Go or No?

Go or No?

Go or No?

A summary of what's in the major U.S. newspapers.
March 31 2003 5:35 AM

Go or No?

The New York Times leads with, and Washington Post off-leads, word that U.S. troops continued, in a small way, their advance on Baghdad, launching what the NYT calls "probing attacks" near Karbala, the entryway to Baghdad and home of the Republican Guard Medina Division. The Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and WP all lead with wider war roundups, mentioning, among other developments, that British soldiers launched a raid into Basra, in which they captured or killed a few top officers. One British soldier was killed. Also, in an apparent accident, a U.S. Marine Huey helicopter crashed yesterday, killing all three aboard.

It's just about impossible to get a sense of the Pentagon's timetable for moving on Baghdad. (Not such a bad thing, really.) "'OPERATIONAL PAUSE' DENIED BY FRANKS," says the NYT online. Yet according to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Richard Myers, there "may be an operational pause in a macro sense."

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Though none of the papers put it as such, the denials of a pause are essentially non-denials: When asked whether there will be any delay on an attack of Baghdad, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and others have responded that there will be no pause in the overall war—which isn't really the question.

Anyway, all this fuzziness obscures a pretty simple question (though again, one that the Pentagon doesn't have to answer): Is the military going to wait until it has the 4th Infantry Division—the major reinforcement unit en route—in place, at least two weeks, before invading Baghdad?

The Wall Street Journal, following up on the Post's coverage from yesterday, says that at least some combat commanders want to wait: "Field officers" are warning that the number of U.S. troops currently in the fight is "insufficient." Some commanders have apparently been complaining that they lack the "combat power" to take Baghdad.

But don't bet that an assault will begin only after the 4th arrives. The Post, which has had stellar coverage of the delay and readiness questions, reiterates what it reported yesterday: "A senior official said that Bush had agreed with Rumsfeld to move aggressively on Baghdad." (Oddly, the NYT, which has had the war's finest battlefield reporting, has lagged on this storyline.)

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The Post says in a front-page piece that some "former senior Republican government officials and party leaders" (Scowcroft? Baker? Poppy?) think that the president's conservatopians (Rummy, Wolfowitz, and Cheney) are screwing things up. Hopefully, one "former GOP-appointee" said, "this president has learned something from this bum advice he has been getting." The White House didn't have a response, but a "senior defense official" did, explaining that such criticism, "plays into the hands of Baghdad's propaganda."

The same piece has a hint about why Rumsfeld prefers smaller invasion forces. "He wants to put the 'Powell Doctrine' into obsolescence," one "Bush adviser" explained. "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."

Everybody notes that at least 13 U.S. GIs were injured yesterday in Kuwait when an Egyptian man drove his truck into a line of soldiers waiting to get into a store.

The Post says that U.S. Marines have started rounding up suspected irregulars, even if they're unarmed—essentially men who appear "well-fed and are hanging around dangerous areas." "This isn't something we even dreamed about doing," said one Marine officer. "This has been forced upon us." The Post also says that the Pentagon is pondering sending some of the suspects to Guantanamo Bay.

USAT following up on a story that the LAT had last week, says that U.S. military and intel officials are now acknowledging that their much-talked-about efforts to convince Iraqi generals to give up hasn't worked. "We misjudged their tenacity," said one official. "These guys are driven by a hatred (of the United States) that we may have underestimated."

The NYT's William Safire, in the course of making various "snap judgments" about the war, has a good suggestion: Since one of Gen. Tommy Franks' deputies, Lt. Gen. John Abizaid, speaks fluent Arabic, how about holding a news conference specifically for Arab journalists?