Sunday, February 02, 2003

A kinder, gentler war plan. It may go unnoticed on this national and international day of mourning for the Columbia astronauts. But today's New York Times carries a detailed report by Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker -- which surely would have been on the front page on any other day -- that is a transparent attempt by the Pentagon to knock down the January 24 CBS News exclusive about "Shock and Awe." That's the code name for a war plan -- currently in effect, according to CBS's David Martin -- to destroy Baghdad, and damn close to everyone in it, in an attempt to intimidate the Iraqi army into surrendering.

What's interesting and unusual is that both reports are based largely on interviews with on-the-record sources -- not exactly standard operating procedure in these kinds of turf wars; that each offers essentially the same details, yet adopts an entirely different spin; and that the phrase "Shock and Awe" appears nowhere in the Times report.

Some comparisons:

CBS NEWS: If the Pentagon sticks to its current war plan, one day in March the Air Force and Navy will launch between 300 and 400 cruise missiles at targets in Iraq. As CBS News Correspondent David Martin reports, this is more than number that were launched during the entire 40 days of the first Gulf War.

On the second day, the plan calls for launching another 300 to 400 cruise missiles.

"There will not be a safe place in Baghdad," said one Pentagon official who has been briefed on the plan.

NY TIMES: The Pentagon's war plan for Iraq calls for unleashing 3,000 precision-guided bombs and missiles in the first 48 hours of the opening air campaign, an effort intended to stagger and isolate the Iraqi military and quickly pave the way for a ground attack to topple a government in shock.

The initial bombardment would use 10 times the number of precision-guided weapons fired in the first two days of the Persian Gulf war of 1991, and the targets would be air defenses, political and military headquarters, communications facilities and suspected chemical and biological delivery systems, military and other Pentagon officials say.

Having set the scene, the divergence begins:

CBS NEWS: The battle plan is based on a concept developed at the National Defense University. It's called "Shock and Awe" and it focuses on the psychological destruction of the enemy's will to fight rather than the physical destruction of his military forces.

"We want them to quit. We want them not to fight," says Harlan Ullman, one of the authors of the Shock and Awe concept which relies on large numbers of precision guided weapons.

"So that you have this simultaneous effect, rather like the nuclear weapons at Hiroshima, not taking days or weeks but in minutes," says Ullman.

NY TIMES: The air war would be significant for what the targets will not be as much as for what they will be. Because the United States wants to help rebuild Iraq quickly after any conflict, the air campaign is intended to limit damage to Iraqi infrastructure and to minimize civilian casualties.

"The challenges in this air campaign will be to achieve certain military and psychological effects at the outset, but have as much of the infrastructure existing when it's over," said Gen. Ronald R. Fogleman, a former Air Force chief of staff who is a member of the Defense Policy Board, a panel that advises Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.

In other words, Ullman's Hiroshima analogy has now given way to General Fogleman's assertion that the plan is to keep civilian deaths to a minimum.

CBS NEWS: "You're sitting in Baghdad and all of a sudden you're the general and 30 of your division headquarters have been wiped out. You also take the city down. By that I mean you get rid of their power, water. In 2,3,4,5 days they are physically, emotionally and psychologically exhausted," Ullman tells Martin.

NY TIMES: [T]he air campaign would shut down but not destroy important city services, like water and electricity, so they could more easily be restarted to minimize public health problems.

This is a difference in emphasis. Under both scenarios, Bagdhad's water and power facilities would be targeted. The Times reports that this will be accomplished in such a way that the facilities can go back online fairly soon. CBS doesn't really address that issue, leaving the impression that they'll be flattened.

So which is it? I suspect that Ullman was speaking out of turn -- especially with his shockingly immoral Hiroshima comparison -- and that Fogleman was dispatched to clean up the mess.

Here's the problem. The Pentagon's aim may be something very much like what the Times is reporting. But that assumes what may prove to be an unattainable degree of precision. The goal may not be "Shock and Awe," but that may be the result.

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