Morning Report 12/2/04A Watershed Moment in the Iraq Misadventure


We may be turning a page

The Pentagon apparently hopes that pouring more soldiers into Iraq—to the highest number since the occupation began—will be a turning point. It may be, but not the kind that Don Rumsfeld is hoping for. It could be a turning point in how the war is being covered in the mainstream media.

For example, check out this morning’s Washington Post story on A1 about the war, ‘U.S. Troop Level In Iraq To Grow.’ Reporter Thomas E. Ricks duly gives the Pentagon’s explanation for extending deployments of many soldiers to an intolerable 14 months and for shipping fresh meat there. “The purpose is mainly to provide security for the elections, but it’s also to keep up the pressure on the insurgency,” Ricks quotes one of General Richard “Quag” Myers‘s flunkies as saying.

But Ricks immediately throws in this:

Other military experts, however, said the escalation reflects the more intense nature of the war after the U.S.-led assault on the rebellious Sunni city of Fallujah, west of Baghdad.

“The ferocity with which the war is being waged by both sides is escalating,” said Jeffrey White, a former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst who is now at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “It is not just that the number of incidents are increasing. The war looks to be changing in character.”

That is heavy, especially coming from someone who works for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a hawkish pro-Israel lobby that sits on the right, though not the far right on which the current Pentagon crew perches.

Then, Ricks quotes a retired colonel who was in Iraq last year as saying, “I fear that it signals a re-Americanization . . . of our strategy in Iraq.”

And to top it off, Ricks immediately goes back to March 2003 to remind readers what the Pentagon’s neocon hawks told Congress:

Before the invasion, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul D. Wolfowitz dismissed an estimate by Gen. Eric K. Shinseki, the Army chief of staff, that several hundred thousand troops would be needed to occupy Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein‘s government. “I am reasonably certain that they will greet us as liberators,” Wolfowitz told a congressional committee, “and that will help us to keep requirements down.”

Yeah, right. If you’re going to Fallujah, be sure to wear a flower in your hair.

The rest of the story is basically the same doom and gloom, like this from retired colonel Raoul Alcala: “Plan A—what the U.S. actually did—failed, and Plan B—the adaptations since the end of ‘major combat’—hasn’t worked either, so far.”

Now do you see why the administration waited until after the presidential election to storm into Fallujah? Don’t say we didn’t warn you when we said in late October, “Hurry up and get the voting over with, Americans, so we can go ahead and bomb the shit out of Fallujah.”

The point is that the invasion of Iraq only inflamed the world and created more enemies, just as the most recent invasion of Fallujah has inflamed the situation in Iraq and created more enemies there. It’s beginning to look a lot more like Vietnam.

On the other hand, as Tom Ricks’s story in this morning’s Post shows, the mainstream press may have reached a turning point in its coverage. A drumbeat of stories like this would have cost Bush the election.

Not that the Post hasn’t done some excellent work on the war already. But when a newspaper’s daily war story on A1 has the historical context and balance from people outside government—high in the story, even—that’s significant. Pretty soon, the TV news people (except for Fox) will be doing the same thing. Public opinion will follow.

As I say, it’s Vietnam all over again.