arab world. And Kurtz’s isn’t exactly the same as the one I outlined in the Monthly. But it’s part of the same conversation.

I first got a sense of this larger program when I wrote my first article on the Iraq issue (“Bomb Saddam?“) but I got the idea to write the new article when I was at a panel discussion a couple months ago and one of the presenters used the phrase “Middle East reform.” The phrase rolled off his lips as though it required little explanation. And what he meant was pretty much what the phrase sounded like: the process of reforming the Middle East much as one might reform welfare or some institution that had fallen on hard times. He didn’t underestimate the difficulty of doing so, but was convinced that America’s security depended on it.

One point that remains implicit in the Monthly article is that there’s not that much deception among many of the people who’ve formulated this idea for launching an imperial project in the Middle East. The deception lies with the public propagandists and those in the administration who’ve worked to implement the plan without giving the public much of a sense of what they’re up to.

More on this soon.

A brief note on

A brief note on the late Michael Kelly. It should come as no surprise to any reader of this site that I seldom, if ever, agreed with anything Kelly wrote in his Washington Post column. Indeed, my reactions were often far more visceral. When someone dies, especially so young and under such violent circumstances, it’s natural to praise what there is to praise and say kind words for the departed notwithstanding any shortcomings. But let me just go a bit beyond that in this case, because it’s deserved. To the best of my recollection I never met Kelly in person. But I know a number of people who knew him very well and worked with him closely while he was the editor of The New Republic and then of The Atlantic. I’d say most of these people had more or less the same basic reaction to his column that I did. But to a person, every one of them always told me how good and fair-minded he was, both as a person and professionally. The people who worked under him as an editor loved him, even if they were bewildered by many of his views. Long before this tragic news this morning, more than one of them told me they scarcely recognized the person they knew in his often impassioned and cutting columns. Good, fair-minded, honest, never one to push his personal political views on writers whose work he edited — a temptation which many are never able to master — all the stuff you’d want in a true journalist. I remember one friend from the New Republic telling me how he had a sort of moralism and straight-laced sense of journalistic propriety you’d expect from a newspaperman of a couple generations ago. Disagree with him, but grieve him no less for it.

Some very tragic news

Some very tragic news to come from the “embed” program. The death of a prominent American newspaper journalist shortly to be announced. Stay tuned … LATE UPDATE: His news organization, The Washington Post, has now reported the death of Michael Kelly.

Is William Safire just

Is William Safire just another Tricky Dick?

Ten days ago Safire fired off a barrage of accusations against America’s erstwhile ally, Turkey (“Turkey’s Wrong Turn,” March 24, 2003). He blamed Turkey’s refusal to give the US a northern front on an amalgam of incipient Islamism and greed for northern Iraqi oil. He said Prime Minister Erdogan had turned Turkey into “Saddam’s best friend.”

Thus Safire wrote …

Adding diplomatic insult to this military injury, Turkey massed 40,000 troops
on its border with Iraq, hoping to grab the oil fields of Kirkuk if Iraqi Kurds
rectified Saddam’s ethnic cleansing by daring to return to their homes.

The Turks’ excuse for seizing today’s moment of liberation to bite off a rich
chunk of their neighbor is this: they insist that Iraqi Kurds plan to set up an
independent state, which would then supposedly cause Turkish Kurds to secede and
break up Turkey.

That’s strictly Erdogan’s cover story for an oil grab, undermining the
coalition’s plans for an Iraq whole and free.

Now, as I noted in The Hill last week, Safire’s argument was really little more than a bundle of slurs built on a series of fairly straightforward logical contradictions. The long and the short of it was that Safire was just letting the Turks have it because they refused the United States. That required taking them down two or three notches.

But if Turkey really was refusing us because it craved the oil fields of Kirkuk, would Safire really be in much of a position to criticize them? Not really, since he’s spent the last eighteen months dangling the lure of Iraqi oil in front of the Turks as their reward for helping the US topple Saddam.

For instance, just after 9/11, Safire wrote a column in which he was supposedly “channeling” his one-time boss Richard Nixon about the wars on terrorism and Saddam (“The Turkey Card,” November 5th, 2001).

Here’s a snippet from the ‘interview’ …

Q: The Turks have already volunteered about a hundred commandos — you mean
we should ask for more?

Nixon: Get out of that celebrity-terrorist Afghan mindset. With the world
dazed and everything in flux, seize the moment. I’d make a deal with Ankara
right now to move across Turkey’s border and annex the northern third of Iraq.
Most of it is in Kurdish hands already, in our no-flight zone — but the land to
make part of Turkey is the oil field around Kirkuk that produces nearly half of
Saddam Hussein’s oil
[italics added].

Q: Doesn’t that mean war?

Nixon: Quick war, justified by Saddam’s threat of germs and nukes and
terrorist connections. We’d provide air cover and U.N. Security Council support
in return for the Turks’ setting up a friendly government in Baghdad. The freed
Iraqis would start pumping their southern oil like mad and help us bust up OPEC
for good.

Q: What’s in it for the Turks?

Nixon: First, big money — northern Iraq could be good for nearly two million
barrels a day, and the European Union would fall all over itself welcoming in
the Turks. Next, Turkey would solve its internal Kurd problem by making its
slice of Iraq an autonomous region called Kurdistan.

Now, that was “Nixon” talking. And even though it was pretty clear these were slightly more coarse and candid expressions of Safire’s own thinking, maybe you figure it’s unfair to identify him directly with these ideas. But how about another column (“Of Turks and Kurds,” August 26th, 2002) from just last summer, in which Safire speculated on what the Turks might gain from getting involved in the regime change game …

But many Turks, having just defeated their own Kurdish terrorists
headquartered in Damascus, are still transfixed by the chimera of Kurdish
separatism. They worry that when Saddam is overthrown, Iraqi Kurds will split
off into an independent Kurdistan, its traditional capital in oil-rich Kirkuk,
which might encourage Turkish Kurds also to break away. But that defies all
logic: would the Kurdish people, free inside a federated Iraq and with their
culture respected in Turkey, start a war against the regional superpower?

Turks also worry about the million Turkomen in northern Iraq. It should not
be beyond the wit of nation-builders to ensure that minority’s rights and
economic improvement. Turkey has a claim on oil royalties from nearby fields
dating back to when Iraq was set up
[italics added]. As a key military ally in the liberation
and reformation of that nation, and with judicious U.S.-guaranteed oil
investments, Turkey should begin to get its debt paid.

See the game Safire has been playing? First, he tries to get the Turks on the regime-change bandwagon with the lure of Iraqi oil. When they refuse the temptation, he accuses them of cravenly lusting after the very thing he unsuccessfully tried to tempt them with. Yesterday in the Times he was actually at it again. What sort of weird combination of disingenuousness and projection is this? Tricky Dick? How ’bout just plain … well, this is a family website. But you get the idea.

Well be saying more

We’ll be saying more about this later. But watch Colin Powell’s trip through Europe. On the surface, this is an effort at fence-mending with NATO allies after the lead-up to war and an attempt to make plans for post-war Iraq. In fact, this looks more like a three way battle between Europe, the State Department and the Pentagon, with Colin Powell trying to leverage the Europeans — and particularly Tony Blair — against the AEI faction at the Pentagon. Let’s hope he’s able to pull it off. On the other hand, in his battles with the hawks, look at his track record.

More from General McPeak

More from General McPeak (former Chief of Staff, US Air Force) from last night on Aaron Brown’s show

Yes, I think that’s more a political gamut. And quite frankly, I’m a lot less optimistic on the political side. I think we ought to make a sharp distinction here between two types of criticism that are being made. Some, even retired senior officers, are criticizing the plan, saying we don’t have enough force there, one way or another.

I disagree with all that. And I don’t think it’s helpful. Our guys on the ground are doing great. The plan is being executed well. We just have to be a little patient.

But there’s a second kind of criticism that says the political run-up to this thing was pretty ugly. The administration has managed to back us into a position where we’ve lost a lot of friends. Our closest neighbors, Canada and Mexico, are not on our side. Some of our oldest allies, France.

And so we’ve done a pretty good job on splitting NATO, the most successful military coalition in history. And so we’ve reduced our friends and multiplied our enemies in the political run-up to this, and that I think has enormous strategic consequences.

Remember, we never lost a battle in Vietnam, we just lost the war because the politics of it was so clumsily done.

More soon.

The striking scenes of

“The striking scenes of Iraqis cheering and welcoming U.S. troops as liberators in the Shiite holy city of Najaf Wednesday came as no surprise to a handful of British and American undercover officials who have for months sought with sweet talk and hard cash to win over the country’s traditional tribal sheikhs and chieftains. ‘The most important duty of a tribal chief is knowing when to switch sides,’ one British official with knowledge of the undercover operation told United Press International. ‘In Najaf, the al-Jaburi tribe understood that Saddam Hussein’s time was over.'”

That’s from a story just filed by Martin Walker for UPI.

This doesn’t nullify the implication of those cheering throngs of Iraqis welcoming US troops. It just adds a deeper note of complexity to what’s going on. It also anticipates the growing debate over the character of the post-Saddam government. Says one British official interviewed by Walker: “This is not just about toppling Saddam with briefcases full of cash or telling their people it is time to welcome the coalition troops. The tribes play a long game. For them, the real currency is not just money but privileges and the promise of roles and influence in the post-Saddam government, whatever the United Nations or the Iraqi exile groups may say.”

A few thoughts. The

A few thoughts. The chemical weapons issue is really becoming acute. CNN’s Walt Rodgers is doing amazing reporting this morning with the 3-7th Cavalry, speeding toward the outskirts of Baghdad. Earlier this morning he reported seeing many dead Iraqis that his armored column was leaving in its wake as it pushed ahead. According to Rodgers, they were all wearing gas masks — if not actually donned than at least at their side. Presumably that means the Iraqis are prepared and ready to use chemicals at any moment.

The question that arises is basically a political one for the Iraqis. Once they use chemicals, if they do, they will not only lose a lot of ground in the propaganda war in the Arab world and even more in Europe, they will also confirm a lot of the rationale for American action. So, for them, it must be a difficult calculation. If they have hopes of dragging this out in a guerrilla war or some urban fighting then you’d expect they wouldn’t do it — it would be counterproductive, since they believe they have some hope of eventually wearing America down and turning world opinion further against us. On the other hand, if they think they’re on the verge of complete collapse — which looks like a distinct possibility — then they may be in ‘go down in blaze of glory’ mode.

Now, for what’s coming next, be sure to read two key pieces today. The lead editorial in today’s Washington Post and this article by Jane Perlez in the Times. The Post’s editorial page has long been pretty friendly to the neo-con-Iraqi National Congress axis, so their note of caution on post-war plans merits considerable attention. Perlez’s piece gives fascinating background on Iraq’s government-in-waiting, currently kickin’ it in Kuwait. Three candidates are now in the running to administer the occupation government: the UN/international community, the United States government, and the American Enterprise Institute. At the moment, candidate #1 is at least a lap behind the other two, and candidate #2 is already starting to wheeze. AEI … well, they look like their just gettin’ their stride.

Weve just gotten in

We’ve just gotten in the traffic stats for March and we’re very pleased: visitors 183,775, visits 495,507, and page views 1,411,073. As always, many thanks to everyone who visited the site last month. It’s much appreciated.

Still more goal-post-moving on

Still more goal-post-moving on the right.

Andrew Sullivan notes an editorial in Today’s New York Times as an example of a broad defense of Don Rumsfeld.

If you’re a member of the Rummy screwed-it-up department, it must be a little disconcerting to read the New York Times editorial this morning. When the viscerally, uncompromisingly anti-Bush Times pooh-poohs the notion of a military miscalculation, then the media tide must surely be turning.

He seems to have missed the deeper point of the editorial: that the immediate military problems are not so bad, but that the Pentagon’s and the administration’s political assumptions were poor and that they don’t presage positive results in the future. A few selections …

The Iraqi response to the American and British troops may warm up when Baghdad is taken. But so far, resistance in the south has been spoiling much of the original war plan … The big failure has been in political assessment, and the expectation that southern Iraqis would welcome the American troops and offer minimal resistance … The United States badly misjudged the Iraqis going into the war, and there seems little reason to hope that we will be much smarter when it comes to nation-building … From the beginning, the great challenge of Iraq has seemed to be less about winning the war than about securing the peace, and everything that has happened in the last two weeks reinforces that assessment.

Why the selective reading?

Were beginning to hear

We’re beginning to hear a
lot more about US
plans
for the post-war administration
of Iraq, as well as disagreements between the State Department and the Pentagon
over who should be involved and how it should be done. One of the key figures
in all this is Ahmed Chalabi, head of the Iraqi
National Congress
, an Iraqi Shi’a emigre who is beloved and admired by the
hawks and often treated with suspicion and ridicule by their critics, particular
at the State Department and the CIA.

Here’s a snippet from an unpublished article of mine on Chalabi, based on reporting from last spring and summer …

In 1991 the CIA was looking to create what eventually became the Iraqi National Congress, an umbrella organization intended to foster unity and cohesion amongst Iraq’s notoriously fractious exile and dissident groups. The man they chose to head it was Ahmed Chalabi. Chalabi was charismatic and enterprising and he understood the pulse of Western politics and media something key to the sort of media and propaganda operation the CIA wanted to create. “He understands the West very well,” says Whitley Bruner, a retired CIA agent who was the first to reach out to Chalabi, “and he was very useful in the sense that he grasped what the Agency was doing, and what its aims were, and how to translate that back and forth to various Iraqis who were working with him.” Chalabi’s very lack of connection with any established dissident groups in or out of Iraq was actually one of his main attractions to the CIA since it set him apart from the parochial concerns of the various feuding groups and made him more useful to the United States.

Chalabi was dynamic and entrepreneurial. But he was also headstrong and he quickly alienated many of the other exile leaders operating within the INC fold, particularly those with greater bases of support inside Iraq. Chalabi, said some critics, consistently focused on Washington rather than forces in Iraq — a trait which both caused and fed off his antagonisms with other dissident leaders. “Chalabi takes the blame of taking the INC from its mission of trying to win the Iraqis and to reach out to the Iraqis to a new mission which is to try to win Washington and reach out to Washington,” says one Iraqi émigré involved in the creation of the INC.

But this was only one of the problems plaguing the INC and American Iraq policy in the early 1990s. After 1991 American policy toward Iraq was confused and meandering. The Bush and Clinton administrations take a measure of the blame for this. But the real cause was more deep-seated. All US policy was based on a cardinal assumption — that Saddam could not long survive his massive defeat in the Gulf War — which was quickly proving to be a fallacy. During the first Clinton administration, while Chalabi was intermittently running the INC from the safe-haven in Iraqi Kurdistan, the CIA toyed with different strategies to topple Saddam. Chalabi’s plan was for a so-called rolling coup — essentially getting the INC to lop off chunk after chunk of Iraqi territory under the cover of US air power until the tide of defections swept Saddam’s regime from power. The US eventually lost faith in Chalabi’s plan and got behind a separate effort to foment a military coup using Iraqi exiles in Amman. Chalabi’s attachment to the rolling coup plan was not rooted in any ideological or operational compunction. He didn’t seem to have much of either. He just wanted to do something. Anything. Preferably sooner than later. “He was pushing the envelope and [the CIA was] not ready,” says a Washington-based Arab journalist.

That was part of the problem. The CIA was not sure Chalabi was up to the task; they were not sure what if anything they wanted to do or how they wanted to do it. The one thing the Agency was increasingly sure of was that whatever they were going to do they didn’t want to do it with Ahmed Chalabi. “If an error was made over the first several years,” says Bruner, “it was that [Chalabi] was so capable and so able to do these things that I think that a lot of the managers at [CIA headquarters in] Langley let him run, because he seemed to be able to do all this so well. And it wasn’t until later that he began to get out of control. And then it was too late.”

The latest word seems to be that Chalabi isn’t slated for quite so high a role as he would like. But with friends as powerful as he has among those running the post-war show, I’m sure that’s not the final word.

More on this soon.

This article by Anthony

This article by Anthony Shadid in Wednesday’s Washington Post seems to best capture the flow of contradictory forces now at play inside Iraq. In the south you have the fedayeen Saddam and members of the Iraqi army keeping a tight grip on the cities, and apparently doing a pretty good job of it. Then you have the US-UK army trying to wrest control of these cities. And finally you have civilians — terrified of Saddam’s paramilitaries, frightened by the American bombing, at least suspicious of the Americans themselves, though not necessarily hostile.

Pretty clearly, most of these folks just don’t want to get killed and are most concerned about getting through all this with themselves and their families in one piece. But their plight deepens as the fighting drags on, supplies dwindle, and the infrastructure is degraded and broken down. The article doesn’t give you much of a clear sense of what will happen or what these civilians will be saying after Saddam’s regime is displaced. But it provides a compelling view of the fluidity and chaos of the situation, and how it could play out in very good or very bad ways.

Great news with the

Great news with the rescue of US POW Jessica Lynch — something we can all rejoice over.

My recent posts have

My recent posts have been getting some attention from proponents of our current military action in Iraq. And now I’ve heard their new line: I have to go on the record with what counts as “victory” and “defeat.” By this they mean, how many weeks or months and how many US casualties? Does victory in two months count as success? Is more than three months a failure? Does under 500 battlefield deaths count as success? Over 500? People who are critical of the conduct of this war apparently have to choose their numbers to be credible.

You start to see how these folks operate. It’s sort of like our national debate over the war is a big Iraq-war office pool, like with the NCAA championships or the NFL playoffs. (“I put down for six months and 843 war dead! It was a longshot. But I won big! My foreign policy cred is now assured!”)

But this game-playing is either foolishness or a deliberate attempt to shift people’s eyes from what’s really being discussed. Duration of combat and numbers of casualties aren’t yardsticks for measuring victory or failure. They’re costs you incur in achieving your goals. So the numbers game — in days and bodies — is bogus. The question is, what are we trying achieve and how close are we to achieving it.

Taking our war goals at face value, it seems to me we’re trying to achieve four things.

1. To eliminate Saddam’s WMD capabilities.

2. To create a democratic or at least quasi-democratic Iraq, which — because
it is democratic — has a positive ripple effect throughout the region.

3. A more stable Middle East, which breeds less terrorism.

4. A more stable and peaceful world order made so by the example of the destruction of Saddam’s bad-acting regime.

The heart of the issue is #2 since #3 and #4 flow from the success of #2. And if we fail at #2, solving #1 may not turn out to mean all that much. Follow that? Ok, good.

At the moment, I don’t think the prospects of #2, #3 or #4 look that good. I’m pessimistic because the administration heavily leveraged this operation on two basic assumptions: 1) that we’d be greeted as liberators by the Iraqi people and 2) that our show of force in the region would cow our enemies and embolden our allies. The facts are by no means all in yet. But neither proposition is looking particularly strong at the moment. And the administration played its hand in such a way that it was heavily dependent on both propositions bearing out in a big way.

If war took three months or six months and we achieved goals #1 through #4 I’d say it was a big success. But the supporters of the conduct of this war are equating “victory” with the physical occupation of Baghdad. And that’s just a dodge.

More on this later.

There seems to be

There seems to be yet another explanation for why the Pentagon sent a fighting force into Iraq which was both smaller and less armor-laden than one conventional military doctrine seemed to call for. And this isn’t coming from some pundit or talking head, but from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs himself, General Richard Myers.

They had to undergun the force for the sake of diplomacy. Here’s a snippet from the transcript of today’s briefing …

You know, we went in there with some very sophisticated objectives. We had diplomacy under way at the United Nations; we wanted to deploy a sufficient force, but not the kind of force that would make it look like diplomacy didn’t have a chance to work. So we had to work that piece.

On the one hand he’s saying there was a “sufficient force.” But he’s also at least implicitly conceding that it was not an overwhelming force, or at least not as much as you might have wanted. (What you always hear from war-planner types is that this isn’t football. You don’t want to win 21-7. You want to win 100-0. You want overwhelming force.)

It seems to me that there are at least two problems with this new argument.

Problem number one is that this is precisely the opposite of the model we were supposedly working on. Going into this, the idea was that we hadn’t decided on war. But we wanted to make the threat of war as credible as possible. Why make it less credible with an insufficient fighting force? Or why would a larger fighting force be a problem, since the theory of our diplomacy was to make the threat of war as credible as possible? It’s hard for me to see how this argument doesn’t fall short just on grounds of simple logic.

Now, let’s grant that it was an insufficient fighting force, or at least one that lacked the sort of overwhelming power we wanted. If it was an insufficient fighting force, why didn’t we wait a few weeks to bring it up to speed after we’d made the decision for war? Especially with the surprise of no northern (i.e., Turkish) front?

I can imagine a possible response to this argument. The window of time between when you declare your intention to go to war and when you actually do it is a very dangerous period. That’s when you run the risk of preemptive attacks and so forth. Still, why pull the trigger with an insufficient force on hand? The argument either doesn’t make sense or the policy is really irresponsible.

There’s a backdrop problem in play here too. This new rationale leads us to the conclusion that the very structure of the fighting force was rigged, at least to some degree, to suit the needs of diplomacy. And yet pretty much everyone thinks we didn’t really quite have our hearts in the diplomacy at all. Or, perhaps better to say, our diplomacy was geared toward getting us into war on the most favorable terms. If that’s so (and I think it is) why would we under-gun our military force to serve diplomatic objectives if the purpose of the diplomacy was to get us into war on the best possible footing? It just doesn’t make sense. It’s a logical contradiction.

If you have a

If you have a subscription to the Financial Times, here’s my take on what Rumsfeld and company were thinking. LATE UPDATE: Now it’s available without a subscription.

Heres a couple key

Here’s a couple key grafs from an article in tomorrow’s Post

Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld has rejected a team of officials proposed by the State Department to help run postwar Iraq in what sources described as an effort to ensure the Pentagon controls every aspect of reconstructing the country and forming a new government.

While vetoing the group of eight current and former State Department officials, including several ambassadors to Arab states, the Pentagon’s top civilian leadership has planned prominent roles in the postwar administration for former CIA director R. James Woolsey and others who have long supported the idea of replacing Iraq’s government, according to sources close to the issue.

Powell and senior State Department officials, along with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, have maintained that a quick turnover from U.S. military control to the United Nations would give postwar Iraq more international legitimacy. They believe it also would encourage participation in the reconstruction effort by countries that opposed Bush’s decision to go to war without U.N. authorization.

But Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul D. Wolfowitz, supported by Vice President Cheney, have been leery of any substantial U.N. role on grounds that it would inhibit U.S. ability to shape Iraq’s future. Under a postwar plan supervised by Undersecretary of Defense Douglas J. Feith, the military would maintain control of Iraq for an indefinite period, until new institutions could be constructed and a representative Iraqi government installed. The plan allows a U.N. role in humanitarian assistance, under U.S. supervision.

Does this inspire you with a lot of confidence?

On the issue of personnel, it’s only fair to point out that one of the people noted in the article as slated for the Iraqi Defense Ministry is Walt Slocum, Bill Clinton’s highly-respected undersecretary of defense and obviously not a Bush or Rumsfeld crony. On balance, though, the article makes painfully clear that Rumsfeld is intent on stacking the entire post-war American occupation government with members of the DC Iraq-regime-change mafia. It’s not even an American occupation; it’s an AEI occupation. Every made-man in the gang gets his own ministry apparently. Maybe they’ll set up an Iraqi Defense Policy Board that Richard Perle can run in Baghdad. I hear he’s on the market again. Ken Adelman, Ministry of Pastries?

Now we know where all those discredited
cakewalk Iraq-hawks
are headed. They’re going to Baghdad to run the occupation.

I dont normally like

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

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

“’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

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.

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