|Man Without Qualities|
Thursday, April 03, 2003
Al Hunt's column today [excerpted below this post] offers an extreme version of the argument that the Administration wrongly and repeatedly thought the Iraq war would be a cake walk. He makes the bizarre assertion: From Washington, it's impossible to gauge how the war actually is going; perhaps the administration's optimism yesterday that Baghdad may fall imminently is justified.
But, as I noted yesterday, right there in Washington, the Administration's position was being clearly stated - and that position is not what Mr. Hunt says:
The Pentagon sought Wednesday to lower expectations that the Iraqi capital could be taken quickly or easily. "We are planning for a very difficult fight ahead in Baghdad," Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal told a Pentagon news conference. "We are not expecting to drive into Baghdad suddenly and seize it." ... McChrystal and department spokeswoman Victoria Clarke told reporters at least six times in a half-hour briefing that the toughest fighting may lie ahead.
What the heck is the matter with Al Hunt? He purports to be writing to warn of what he calls the “human ego investment factor in these calibrations” – but it is Mr. Hunt and other liberals who seem to have made the biggest investments in pre-judging the war and the Administration, and who refuse to accept the facts. His willful revisionism does not start with current events. He writes:
American policy-makers assumed that if we led, most other nations would follow, and particularly misjudged Turkey; that the Iraqi people would cheerfully welcome us as liberators with massive defections and resistance would be minimal after the early "shock and awe" campaign; and all this could be achieved with a leaner and much smaller fighting force. ... They can point to caveats, but the administration -- and articulate outside supporters -- suggested this would be a short and simple war.
Nothing of it is correct. Contrary to Mr. Hunt's confabulations, as long ago as a speech in Cincinnati last October 7 the President quite clearly stated the position of this Administration:
"Military conflict could be difficult. An Iraqi regime faced with its own demise may attempt cruel and unusual measures. ... There is no easy or risk-free course of action."
And Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said to U.S. troops in Aviano, Italy, on February 7: "It is not knowable how long that conflict (to disarm Saddam Hussein) would last. It could last six days, six weeks. I doubt six months." As so often the case, at this point it seems as though Mr. Rumsfeld was quite right.
What about Mr. Hunt's recapitulation of arguments that the military is lying when it says the war is going according to plan? Well, contrary to Mr. Hunt's apparent conception of how wars and other serious human activities are planned, this one rather obviously included planning for various contingencies. That's why, for example, it is simultaneously possible that the plan could contemplate that substantial numbers of Iraqis might surrender and that no substantial number of Iraqis might surrender. Mr. Hunt and others in the media should be ashamed to make such accusations without far more evidence than they have now.
In the entire column, not one source is actually named - and no support is provided for his assertion that the administration -- and articulate outside supporters -- suggested this would be a short and simple war. In a separate little box three quotes are proffered apparently to support the assertion: one each by Vice President Cheney and Defense Policy Board members Richard Perle and Kenneth Adelman. Notes to Al:
(1) A statement labeled by its maker as a personal "guess" is not Administration policy. Mr. Hunt's little box is not quite correct to quote Vice President Dick Cheney as having said: "Significant elements of Hussein's elite Republican guard…are likely to step aside." What he actually said on Meet the Press was that he guessed such a development was likely. But he did not say that he, the Administration or the plans of the US military were relying on any assumption that significant portions of the guard surrendering. Indeed, media reports from the beginning of the war indicate that serious negotiations suggested that even senior members of the Guard might be willing to surrender. And today's reports suggest that Mr. Cheney's personal guess was not far off: U.S. Marines and infantry moved with surprising speed toward Baghdad on Thursday, passing down roads littered with black combat boots as Saddam Hussein's loyalists shed their uniforms and switched to tribal robes hoping to avoid capture. We may see more of that kind of thing. And it really does mean something that Iraqi Shi'ite Muslim leader [Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani] has urged Iraqis not to hinder U.S. invading forces after previously asking them to resist efforts to topple President Saddam Hussein... Grand ayatollahs are the highest authorities in Shi'ite Islam and Sistani is the only one in Iraq. The fatwa applies nationwide.
(2) No Administration controls what its "articulate outside supporters" say - and it makes a columnist's argument look really, really weak to have to rely on wan attempts to ascribe such statements (in this case, by "outside supporters" who are not even named) to the Administration. The Administration is quite capable of speaking for itself - and did, through the President. While some "articulate outside supporters" gave the case for the likelihood that the Iraq incursion would be a "cake walk" - that was not presented to the public by all or even most such "articulate outside supporters" as an assumption on which the US would rely. The Wall Street Journal editorial page, for example, counts as such "articulate outside supporters." If Mr. Hunt's column makes any sense at all, it must be a dig at his more conservative colleagues. If so, he is wrong - the Journal's editorial pages have not lost sight of the nuances and uncertainties of an Iraq war.
(3) The Defense Policy Board is an advisory, non-policy-making group - a group the United States government maintains to allow it to receive a range of opinions. It is supposed to include people who advise but often don't agree with the Administration. Some of its views may be adopted by the Administration - or they may not. But it does not speak for the Administration or the United States, and its individual members certainly cannot be sensibly quoted as expressing Administration beliefs or as positions the Administration or the United States has taken with the public. And the fact that its chairman and some of its members are influential and well regarded doesn't change any of that. That Messrs. Perle and/or Adelman may sometimes have been opinionated and optimistic means exactly nothing substantial - except as evidence that some media representatives don't know who to talk to to understand Administration policy.
Nor is it correct that American policy-makers assumed that if we led, most other nations would follow. In fact, Mr. Bush and most of his Administration probably didn't want to go back to the Security Council for a "second resolution" - precisely because they feared that other countries, especially France, would cause mischief. Mr. Powell may have been a partial exception. But it is not hard to show that the effort to obtain a "second resolution" from the Security Council was mostly advocated by - and political cover for - Tony Blair. The effort may or may not have been worth while - but the Administration's position clearly shows that Mr. Hunt is again misrepresenting his case here. As for Turkey, the government of that country told the US that it could deliver the approval the legislature - and failed by a handful of votes in a situation highly influenced by internal Turkish politics (including the rise of a Turkish-style Islamic political party) and IMF policy. Most reasonable people would not hold American diplomats or other representatives to the requirement that they understand the Turkish legislature better than the Turkish government does. And it is notable that Mr. Hunt offers no indication of what should have been done.
And, of course, Mr. Hunt cannot help himself from referring to the "divisions" in the Administration, especially over whether all this could be achieved with a leaner and much smaller fighting force - which Mr. Hunt presents as contrary to the "Powell Doctrine." Of course, we can be fairly sure that Mr. Powell - now Secretary of State - did not personally intrude himself in any considerations of the "doctrine" that bears his name. Mr. Powell knows that the Secretary of State does not involve himself in matters squarely in the domain of the Secretary of Defense. What about this and others of Mr. Hunt's unsupported allegations of "bitter divisions" within the Administration? It is always open to a columnist to fill the inches with such assertions. When Mr. Hunt is ready to name names of insiders (not just his "former very prominent foreign-policy official") who are ready to talk on the record, serious people will then take his allegations seriously.
Until then, Mr. Hunt can tell it to the marines. His arguments in this column stand up about as well as did the Medina Division.
The Ego Investment Factor
[A Harvard academic wrote that] "Human ego investment" ... was a major factor [in "America's Vietnam debacle"]: "Men who have participated in a decision develop a stake in that decision." Future actions are predicated on flawed earlier decisions.
Flash forward to this war; some early calculations clearly were flawed: American policy-makers assumed that if we led, most other nations would follow, and particularly misjudged Turkey; that the Iraqi people would cheerfully welcome us as liberators with massive defections and resistance would be minimal after the early "shock and awe" campaign; and all this could be achieved with a leaner and much smaller fighting force. ...
On weekend TV shows and in subsequent appearances this week, the brass have insisted the war is going exactly as planned, that they've not been surprised.... Either Messrs. Rumsfeld and Myers are purposefully deceiving the public, or they are blinded by their investment in initial decisions.
They can point to caveats, but the administration -- and articulate outside supporters -- suggested this would be a short and simple war. ...
From Washington, it's impossible to gauge how the war actually is going; perhaps the administration's optimism yesterday that Baghdad may fall imminently is justified. ...
[Some have] reported U.S. commanders' -- past and present -- unhappiness with some of the plans of the defense chief and his civilian advisers; at first, they say, the Pentagon high command only wanted to commit 60,000 U.S. troops. This is an argument that won't be resolved until the war's outcome, but of this there is no doubt: Mr. Rumsfeld and his chief advisers confidently believed a smaller, faster, more lethal operation would render moot the Powell Doctrine of reliance on massive force, basically Republican theology since the Vietnam quagmire. ...
And even before the end of the war, there is a bitter struggle between Colin Powell and Donald Rumsfeld over who controls the post-war rebuilding. The issues are huge ... [T]he Powell-Rumsfeld infighting, seasoned observers say, is more bitter and plays out at a higher level than other feuds. One former very prominent foreign-policy official declares that the disagreements have led "to a level of dysfunctionality." ...
Mr. Hunt's Little Box:
"Significant elements of Hussein's elite Republican guard…are likely to step aside."
-Vice President Dick Cheney
"Support for Saddam…will collapse after the first whiff of gunpowder."
-Defense Department adviser Richard Perle
"…demolishing Hussein's military power and liberating Iraq would be a cakewalk."
-Rumsfeld and Cheney confidant Ken Adelman
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