“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?
“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.
(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.
(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.
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.
“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.
“Right now we are using beards as beards, trying to prop up the Northern Alliance and hoping that somehow a Southern Alliance will materialize like a genie from Aladdin’s lamp. But the stories about the lame rebel force with its wooden saddles and line of old Russian tanks get sillier and sillier, like scenes out of the Marx Brothers or Woody Allen’s “Bananas.” TV footage shows troops practicing taking hills, and confused about whether they are supposed to advance or retreat after they win a battle with the Taliban.” – Maureen Dowd, New York Times, November 7.
VON HOFFMAN AWARD NOMINEE II: “The first body bags are now on their way home to the US, adding to the number of American families stricken by grief and loss. Once again – for what? Predictably, relentlessly, this conflict shows every sign of becoming the Vietnam of our generation – the graveyard of strategic interests and ideals, as well as lives.” – Madeleine Bunting, The Guardian, October 22.
VON HOFFMAN AWARD NOMINEE III: “Key Afghan opposition commanders are on the verge of abandoning the fight against the Taliban because their confidence in US military strategy has collapsed. Insurgents are no longer willing to infiltrate eastern Taliban-controlled Afghanistan because they believe American blunders are destroying the opportunity to spread revolt against the Islamist regime.” – “Opposition leaders ready to quit battle against Taliban. US blunders leave key fighters disillusioned” – by Rory Carroll, the Guardian, November 9, the day Mazar-e-Sharif fell.
“‘If you can’t be like bin Laden,’ one Army critic told me, ‘you’re in trouble.’ Another critic said the Rangers are a sledgehammer when a dagger is needed. Shortcomings in Afghanistan cannot be laid at the feet of one general. Hostility to special operations has deepened over 20 years. Expertise in unconventional warfare has not been the track to rapid promotion. The nation’s senior general officers were unprepared on Sept. 11 to fight the Taliban, and there is no sign that they are ready today.” – Robert Novak, “Unprepared for Afghanistan,” November 12.
“The war in Afghanistan, the one [Bush] should never have declared, has run into trouble. Just a few weeks into it and it’s obvious that the United States is fighting blind. The enemy is unknown, and the enemy’s country is terra incognita. We have virtually no one we can trust who can speak the languages of the people involved. With all our firepower and our technical assets and our spy satellites, it looks like we don’t know if we’re coming or going … We are mapless, we are lost, and we are distracted by gusts of wishful thinking. That our high command could believe the Afghani peasantry or even the Taliban would change sides after a few weeks of bombing! This is fantasizing in high places. In the history of aerial bombardment, can you think of a single instance of the bombed embracing the bombers? Bombing always unites the bombees against the bombers, and-duh!-guess what the reaction has been in Afghanistan? You don’t need to speak Urdu to figure it out, which is good since none of us does … Moreover, as hellish as the Taliban are, it appears that the ordinary people of Afghanistan prefer them to the brigands and bandits with whom we’ve been trying to make common cause-and who, we’ve been hinting, will take part in a postwar government.” – Nicholas von Hoffman, New York Observer, November 14! Readers are hereby invited to search the web to find the most prophetically challenged pieces of media war-wisdom so far. Please put Von Hoffman in the subject line.