What was Rumsfeld thinking?

What was Rumsfeld thinking?

What was Rumsfeld thinking?

A mostly political Weblog.
March 27 2003 2:34 PM

What's Rummy's Idea?

Plus: Daniel Patrick Moynihan, RIP

Non-cakewalker: Here's what Clintonhawk Kenneth Pollack wrote in his book advocating an invasion of Iraq:

Probably the most likely scenario would be about one third of Iraq's armed forces fighting hard, limited use of tactical WMD, and some extensive combat in a few cities. In this most likely case, the campaign would probably last four to eight weeks and result in roughly 500 to 1,000 American combat deaths. [Emphasis added.]

By this standard, is the war going worse than expected? No. ...P.S.: That doesn't mean we couldn't use more troops! ... [Entering Shafer's Stage 4 already?--ed  Not quite.]  2:31 A.M. 


Baker v. Cheney: WaPo's Kessler and Pincus discern a

behind-the-scenes effort by former senior Republican government officials and party leaders to convince President Bush that the advice he has received from Vice President Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz -- a powerful triumvirate frequently at odds with Secretary of State Colin L. Powell -- has been wrong and even dangerous to long-term U.S. national interests. [Emphasis added]

Reactions: 1) This story would be a whole lot more significant if it involved any current senior government officials and party leaders. It doesn't appear to. The Post's headline, "Advisers Split as War Unfolds," falsely suggests that splits among current Bush advisers are being reported. (Warren Strobel's competing story does quote "senior administration officials"  making the less substantive, ass-covering but still anti-hawk point that Bush wasn't "forcefully" presented with "dissenting views.") 2) Kessler and Pincus don't exactly hide who these "former" officials are:

Some within the group of former GOP officials were advocates last summer of going to the United Nations to win broader international support for confronting Iraq rather than moving unilaterally. The president decided to try to obtain U.N. backing -- a course Powell strongly favored -- after his father's national security adviser, Brent Scowcroft, and secretary of state, James A. Baker III, went public supporting that approach. [Subtle clues highlighted.]


3) Many of Pincus and Kessler's key points are made by an unnamed "Bush adviser." Is this person an official adviser or an unofficial adviser?  If the source is only an unofficial adviser, isn't it a bit deceptive of Pincus and Kessler not to tell this to us, letting us think it might be an member of the current Bush team? Of course, the "adviser" could be Colin Powell....4) This mystery "adviser" seems to agree with the theory, presented in the preceding item, of Rumsfeld's motivation in keeping U.S. troop levels in Iraq low [emphasis added]:

Rumsfeld wants to put the 'Powell Doctrine' into obsolescence," the Bush adviser said, referring to the military strategy outlined by Powell when he was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In its broadest sense, the doctrine -- which guided Pentagon thinking during the Gulf War 12 years ago -- calls for decisive force, clear goals and popular support to ensure success.

Rumsfeld wants to retire the Powell Doctrine "first because he truly believes that the new military with the new technology needs to fight different kinds of wars," the adviser said. "Secondly, he sees new kinds of foreign policy challenges, and he ultimately wants to run foreign policy, not just the Defense Department. Those foreign policy challenges require the U.S. to be able to deploy force quickly and with dramatic positive effect in multiple places at multiple times because you're battling these non-state actors."

Except that Rumsfeld seems to be threatening state actors as well as non-state actors. 5) Powell cites his Gallup poll ratings in interviews. ("The American people think I was doing a good job by, oh, 83 percent.") How pathetic is that? ...12:07 A.M.

Sunday, March 30, 2003

What Was Rumsfeld Thinking? On Thursday, a James Kitfield article( highlighted by bloggers Noah Shachtmanand Phil Carter) raised an issue that's now broken into the mainstream press-- the charge that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld actually cut in half  the number of troops the Pentagon's daring war plan called for. Even now, according to a link from Josh Marshall(who's been on fire lately, now that he's not for the war anymore!) Rumsfeld is pressuring General Tommy Franksto move on Baghdad before the 4th Infantry can redeploy from Turkey and provide additional firepower.

As I've been reading these reports, I've been scratching my head and asking myself, 'Why would Rumsfeld do this?' Presumably he doesn't like to take chances with American lives. And the reason can't be that he didn't want to "deploy people and wreck their lives and move them" --the justification given by Rumsfeld's defenders in today's WaPo. That's surely a second-order consideration when success or failure in combat is at stake. Sure, Rumsfeld wants to prove that his theories about lighter, more maneuverable high-tech forces are right and the Army's plodding theories about "boots on the ground" are wrong. But why does he want to prove these theories so badly? It can't just be intellectual vanity, or the desire to win an internal Pentagon budget battle. Again, those aren't worth risking lives for.


Then, reading Marshall's Washington Monthly piece on the military side of the grand neocon strategy, it hit me. Of course! If "regime change" in Iraq were the only goal, there'd be no reason not to provide plenty of soldiers to do the job, with an ample margin of safety. But regime change in Iraq isn't the only goal. Rather, neocons in the Bush administration see the Iraq campaign as the opening move in a series of potential power plays that might involve at least credibly threatening military action against Syria, North Korea, Iran, and maybe even Saudi Arabia. The first two threats have already, in fact, been issued (and I'm not saying there aren't good reasons to want to be able to intimidate some of these countries -- e.g. North Korea -- even while fighting an Iraq-sized war).

If we can take Iraq only with a huge, heavy force --or if the Powell Doctrine that we should use overwhelming force even if we don't need it still applies -- well, we can't very credibly claim that we can take on (or take over) all these other countries at the same time, or even in rapid succession, can we? But if we can topple a heavily-defended government in Iraq with a light, quick non-Powellesque force -- using but a small portion of our strength -- then taking on multiple targets suddenly becomes a real possibility, and a real threat to regimes in Tehran, Damascus, and Pyongyang.

That's why the slowdown in Iraq (and the coming furor over "troop dilution") is a bigger blow to the neocons than the actual military situation on the ground, which doesn't seem that bad, might indicate. We aren't very likely to 'lose' the Iraq war. But if it becomes a big, convulsive, multi-month slog -- stopping the nation's economy in the process -- we're not likely to have much stomach for the next war.

This is now so obvious to me that I can't believe it's not obvious to others -- and it is, to the Guardian's Jonathan Freedland. (Plus he's got a blind quote from a "Washington official"!)

Why would a hawk like Rumsfeld prefer less to more? My Washington source offers an astonishing explanation: "So they can do it again." The logic is simple. Rumsfeld and co know that amassing an army of quarter of a million is a once-a-decade affair: 1991 and 2003. But if they can prove that victory is possible with a lighter, more nimble force, assembled rapidly - then why not repeat the trick? "This is just the beginning," an administration official told the New York Times this week. "I would not rule out the same sequence of events for Iran and North Korea as for Iraq."


I still don't completely understand, however. Let's assume Rumsfeld wants to prove his theories for the neoconnish long-term, strategic reasons identified by Marshall and Freedland. ("Spread democracy, and carry a small, lethal, GPS-guided stick.") Why would Rumsfeld need to risk losing a war to prove them? Why couldn't the coalition have waited until the 4th Infantry division was standing by in Kuwait, so we could at least quickly throw them into the battle if they were needed -- if, say, some of Rumsfeld's assumptions about the ease of moving through the Shiite regions of Southern Iraq weren't borne out? Then, if the extra, "heavy" troops weren't needed, Rumsfeld's theories would be vindicated (and, as Brad DeLong suggests, pictures of hundreds of "extra tank crews cooking BBQ in the Kuwaiti desert" would effectively dramatize our excess warmaking capacity). If the troops were needed, the U.S. would regain momentum quickly, without the distracting wait and debate that's now taking place.

(The only answer I can think of is the if the 4th Infantry or a similar force had been ready in Kuwait, there would have been no way to prevent General Franks from working them into his initial battle plan and screwing up the grand experiment. No way, that is, except an order from the Secretary of Defense. If Rumsfeld could completely cut half the troops from the plan why couldn't he require that some of the idled troops be held in reserve?)

There's also a second question: If this is the neocon game Rumsfeld was playing, did Bush know about it? Or did he just trust Rumsfeld's assurances that there were enough troops to do the job? ... This Warren Strobel story ("Bush Reportedly Shielded from Dire Forecast") seems to shed some light, but not enough. There are always unheard "dire forecasts" that come out of the woodwork when any decision appears to have been wrong.  It seems to me the issue isn't so much whether Bush knew that Saddam's irregulars might give our troops trouble -- Bush doesn't have to know everything in every report, and he himself hasn't been one of the overoptimistic "cakewalkers." The issue is more whether Bush knew the biases that might be distorting the advice he was getting. The possible wishful self-delusion of people who talk a lot to Iraqi exiles (as discussed in the Strobel story) would be one distortion. The desire of neocons for the ability to threaten multiple simultaneous wars with small, fast-moving forces would be another distorting bias. Bush might a) share this military vision in full; b) be skeptical of it but still want to disarm Saddam and spread democracy, or c) be unaware of its full sweep and influence. ... I agree that (c) is hard to believe. ... Update: Josh Marshall sees more in the Strobel story than I do. ...

Note to Sidney Blumenthal: Don't send those emails only to Marshall. Send them to kausfiles! (I liked Bill Clinton. Really I did. Honest!) ...  


P.S.: Marshall posts an interesting blind email giving various mixed-result Baghdad scenarios, one of which ends with, yes, robust inspections! But if the Baghdad problem is really as bad as Marshall's posting suggests, it's not at all clear that more troops would solve it.. There's an analogy here to the charge that Bush diplomatic "incomptence" led to France's disapproval of the war -- as if any amount of diplomacy would have gotten Chirac to sign off on this war. You can't really be fairly accused of blowing the execution of a policy that's doomed to begin with. Similarly, you can argue Rumsfeld's to blame for starting a war that's unwinnable (which is what Marshall's emailer does) or for not sending the troops that would win it (as the McCaffrey/Clark chorus does) -- but not both. ....1:10 A.M.

It's true that, in the past, when the United States has been accused of killing innocent civilians with an errant missile, the charge has usually been proven accurate. But I'm still skeptical about the Iraqi claims that two U.S. missiles have now struck crowded marketplaces and killed dozens. Why do these errant missiles always fall in crowded marketplaces and kill dozens? Why don't they ever fall in back alleys and kill one or two people? ... P.S.: See also this Murdoch report. ... 12:11 P.M.

Thursday, March 27, 2003

Daniel Patrick Moynihan: A college friend of mine, Catherine, babysat for Daniel Patrick Moynihan in Cambridge, Massachusetts in the mid-1970s, the era when Moynihan was making headlines as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. One everning we went out drinking at a low-rent establishment in nearby, working-class Somerville -- the sort of place where the walls are decorated with the corrugated insides of beer cartons. Scruffy college students talked Marxism by the bar, while a group of actual workers -- ruddy, silver-haired Irish guys, fresh off the job, with dirty pants and sweaters -- lined the back wall, swaying shoulder-to-shoulder, singing old songs. Catherine looked at the line of reddening men and squinted. "Isn't that ambassador Moynihan?" We scoffed at her, until she walked right up and introduced herself to one of the swaying men, who rose up -- and rose, and rose -- and fumfawingly admitted that yes, he was.


I always thought this encounter reflected well on Moynihan -- he may have been the most erudite man to serve in the Senate in the last half century, he may have dressed like an Oxford professor, but he wasn't a snob. He wasn't a pedant either, as Jacob Weisberg noted in a NYT assessment two years ago -- but rather someone whose knowledge gave him a "keen awareness of the past's presence," and the melodramatic sweep of history.

Moynihan was right -- OK, prophetic -- about the decline of the black family, and its importance, but wrong about the solution. (He persistently refused to see no-strings welfare payments as a cause of family breakup,and never was comfortable with requiring single welfare mothers to go to work.) That's my main beef with him -- Washingtonians treated Moynihan as a god on the welfare issue, but it was only when Washington finally ignored him and passed the 1996 welfare reform that we began to make real progress on that front.

Moynihan's death this week not only robbed him of the long, productive retirement he deserved, but -- because it came in the middle of a war -- robbed him of the detailed, reverential attention his amazing career would ordinarily have received. Adam Clymer's excellent NYT obit covers most of the territory, The NYT also links to virtually everything it's published about the Senator, includingWeisberg's un-reverential assessment. (Here's my own attempt to come up with a Unified Theory of Moynihan.) Moynihan's presence in American social policy was so pervasive that when he and his intellectual allies bravely attacked some misguided policy initiative, it was often a misguided policy initiative he'd helped launch. (Examples: Affirmative action, deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill, the idea that a "new class" of Washington bureaucrats should come to the capital and start writing benevolent regulations.)

Here are some big things he got right: He was right, in 1994, when he said President Clinton should pursue welfare reform before he tackled health care reform. If Clinton had followed Moynihan's advice, he might have achieved both goals -- and retained control of Congress. Moynihan was right when he raised the possibility, as early as 1979, that the Soviet Union would collapse. He was right about the failures of Great Society liberalism, and anti-poverty liberals. (He hated Marian Wright Edelman's guilt-tripping moralistic Children's Defense Fund.) His speech on "Defining Deviancy Down," delivered during the social breakdown of David Dinkins' New York, must be one of the gutsiest and most inspiring speeches a modern Democrat has delivered to his own party. (It's reprinted in Moynihan's book, "Miles to Go.") Moynihan was, alas, probably right about the virtues of abiding by international law despite our military power. And Moynihan produced a profound epigram about modern politics:

The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself.

Even if Paul Wolfowitz is now testing the limits of that second sentence in the Middle East, this is still a couplet worthy of carving into the pediment of New York's new Pennsylvania station, when it is finished and named after the man most responsible for getting it built.  ... More:TomPaine.com on how Moynihan held out the "promise of synthesis  beyond base compromise." ...  11:02 A.M.

It's not just bad news that gets buried by the war. Elizabeth Shogren's front-pageworthy reporting on what's happened to the welfare rolls during the current, multi-year economic slump ran on page 18 of the LAT. The answer: "onetime welfare recipients have held on to most of their gains in the job market" . ... Shogren notes that honest opponents of the 1996 reform, such as former Clinton official Wendell Primus, have been reduced to worrying that the welfare rolls haven't risen, despite the recession -- arguing that this means people must be falling through the safety net. But a) Primus operates by analyzing tables of income statistics. If 400,000 women in the bottom 20% of single mothers have found their "life is a lot harder," shouldn't reporters be able to document this suffering? Or are these mothers living, perhaps uncomfortably, perhaps "doubled-up," off contributions from relatives and friends (e.g. the fathers of their children, boyfriends, etc.) that don't show up in Primus' statistical charts?  b) Even these women benefit from living in communities where there's been "a significant cultural shift ... Work has taken the place of welfare checks for millions." c) Maybe the rolls have increased during the recession, at least when compared with how much more they would have fallen if the economy had kept growing after 1999. ... P.S.: Shogren's best stat:

Nationwide, never-married mothers ... -- the group that had most commonly relied on welfare -- have flocked into the workplace. Only 47% of such women were employed in 1994, according an analysis of census data by the nonpartisan Urban Institute. By 2000,69% had jobs, a figure that dropped slightly, to 68%, in 2002. [Emphasis added.]

Changes that big in the labor force are almost unheard of.  As the late, revered Senator Moynihan, who didn't see this coming, said: "The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself." ....  3:01 A.M.

When I worry that the Iraq war is going badly, I remember that it wasn't only the Afghan war that seemed to be bogging down at first. The Kosovo bombing campaign of 1999 also seemed to be a disaster -- until, suddenly, it wasn't. ... 2:25 A.M.

Apologies for the recent item shortage. My best excuse: I wasted half a day trying to fend off the Microsoft Network's latest attempt to force me into their web-based mail system (which I don't like -- it's slow and makes you to read or store every email) from their old "POP3" system, which worked fine (and sent the email directly into my computer, where I could just let it sit if I wanted to). Every now and then, apparently, MSN just switches you to the web system, without giving you any notice -- then you have to call and beg them to "roll you back." This time, my non-Web email just went dead in the middle of the night, and a complete "roll back" appears to be impossible, After several hours of phone calls to a wide variety of MSN tech support specialists, the problem is still not resolved, and my email is spread in three different places, which have different categories and synchronize with each other in confusing ways. A nightmare. ... [Larger point pls.-ed.] The larger point: I wonder if this is another case of "reverse synergy." If Microsoft were just providing email and internet access for $19.95 a month, it could undoubtedly do a good job of it. But I always get the sense my email account is a pawn in some larger corporate strategy, involving successive problem-causing iterations of MSN software designed to integrate and leverage me into a vast web of services I don't particularly want or even understand. (What has ".NET" ever done for me? I dunno!) According to some analysts, the latest grand Microsoft strategy will involve abandoning the "internet access" business. ... Boilerplate: Microsoft owns this site and pays my rent, but obviously is good about not telling me what to say.  ... 1:52 A.M.

Wednesday, March 2, 2003

The "Jo Moore" Clampdown -- It's Not Just Castro: According to Daniel Drezner, there's a veritable wave of repression going on around the world, as the planet's dictators recognize, Jo Moore-style, that they won't be subject to the usual international press scrutiny while media attention is focused on Iraq. ... It's happening in Zimbabwe, Uzbekistan, Belarus, and Myanmar, as well as in Cuba  ...[Links via Drezner2:51 A.M.

Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Good Josh Marshall posts on a) the emergence of some mild civilian hawk second-guessing -- don't go wobbly on us now! -- and b) the emergence of major uniformed Pentagon second-guessing, with Gen. McCaffrey giving outside voice to internal Defense department doubts. ... Maybe we could have used Jacques Chirac's proposed 30-day delay -- if only to bring the 4th Infantry divisions heavy weaponry down from Turkey, where they were blocked from being used in a Northern front. ... More: Gregg Easterbrook persuasively  counsels patience. ("[W]hy is there a sudden perception of quagmire? Partly because Iraqis are not folding rapidly enough for the instant media cycle.") ...  1:45 P.M.

After going off on the BBC, I've noticed that Andrew North's reports from Nasiriyah have been excellent -- appropriately open-minded about American military claims, not hostile and sneering (or chummy and credulous). Here's a whole page of BBC reports -- mainly unhyped eyewitness accounts, seemingly unfiltered by leftover leftists in London. It's almost a blog! ... 4:15 A.M.

Andrew Underestimates: I agree with Instapundit and Andrew Sullivan that it would be very foolish to let the limited coalition casualties so far become a cause for Tet-like panic. A far more troubling development, for the long-term mission and for safety of the nation, has been the less-effusive-than-expected welcome given to our troops by Iraqis, even in the Saddam-hating South. That could easily change soon -- and I hope it does. [ Update ] But one admission by Sullivan may qualify as the understatement of the month, if not the year:

I also think that we hawks might have under-estimated the Iraqis' sense of national violation at being invaded - despite their hatred of Saddam.

Er, um, yes. ... And Sullivan was doing such a great job of gloating two days ago! (I actually mean that -- the posts were excellent.) Give him points for expressing his doubts and second-thoughts instead of hiding under a shield of Fox-like certitude. ...P.S.: Would an invasion by the U.N. have been less resented by Iraqis? I'd say clearly yes. It's a higher-order power. And nobody's resented like the U.S. is resented. ...  3:07 A.M.

David Downhardt Strikes Again: More evidence of Easterbrook's Law -- that "All Economic News Is Bad" -- in David Leonhardt's  latest gloomsaying NYT piece on the "tangible reasons to doubt that the United States will soon return to the heady times of the late 1990s."

1) Among those reasons, according to Leonhardt:

"the aging of the population will slow the growth of the labor force."

But wait. Wasn't it only five months ago that Paul Krugman was telling us rapid labor force growth was bad, because

"an economy that is growing, but in which employment grows more slowly than the labor force, may be in recovery by some measures, but it will feel like it's still in recession."

Yes! It was only five months ago!  ... Leonhardt finally admits, about an inch from the end of his 35-inch piece, that slow labor force growth means "wages could start to rise rapidly again." That sounds suspiciously good! Ah, but a smaller labor force still means -- in keeping with Easterbrook's Law -- that there will be a bit less overall growth to "pay for new investments or wars," Leonhardt says.  But isn't that where the favorable productivity trend, which Krugman describes as a dark lining, becomes more of a silver cloud -- boosting the overall wealth even a smaller labor force can produce?

2) Leonhardt also sounds an alarm because

"baby boomers, who are approaching retirement -- are likely to increase their savings at the expense of spending."

But wait again! Wasn't it only a few months ago (and a few days ago, and a few years ago) that we were warned about America's "anemic" savings rate? And the dire possibility that boomers might not increase their saving? It was! ...

P.S.: Do we really need to "return to the heady times of the late 1990s," Leonhardt's straw man? Won't 3.2 percent growth and rising real wages do? ...  3:05 A.M.

Donna Daschle: Robert Novak speculates on why Senate Minority Leader Daschle made those eve-of-battle comments about Bush having "failed so miserably at diplomacy." Isn't it obvious that Daschle was pulling a Donna Brazile? In the 1988 election, remember, Dukakis aide Brazile fell on her sword by publicly discussing unproven rumors of President George H.W. Bush's infidelity. Brazile got fired -- which she must have known would happen -- but she put the idea out there. She sacrificed herself for her party. Similarly, Daschle, because he's not a candidate for president, is in a position to sacrifice himself.  He's getting tons of predictable grief for his anti-Bush comments -- grief none of the presidential aspirants could afford. But he's also planted the idea that Democrats dissented and argued in real time that Bush's handling of the war was incompetent. That public perception will come in very handy for the party should the war go wrong.  ... 3:02 A.M.

Repetition is the key to effective communication: "Front runner" John Kerry has  adopted his latest weaselly, posturing, straddle on the issue of whether he'll use his wife's fortune in the campaign. (His "intention is to try" not to, but he could "put a certain amount into it," and he's "reserved the right" to use his money to respond to personal attacks. That enough loopholes for you?) ... Executive Summary:  Let's see ...  1) Was Kerry Irish? It was hard to say! 2) Did he throw his medals over the wall? Hard to say! 3) Does he support or oppose the Iraq war? Hard to say! 4) Is he for dividend double taxation? Hard to say! 5) Is he rethinking his support of race preferences? Hard to say! 6) Is he opposed to the death penalty? Hard to say! 7) Will he use his wife's money? Hard to say! ... I sense a pattern! ... Bonus question: Has he ever taken a clear stand on an issue when it might have cost him enough votes to threaten his career? ... On the other hand, alleged straight-talker Howard Dean's been doing some wafflin' of his own, on the issue of whether he'll tone down his criticism of Bush during the war. (The latest compromise: He'll stop "red meat criticism."  .. "Chicken criticism" is presumably O.K..)...2:51 A.M.

Monday, March 24, 2003

What Would Frida Do?Slate's David Edelstein has already noted the Frida Kahlo was a Stalinist. But you really have to see the picture of the two of them! (Kahlo and Stalin, that is.) ...4:44 P.M.

Jo Moore Nominee of the Day (for big stories buried under the war news): Castro's crackdown on dissent. ... P.S.:  Is it an accident, as a Marxist might say, that Fidel timed this repression to coincide with the war? ... P.P.S.: Ken Layne is keeping his own list. ...  4:24 P.M.

Here's a blog with lots of useful insider detail on why that U.S. convoy might have gotten ambushed. ... When I worked at the Washington Monthly in the early 1980s, we were ecstatic when we somehow acquired insider pieces like this. Now they pop up for free in real time! ... Update: Turns out the blog's author, Phil Carter, has actually already written a piece for the Monthly. How eerily something. ... Carter's got another useful blog post today. I'd bookmark the guy for the duration. ... 10:58 A.M.

By focusing on the conservative proponents of pre-emption through Iraqi regime change (e.g., Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Kristol, Perle), instead of the conservative proponents of remaking the Middle East through Iraqi regime change (e.g., Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Kristol, Perle), the NYT's  Steven Weisman gets a twofer. 1) He doesn't look like he's been beaten by the WSJ's equally good piece of two days earlier, which emphasized the "remaking Mid-East" basis for the current war; 2) He gets to duck the touchy issue of Israel, and Perle's idea that replacing Saddam Hussein might (in the WSJ's words)

secure Israel's 'streets and borders' by forcing significant change in the Arab world.

How can you talk about one strand of the argument for the current war without talking about the other? The WSJ 's Greenberger and Leggett at least mention both. ...After reading David Frum's The Right Man, though, I'm skeptical of the WSJ's assertion that, as far as Bush himself goes, a concern with ousting Saddam is a post-9/11 phenomenon -- that when he took office, the president "didn't devote much thought to regime change in Iraq." This is not what Bush ex-speechwriter Frum says. Frum recalls that, at his first Oval Office meeting with Bush a few weeks after the latter took office, Bush discussed

his determination to dig Saddam Hussein out of power in Iraq.

And Frum was taking notes. So the Iraq hawks had gotten to Bush well before 9/11. (That's presumably why he gave them jobs in his administration!) ... 3:47 A.M.

Jo Moore Nominee: Blogger Brian Linse's nominee for the Jo Moore prize (for a significant story buried by the Iraq invasion news) is the NAACP's anti-gun lawsuit, which claims gun "manufacturers and distributors have long known how guns reached criminals but permitted illegal sales to continue" -- as the NYT put it on page A-35. Linse makes the trial -- expected to feature the testimony of a gun-company turncoat -- seem less crazy than it initially sounds, and a way bigger story (absent the war) than page A-35. ... Note: This isn't a case where a publicist or public affairs officer has intentionally buried a story under the war. But it's still a story that got buried. ... Links: Walter Olson  on why it's a wacky suit, and why it's happening in Brooklyn. But just because it's wacky doesn't mean there's not news there. Dog sues man! ... 3:45 A.M.

The Beeb's Needs: Some American soldiers have now been killed and captured in Iraq. Journalists can react as WaPo's Tom Ricks does, with a sensible analysis that doesn't dwell on the few casualties, but does note the now-apparent risks of the U.S. military strategy: long supply lines, restrictive rules of combat, little pre-invasion bombardment, and what seems to be an overoptimistic reliance on psycholgical warfare -- all based on "the premise that the senior Iraqi leadership, not the military, is the enemy." ...

Or you can take the line of the BBC broadcast I heard -- how this a) had to be a serious blow to U.S. troop morale and public support for the war and b) how if that wasn't true it was because Americans were out for bloody vengeance after 9/11. Both the charge (a) and the rebuttal (b) seem highly questionable to me. Isn't it more likely that the televised humiliation of prisoners will motivate U.S. soldiers (and voters) by making them ... well, very angry and determined? And if a handful of casualties doesn't cause American public will to crumble, is it because of some crude, vengeful bloodlust or a more sensible perspective on individual casualties after the mass casualties of 9/11 - as well as the realization that the outcry after the loss of 17 soldiers in Somalia was perceived as weakness by al Qaeda, among others. ... P.S. The Iraqi "Somalia" strategy may be effective in one respect -- if it angers our soldiers so much that they become less reluctant to take Iraqi lives, undermining the risky, but probably wise, don't-kill-many-Iraqis approach Ricks describes. [ Update ] ... P.P.S.: A Brit friend had emailed on Friday to defend the BBC, and I was going to write that maybe I'd overreacted. (The radio newscast I heard Friday night wasn't as bad). But now I'm back with Sullivan and his readers. ... 1:39 A.M.

Sunday, March 23, 2003

You Don't Know 'Sack':

"The sacking of Basra, surrounded since Friday by British troops and American Marines, would mark a victory for the allies." -- MSNBC news report, based on "NBC, MSNBC and news services."

"Sacking"? My online dictionary defines "sack" as meaning "ravage, depredate, desecrate, desolate, despoil, devastate, devour, pillage, spoliate, waste." Is that what we plan to do in Basra? Or is this the celebrated anti-American bias of certain "news services" creeping into the copy of Slate's sister site? ... At last report, we were trying to bribe Basra with promises of aid, not pillage it. ... Update -- Kausfiles Gets Results: "Sacking" in the MSNBC story has been changed to "taking." ... Today, MSNBC. Tomorrow, CNBC! The day after tomorrow, the world! ... 11:51 A.M.

Friday, March 21, 2003

"Glasses of Evil!" That was the phrase in David Frum's first draft. ...

Kim Jong-il and Saddam Hussien

Update: Up, Up, Down, Down has early, in-depth coverage of this issue. (Scroll to the bottom.) ...1:55 P.M.





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