VON HOFFMAN AWARD I

Conventional Wisdom Watch, by Newsweek. A down-arrow for Dick Cheney: “Tells ‘Meet the Press’ just before war, ‘We will be greeted as liberators.’ An arrogant blunder for the ages.” Nope, Newsweek. Yours was the “arrogant blunder for the ages.” And on April 7!

VON HOFFMAN AWARD II: “In Baghdad the coalition forces confront a city apparently determined on resistance. They should remember Napoleon in Moscow, Hitler in Stalingrad, the Americans in Mogadishu and the Russians at Grozny. Hostile cities have ways of making life ghastly for aggressors. They are not like countryside. They seldom capitulate, least of all when their backs are to the wall. It took two years after the American withdrawal from Vietnam for Saigon to fall to the Vietcong. Kabul was ceded to the warlords only when the Taleban drove out of town. In the desert, armies fight armies. In cities, armies fight cities. The Iraqis were not stupid. They listened to Western strategists musing about how a desert battle would be a pushover. Things would get ‘difficult’ only if Saddam played the cad and drew the Americans into Baghdad. Why should he do otherwise?” – Simon Jenkins, the Times of London, in an article called – yes! – “Baghdad Will Be Near Impossible to Conquer,” March 28.

VON HOFFMAN AWARD III: “[Al-Jazeera has shown] the resistance and anger of the Iraqi population, dismissed by Western propaganda as a sullen bunch waiting to throw flowers at Clint Eastwood lookalikes … The idea that Iraq’s population would have welcomed American forces entering the country after a terrifying aerial bombardment was always utterly implausible … One can only wince at the way weak-minded policy hacks in the Pentagon and White House have spun out the ‘ideas’ of Lewis and Ajami into the scenario for a quick romp in a friendly Iraq … pity the Iraqi civilians who must still suffer a great deal more before they are finally ‘liberated’.” – Edward Said, London Review of Books, April 17.

VON HOFFMAN AWARD IV: “It looked grimly like that scene in A Bridge Too Far, Richard Attenborough’s epic on the Arnhem disaster, in which a British officer walks slowly up the great span with an umbrella in his hand to see if he can detect the Germans on the other side. But I knew the Americans were on the other side of this bridge and drove past it at great speed. Which provided a remarkable revelation. While American fighter-bombers criss-crossed the sky, while the ground shook to the sound of exploding ordnance, while the American tanks now stood above the Tigris, vast areas of Baghdad – astonishing when you consider the American claim to be “in the heart” of the city – remain under Saddam Hussein’s control.” – Robert Fisk, the Independent, April 9, i.e. the day of liberation.

VON HOFFMAN AWARD V: “The huge psychological victory for the coalition produced by the arrival of US tanks in front of the media centre in Baghdad has not finished off the regime, even though this coup came so soon after their shock arrival at the international airport. A compilation of the military detail in reports from journalists in Baghdad and an ear for the changing spin from Centcom gives a less victorious picture of the battle for the Iraqi capital than is shown in the media. For example, for three hours on Saturday Centcom said the US was in Baghdad to stay, not on a raid. Then, after some armoured vehicles had been damaged and some troops killed and injured, it became a raid as the troops withdrew. The selective and censored TV coverage obscures a military reality that has been neither as successful nor as difficult as it has seemed. Now, reports of total victory may be premature.” – Dan Plesch, the Guardian, April 9, the day of liberation.

VON HOFFMAN AWARD VI: “As the war drags on, any stifled sympathy for the American invasion will tend to evaporate. As more civilians die and more Iraqis see their “resistance” hailed across the Arab world as a watershed in the struggle against Western imperialism, the traditionally despised Saddam could gain appreciable support among his people. So, the Pentagon’s failure to send enough troops to take Baghdad fairly quickly could complicate the postwar occupation, to say nothing of the war itself.” – Robert Wright, Slate, April 1.

VON HOFFMAN AWARD VII: “Is Wolfowitz really so ignorant of history as to believe the Iraqis would welcome us as ‘their hoped-for liberators’?” – Eric Alterman, The Nation.

P.S.This award (for awful wartime predictions) is still wide open. Send me your late entries, with a URL address to verify. There’s more accounting to do.

VON HOFFMAN AWARD NOMINEE

“The main flaws are now plain. First, the strategy left very long supply lines exposed and vulnerable. Troops require water and tanks require gasoline. Without these, no force 250 miles from base will be useful for long. Second, Iraqi soldiers embedded in civilian populations – both those along supply lines and in Baghdad – can only be destroyed alongside those populations. Thus the Iraqis could force the transformation of the second strategy into the first. And, being military realists, they have done so. The dilemma is now acute. Retreat is unthinkable. George W. Bush’s neoconservatives (standing safely in the back) will figuratively execute any who quail. The level of violence will therefore be raised. Meanwhile, the prime stocks of precision munitions have been drawn down, and speculation about the future use of cluster bombs and napalm and other vile weapons is being heard. And so the political battle – the battle for hearts and minds – will be lost. If history is a guide, you cannot subdue a large and hostile city except by destroying it completely. Short of massacre, we will not inherit a pacified Iraq. For this reason, the project of reconstruction is impossible. No one should imagine that the civilians sent in to do this work can be made secure. To support “the groundwork” for this effort is to support a holocaust, quite soon, against Iraqi civilians and also against the troops on both sides. That is what victory means. You can watch the beginnings (if you have satellite television) even now, as injured children fill up the hospitals of Baghdad. The moral strategy would be to avoid the holocaust. To achieve that from the present disastrous position, the United States would have to accept a cease-fire, which would lead to the withdrawal of coalition forces under safe conduct. There would be no military dishonor in such a step. It would, however, entail the humiliation of the entire Bush administration, indeed its well-deserved political collapse. Too bad the moral strategy is not a practical one.” – James Galbraith, the American Prospect. How can a single person get so much so wrong?

VON HOFFMAN AWARD NOMINEE

“Anyone who doubts that the Iraqi Army is prepared to defend its capital should take the highway south of Baghdad. How, I kept asking myself, could the Americans batter their way through these defenses? For mile after mile they go on, slit trenches, ditches, earthen underground bunkers, palm groves of heavy artillery and truck loads of combat troops in battle fatigues and steel helmets. Not since the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War have I seen the Iraqi Army deployed like this; the Americans may say they are “degrading” the country’s defenses but there was little sign of that here Wednesday.” – Robert Fisk – who else? – Arab News.

VON HOFFMAN AWARD NOMINEE

(for egregiously bad predictions in wartime) “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.” – Josh Marshall, April 1.

“Hundreds of American troops marched into town at midday today and were greeted by its residents. The infantry was backed by attack helicopters and bombers, and immediately destroyed several arms caches and took over a military training facility to serve as their headquarters. The occupying forces, from the First and Second brigades of the 101st Airborne Division, entered from the south and north. They had seized the perimeter of town on Tuesday. People rushed to greet them today, crying out repeatedly, ‘Thank you, this is beautiful!’ Two questions dominated a crowd that gathered outside a former ammunition center for the Baath Party. ‘Will you stay?’ asked Kase, a civil engineer who would not give his last name. Another man, Heider, said, ‘Can you tell me what time Saddam is finished?'” – New York Times, April 2, reporting on the first city to have been fully liberated from Saddam’s thugs.

VON HOFFMANN AWARD NOMINEE

(for egregiously bad journalistic timing in the war on terror): “For months American troops and covert operatives have combed the rugged outlands of eastern Afghanistan and western Pakistan in search of Osama bin Laden and his principal deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri. The fruitless manhunt serves as a reminder of the Bush administration’s inability to achieve one of the main goals of its antiterror effort, the capture of Al Qaeda’s leaders.” – David Johnston and Raymond Bonner, New York Times, February 27, 2003, a couple of days before the capture of al Qaeda’s key planner.

EMAIL OF THE DAY: To that self-parody of a San Francisco lefty, Mark Morford, from a reader of this website:

Mark… you sound like a flaming bag of hippie crap gas. I’m a Republican. Never have been a Democrat, never will be. But I used to smoke, drink a wild gamut of a selection of coffees, done lots of drugs and I’ve got a sloppy dog. I used to be a good western Christian but blew it off for a higher spirituality … whoops, there go the drugs again. Yeah, sex, drugs, rock and roll. Never voted for a Bush tho’. But if W wasn’t pursuing this war I’d be voting for Hillary next year. And that’d be a ballot voted with blood … from the hole I would immediately thereafter put in my head. I’m proud to be a conservative southern white boy … but not homophobic. Heck, I’m one of the homos.

Okay, put that guy in an ideological pigeon-hole.

VON HOFFMAN AWARD NOMINEE

Alas, it goes to my friend Jake Tapper, who penned a classic early Bush administration piece in March of 2001 that mocked Bush for blurting out the crass, stupid, know-nothing comment: “Part of the problem in dealing with North Korea [is] there’s not very much transparency. We’re not certain as to whether or not they’re keeping all terms of all agreements.” Jake then cites plenty of experts mocking Bush’s gaffe. One such anonymous foreign policy expert was asked by Tapper if he had any suggestions for Bush. The expert replied: “Not really. He said a really stupid thing. It seems obvious that he shouldn’t say stupid things in the future.” Jake makes some good points about Colin Powell getting ahead of the president and some early disarray in the foreign policy establishment. He also quotes Frank Gaffney for fairness. But the underlying tone of the piece is that we have this moronic president who doesn’t know what he’s talking about. We now know that we had a pretty smart president who saw what the foreign policy machers couldn’t. In Powell’s words at the time, “The president has made it clear that he understands the nature of regime in Pyongyang and will not be fooled by the nature of that regime and will view it in a very, very realistic, realistic way.” When will Bush’s critics begin to realize that they’re not smarter than he is; and they ocasionally say some really stupid things? It seems obvious that they shouldn’t say stupid things in the future.

ORWELL ON THE VON HOFFMANS

“Within the intelligentsia, a derisive and mildly hostile attitude towards Britain is more or less compulsory, but it is an unfaked emotion in many cases. During the war it was manifested in the defeatism of the intelligentsia, which persisted long after it had become clear that the Axis powers could not win. Many people were undisguisedly pleased when Singapore fell or when the British were driven out of Greece, and there was a remarkable unwillingness to believe in good news, e.g., El Alamein, or the number of German planes shot down in the Battle of Britain. English left-wing intellectuals did not, of course, actually want the Germans or Japanese to win the war, but many of them could not help but get a certain kick out of seeing their own country humiliated . . . . In foreign politics many intellectuals follow the principle that any faction backed by Britain must be in the wrong.” – George Orwell, Notes on Nationalism, 1945.