provenance: unknown

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The fog of politics

"The only way out now is back, and to hope for some kind of a miracle." That's what Seymour Hersh reports (in the New Yorker, of course) a former intelligence officer told him about the situation coalition forces now face in Iraq, given his assessment of the amount of troops and materiel now on the ground.

It's just one analysis among many; not necessarily anything to scream about (though I confess reading Hersh's article more or less ruined my morning). We don't really know what the situation is, and we don't know that this former intelligence officer really does, either.

But at this point, we can safely say that we do know enough to be genuinely troubled. Donald Rumsfeld did believe there would be at most minimal Iraqi resistance south of Baghdad, and apparently convinced the president of this as well. This expectation had at least some effect on the eventual war plan. But Rumsfeld was wrong; his understanding was incomplete — and that didn't stop him from insisting on moving forward.

Rumsfeld now tells us that despite the miscalculation of the Iraqi response, our victory is still assured. But why should we still believe him? How should we know he isn't insisting on an understanding that's still incomplete? We can't possibly; he hasn't offered any actual analysis or data to counter claims that the war effort is in jeopardy. Rumsfeld is still doing what he's done since the beginning: insisting he knows better. But that simply isn't good enough at this point.

There are still ways this could all work out OK. Casualties have been relatively minimal so far. Ground forces are within 50 miles of Baghdad, and steadily securing Basra. Eliminating resistance in Basra — "liberating" it — and bringing in humanitarian aid could yet bring a genuine political victory (though the United States has lost much credibility, granted, so broadcasting news of such an event in Baghdad might not be widely believed). No one really knows how the people of Baghdad will react when coalition forces finally do arrive. And for all the history of costly, intractable urban warfare, there's no knowing how modern weapons (night-vision, for example) and communications technology might change the equation, if it comes to it.

But that's just one possibility, and not only can you now find a believer for most any possible scenario, none really has any more credibility than the other. Those who actually know more or less what's going on — Rumsfeld, General Franks, and their staffs — can't be trusted to honestly and openly assess the situation for us. And, simply put, no one else knows enough to talk about anything beyond possibilities. So that's where we're left: So far as you or I know, anything might happen.

That's troubling — and more than a little scary. Rumsfeld may yet be shown right, that the forces he committed are sufficient to do what needs to be done, and without any catastrophic losses. But he may not be, and his miscalculations, if not corrected, also might cause unnecessary, avoidable losses. Rumsfeld no longer deserves the benefit of the doubt — we need more than his indignant insistance that he knows better than everyone else. Someone needs to come clean and tell us just what the hell is going on.

March 31, 2003 3:16 PM

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Copyright ©2001-2003 Matt Pfeffer


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