Monday, March 31, 2003

Dowd twists Rumsfeld's words II. I heard from several readers who took me to task for yesterday's item on the New York Times' Maureen Dowd. The gist was that she had accurately sensed Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's attempt to distance himself from General Tommy Franks at Friday's Pentagon briefing, and that I was too dense to see it.

To which I reply:

1. Maybe Rumsfeld is indeed trying to blame the war's slow start on Franks, but you wouldn't know it from what he said Friday. My point was that Dowd had completely twisted Rumsfeld's words, not whether she had accurately discerned what he was thinking. ("Unknowable," to use one of Rummy's favorite words.)

2. Yesterday Rumsfeld once again attributed the plan to Franks and once again showered him with praise. And this time he was more explicit about what I suspect was the real reason he offloaded this onto Franks on Friday: he's not trying to blame Franks so much as he is desperately attempting to deflect criticism that he's been micromanaging the war plan and not giving the generals what they need.

On ABC's This Week, Rumsfeld labeled as "absolutely false" an article by Seymour Hersh in the new New Yorker that reports he repeatedly rejected requests by the generals for more troops. He told host George Stephanopoulos:

The plan we have is his [Franks's]. I would be delighted to take credit for it. It's a good plan. It's a creative and an innovative plan. And it's going to work. And it is his plan and it has been approved by the chiefs. Every one of the chiefs has said it's executable and they support it. It's been looked at by all the combatant commanders. It's gone through the National Security Council process. And what you're seeing is fiction. You're seeing second-guessers out there.

So not only did Dowd get it wrong, but she attributed to Rumsfeld motives that were less interesting than those that really seem to be at play. My suspicion is that Rumsfeld isn't so much worried that the plan isn't working as he is that he'll be tarred as a bureaucrat who wouldn't listen to his generals, thus putting American troops at unnecessary risk.

Prowar radio. I've been slow off the mark in whacking radio megagiant Clear Channel for sponsoring prowar rallies around the country. Today's New York Times has a detailed story, although it's more measured than the company's critics might like. Essentially the Times portrays executives of the 1200-station chain as clumsy rustics who don't understand how much power they wield.

(In Greater Boston, Clear Channel owns two ratings monsters, WJMN/94.5 FM, and WXKS/107.9 FM, as well as two insignificant AM stations.)

And it's not as though Clear Channel is the only radio chain pushing war. WAAF Radio (107.3 FM), in Worcester, organized a support-the-troops rally this past weekend, according to this story in the Boston Globe. WAAF is owned by Entercom, which also owns four other stations in the Greater Boston market.

And check out this page on the WAAF website about jock Greg Hill's refusal to play music by the antiwar band Mudvayne.

Media Log e-mail delivery resumes! I have solved my computer problems the old-fashioned way: through the vigorous application of borrowed money. If you've been holding off on requesting e-mail delivery, now's the time. Just contact me at

Sunday, March 30, 2003

Dowd twists Rumsfeld's words. The old saying about columnists is that they're entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts. Today the New York Times' Maureen Dowd twists Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's words, making him appear to be saying the opposite of what he actually said at the Friday Pentagon briefing. Here's Dowd:

Rummy was beginning to erase his fingerprints. "The war plan," he said, "is Tom Franks's war plan." Tommy, we hardly knew ye.

Here's the full context of what Rumsfeld actually said:

The war plan is Tom Franks's war plan. It was carefully prepared over many months. It was washed through the tank with the chiefs [the Joint Chiefs of Staff] on at least four or five occasions....

It has been through the combatant commanders. It has been through the National Security Council process. General Myers and General Pace and others, including this individual, have seen it in a variety of different iterations. When asked by the president or by me, the military officers who've reviewed it have all said they thought it was an excellent plan.

Indeed, adjectives that go beyond that have been used, quite complimentary.

Nor did Rumsfeld disagree when General Richard Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called Franks's plan "brilliant."

Maybe Dowd considers herself just a cheap entertainer at this stage of her career, but there's no excuse for this kind of disingenuousness. Rumsfeld may be in a heap of trouble (and he should be), but he clearly has not walked away from General Franks's plan.

Notes from the underground. Today's Boston Globe has a fascinating piece by David Filipov on what may be the most dangerous spot in the world: as a member of the anti-Saddam Iraqi underground. The movement is thought to be so infiltrated by Saddam's secret police that Filipov observes he couldn't even be sure whether he might have inadvertently interviewed some of them while researching his story.

Family affair. The Boston Herald today not only has a dispatch from its embed, Jules Crittenden, but also an essay by his wife, Amy McKinnon, on what it's like to have her reporter-husband on the front. (McKinnon's piece was originally published by the Christian Science Monitor.)

Saturday, March 29, 2003

Has Seymour Hersh landed the big one? The veteran investigative reporter's recent New Yorker piece on Richard Perle began a chain of events that led to Perle's resignation as chairman of the Defense Policy Board. (Slate's Jack Shafer has a good summary, including Perle's sleazy labeling of Hersh as a "terrorist.")

Now Drudge is linking to a Reuters report that next week's New Yorker will include a Hersh bombshell: that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld consistently rejected requests for more troops in Iraq. One of Hersh's sources is quoted as saying, "They've got no resources. He [Rumsfeld] was so intent on proving his point -- that the Iraqis were going to fall apart."

Rumsfeld seems like so much a part of the post-9/11 landscape that it's easy to forget that, before the terrorist attacks, his demise was so widely assumed that Slate actually ran a regular feature called the "Rummy Death Watch." (Here's one from September 7, 2001, just before everything changed.)

As is clear from Bob Woodward's book, Bush at War, Rumsfeld has absolutely infuriated the generals with his insistence on smaller, lighter, and more flexible fighting forces -- something that sounds good in theory, but in practice has put our fighting men and women at unnecessary risk.

We shouldn't have gone in there in the first place -- not without the sort of real international support that would have come by setting disarmament milestones for Iraq that it would have had to meet. But having gone in, it is reprehensible to risk American lives unnecessarily.

Sometime after this war has been won, and everyone -- Americans, Brits, and Iraqis -- starts to recover from this misbegotten adventure, I'm sure we can look forward to Rumsfeld's finally deciding to spend more time with his family. And Paul Wolfowitz makes three.

Shades of Kurt Vonnegut and sunscreen. SB tells me that John Cleese didn't really write that great riff on the Axis of Evil. She sends along this link, which explains that it is written by someone named Andrew Marlatt. He does a great John Cleese imitation. Manuel!

Demonizing a critic. Helen Thomas has never been a giant of her trade. However, she is dogged and dedicated, and deserves a lot of respect for being one of the first women to rise to the top of Washington political reportage. She is also absolutely fearless in asking questions -- a quality in short supply these days.

But here's how it works. A few months ago she called George W. Bush "the worst president ever." She immediately became a target of the right-wing attack machine, although its insults were hampered by the fact that Thomas, now with the Hearst newspapers, no longer works for a national media outlet.

Then, at Bush's March 6 news conference, Thomas was not called on, even though the 82-year-old columnist, as the dean of the White House press corps, traditionally gets the first question. Few complained; many cackled. The Fox News Channel's Brit Hume tarnished his reputation as one of that operation's few real pros by calling Thomas "the nutty aunt in the attic of the Washington press corps."

Now every time Thomas asks a question, she gets hammered. The latest entry: a column by right-wing columnist Michelle Malkin, who calls Thomas a "crusty ex-journalist-turned-White House heckler" for having the audacity to press smarmy White House spokesman Ari Fleischer about the conditions at Guantánamo Bay. (The column is in today's Boston Herald, but it's not online on the paper's website. Click here instead; or if it has been replaced with something new, try clicking here.)

According to Malkin, Thomas has no right even to ask such a thing at a time when American and British soldiers are being treated brutally by Iraqi forces. (And yes, they are being treated brutally, but that doesn't negate our obligation to treat prisoners humanely, or a journalist's right to ask about it.) Malkin writes:

I admire Fleischer's super-human restraint in the face of this disgusting display of moral equivalence masquerading as journalism. Thomas sees pictures of dead American soldiers being molested by cackling Iraqi assassins, she sees video of dazed and wounded young American soldiers in captivity, and all she can do is harangue the Bush administration for not giving Guantanamo Bay terror detainees enough "rights?"

Let there be no doubt about where Helen Thomas's heart lies.

Let there be no doubt about where Michelle Malkin's heart lies -- in advancing her career by acting as a toady for the White House, attacking and denigrating anyone who has the temerity even to ask a tough question.

This is really vile, because the effect is not just to hold Helen Thomas up to undeserved mockery, but to intimidate anyone who dares follow in her footsteps.

Silent scream. The Boston Globe today didn't run The Boondocks. It didn't replace it with another cartoon, either -- just a lame quote of the day or some such thing. And yes, today's Boondocks is a pointed antiwar cartoon, expessing "outrage and disappointment at the situation in the Middle East." Click here to see it. And here's an AP story on some of the controversies that Boondocks creator Aaron McGruder has found himself in since 9/11.

No such controversy over the stupid right-wing comic strip Mallard Fillmore, which the Globe runs every day without protest (except the occasional letter to the editor) and, I'm sure, without readers. Here's a nice one from March 3 (select date when you get there), which refers to "the ungrateful, hypocritical Franch pansies who call themselves our 'allies.'"

Thinking I might have missed some quantum leap in linguistic evolution, I decided to look up pansy in the American Heritage Dictionary, which defines it as "a disparaging term for a man or boy who is considered effeminate" or "a disparaging term for a homosexual man." Yup, it still means what it did in the seventh grade.

So did the dog eat today's Boondocks or did the Globe chicken out? An explanation awaits. (Thanks to AQ for pointing this one out.)

Secretary of Sanity John Cleese. JB sends along the link to a hilarious John Cleese essay on the "Axis of Evil." If you want to learn more about the "Axis of Not So Much Evil Really as Just Generally Disagreeable" and the "Axis of Countries That Aren't the Worst But Certainly Won't Be Asked to Host the Olympics," then click here.

Sometimes violence is the only answer. My laptop is working much better since I discovered that I can usually unfreeze it when I rap it hard on the case, just on top of the battery.

Friday, March 28, 2003

Maybe Bush will try to blame it on Clinton. A friend sent me a headline from the editorial page of the local daily yesterday: "No One Said War Would Be Easy." We laughed ruefully, if it's possible to do such a thing by e-mail. A more accurate headline would have read: "Everyone Said War Would Be Easy."

Now the prowar folks are trying to rewrite history as fast as they can. Yesterday, a conservative correspondent took me to task for writing that "some of the war's most ardent supporters" were promoting the idea of "a 72-hour, casualty-free victory." As evidence, he cited the transcript of a recent program on the Fox News Channel in which Bill Clinton said a rapid victory was virtually assured, while guest commentator William Kristol, a leading advocate of the war against Iraq, criticized Clinton for being irresponsible. Gee, it always comes down to Clinton, doesn't it?

Well, score one for Kristol. Would that his fellow-travelers on the prowar side be as responsible as he is. In fact, they have been just the opposite.

In Slate, former Boston Globe reporter Fred Kaplan observes that quick victory was "the premise underlying the whole war plan," and he's got the evidence to prove it: on-the-record quotes from top military officials that the US attack would be so overwhelming (I'm trying not to say "shock and awe" ... whoops, I just did) that a ground battle might not even be necessary.

In today's Boston Globe, John Donnelly notes that on March 16, Vice-President Dick Cheney, on NBC's Meet the Press, predicted the war would last "weeks rather than months" (still a possibility, obviously), and added: "I think things have gotten so bad inside Iraq, from the standpoint of the Iraqi people, my belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators."

In today's Boston Herald, Thomas Caywood reports that the small US force in Iraq is entirely consistent with the notion of a quick, relatively painless victory. He quotes Matthew Baker, a private military analyst, as saying, "The US is in a real pickle here. We don't have enough forces for Plan B, and Plan A didn't work."

And these stories merely amplify scores of similar pieces in the national press in recent days.

Want more? Here's a synopsis of a Newsweek article, published before the war, reporting that "US commanders believe a war against Iraq could be virtually won in just 48 hours." And here's a Q&A with Rear Admiral Stephen Baker (retired), a senior fellow at the Center for Defense Information, that was published on Newsweek's website on March 19 in which he says: "I'm not sure people realize the size of the hammer we have lowered on Iraq. We want to decapitate Saddam's ability to function whatsoever. Within 72 hours, we will try to neutralize and isolate Saddam and the Republican Guard."

Incredibly, but not surprisingly, the president blames the media. According to Dan Balz and Mike Allen, writing in today's Washington Post: "One adviser said Bush is irritated at the media for setting 'phony expectations' about how quickly the US-led forces would be able to subdue the Iraqi military and drive President Saddam Hussein from power." The phony expectations, of course, are entirely the White House's doing.

If this were a just war, it wouldn't matter. President Bush could use some "pay any price, bear any burden" rhetoric and rally the American people, as he inarticulately attempted to do yesterday, coming off more Edward G. Robinson than John F. Kennedy. ("It isn't a matter of timetable, it's a matter of victory. And the Iraqi people have got to know that, see?")

But the truth is that this is a war of dubious legality being waged for ever-shifting reasons, with shallow support at home and almost universal condemnation abroad. Bush attempted to thread the needle, hoping that rapid victory and the grateful thanks of a liberated Iraqi nation would silence his critics and buy him after-the-fact legitimacy. He gambled and lost.

Of course we're going to win -- relatively quickly as these things go. But now it's clear that we're going to win ugly, and that though the Kurds and possibly some Shia elements will greet us as liberators, at least as many Iraqis will meet our presence with sullen resentment, or worse.

Thursday, March 27, 2003

Who the hell are the Fedayeen Saddam? Let's see. We knew about the Iraqi army. Those guys won't fight, we were assured. We knew about the Republican Guard. Those guys might fight, we were told. But did we know about the Fedayeen Saddam -- between maybe 25,000 to 40,000 stone-cold killers, fanatical supporters of Saddam Hussein? Well, uh, no, not really. It might have been helpful if we did.

I did a quick Nexis search this morning and found that, during the past two years, there have been 423 references to the Fedayeen Saddam in the past two years. But wait! Exactly 310 of those references are from the past week. We just didn't know about these guys. And judging from the way the US and British troops appear to have been caught off guard, it seems that our overconfident leaders didn't know much about them either.

Not that they were completely unknown. Here's a 1998 story from, which describes a crackdown on internal dissidents led by the fedayeen -- "a 40,000-strong paramilitary force run by Odai Hussein," more commonly spelled "Uday," Saddam's sadistic older son.

But I think it's safe to say that for most of us, this week is the first time we've heard of them, as in this piece in today's Washington Post headlined "Analysts Say Threat Warnings Toned Down." It appears that the White House didn't want to hear the bad news before the war, since it would interfere with the spin of a 72-hour, casualty-free victory being promoted by some of the war's most ardent supporters.

Well, the Bushies are certainly hearing the bad news now.

Dean dodges. So Mr. Straight Shooter, Howard Dean, doesn't want to be pinned down on whether we should pull out of Iraq. Of course not. Dean got a lot of early buzz for his staunch antiwar stand, but he knows as well as anyone that we can't pull out now that we're in. The best that can be hoped for is a quick victory with minimal loss of life -- a vision that, sadly, is already fading. But Dean doesn't want to give up his standing as the most antiwar of the Democratic presidential candidates.

While John Kerry has been ripped apart for his complicated stance on the war, Dean has gotten a free pass for his supposed candor. Maybe now people will begin to see that he, too, is hustling for votes. That's what these people do, you know. I love the description of Dean by Ryan Lizza in the current New Republic: "He doesn't just speak off-the-cuff; he reminds you that he's the guy who speaks off-the-cuff and explains that his off-the-cuffness is the reason people like him."

The face of evil. Here's a horrifying story from today's New York Times. It seems that Iraqi army soldiers are facing fire from two directions: from US and British troops in front of them and from fanatical Saddam supporters behind them. One Iraqi soldier is described as dying from a head wound inflicted by a Saddam loyalist. Another wounded soldier says, "I have four children at home, and they threatened to hurt them if I did not fight. I had no choice."

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

Atrocities and hypocrisy. A somber, downbeat day. Even though I opposed the US invasion of Iraq, I nevertheless thought I might be wrong. Now it's clear that even if this is wrapped up quickly, it's going to be some time before we can extricate ourselves from the muck of hypocrisy and moralism that has infected our ruling circles.

Donald Rumsfeld prattles on that Iraq's decision to videotape American prisoners-of-war was a violation of the Geneva Conventions -- that they're not supposed to be publicly shown because that would be "humiliating." Well, here is a Reuters photo of Iraqi prisoners. (Scroll down and select "An Iraqi boy tosses a cigarette ...") About a half-dozen of them are clearly identifiable, and you'll also find it reproduced on page B7 of today's New York Times.

The US rightly condemns the Iraqis for videotaping the bodies of dead American soldiers, and evidence is mounting that at least some of those soldiers tried to surrender and were executed. That is savage, horrifying behavior if true. Yet in a front-page story in the Times, we learn that in the battle for Basra yesterday, "British commandos seized the 'most senior' official of the governing Baath Party in Basra and killed 20 of his aides and security guards." Killed? Were they fighting, or were they merely inconvenient? The story doesn't say. I hope this was just unfortunate wording, but as we all know, terrible things can happen in a war.

As for putting dead bodies on television, the Boston Globe today quotes an official of ABC News explaining why it was different to broadcast footage of the bodies of dead Iraqi soldiers: the video was shot "at a distance, so you couldn't identify their faces." Perhaps the Geneva Conventions can be updated to specify how far away you have to be in order to shoot video of dead soldiers, complete with a handy metric-conversion chart. And by the way, the Globe story documents some other things you're not seeing on American television that is regular fare for Arab viewers: "bloodied bodies of young children ... trips to the hospital, grieving parents ... the scalp of a child that reporters said had been blown off in a bombing."

At this point, we can't pull out. Saudi Arabia is reportedly backing way from the tepid peace plan it proposed yesterday. In any case, to leave Saddam in place now would be the worst of all possible scenarios. The Times story on the battle for Basra also reports that a "woman who waved to British forces on the outskirts of the city was later found hanged." Multiply that by a thousand times if we quit now.

But American and British moralizing is sickening to listen to right now. You can't fight a war without entering hell. We entered this hell voluntarily. There will be much accounting to do later.

Tuesday, March 25, 2003

"War and Peace" on The Boston Phoenix has begun a warblog. Check it out here.

Not just wrong, but against our best interests. The New York Review of Books has published the resignation letter of career diplomat John Brady Kiesling. It is powerful stuff. Kiesling writes:

The policies we are now asked to advance are incompatible not only with American values but also with American interests. Our fervent pursuit of war with Iraq is driving us to squander the international legitimacy that has been America's most potent weapon of both offense and defense since the days of Woodrow Wilson. We have begun to dismantle the largest and most effective web of international relationships the world has ever known. Our current course will bring instability and danger, not security.

Images of death. The Washington Post's Philip Kennicott today has a piece on the media dilemma of whether to publish photos or run video of dead American soldiers. Among those interviewed is Boston Phoenix editor Peter Kadzis, who discusses the Phoenix's decision to put up a link on its website to the video of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl's last, horrifying moments.

Kadzis tells Kennicott: "I think that war is and of itself full of brutal acts, but that nevertheless there are levels of brutality and callousness. Anything that helps those of us who are far removed from a conflict to understand the degree of force applied, or the degree of brutality enacted, anything that seriously contributes to that understanding, is valid."

Media Log suspends daily e-mails. Because of a serious computer problem, I'm going to have to suspend daily e-mails of Media Log for the time being. Unfortunately, I'm not sure I can even get an e-mail out to subscribers, since my list is on the computer that's giving me trouble. But if you're an e-mail reader who's visiting, please check in for regular updates.

War and truth. Who can make sense of all this? Who can possibly sift through the torrent of information and come away with any hope of knowing what's going on?

Last night, CNN was reporting that Saddam Hussein, in his televised address, heaped praise upon an Iraqi unit that was among the first to surrender, lending credence to the notion that he'd taped it before the war actually began. On Fox News, Bill O'Reilly, kept referring to 57 edits to the videotape, which means it could have been just a cut-and-paste job from an old speech.

Yet in this morning's New York Times, John Burns plays it straight, writing:

After some American officials had suggested Mr. Hussein might have been seriously injured or killed in the airstrikes that began the war, his appearance had the effect of steadying the government, at least for now. After the speech, officials who had worried privately about a possible collapse of authority began talking as if the capture of the city could be held off for weeks or even months.

The Washington Post's Anthony Shadid doesn't question the authenticity of Saddam's speech, either. But the Post's Walter Pincus and Dana Priest analyze it here.

Today's Times also had a media roundup, showing how the press shifted from unrealistic optimism on Saturday to (probably) unrealistic pessimism on Monday. But before you start whining about the feckless press, keep in mind that the Washington Post this morning reports that Gulf War generals -- led by Barry McCaffrey -- are complaining that the US invaded Iraq with insufficient force to get the job done.

So what's going on? Is this a debacle? A quagmire, to use that old Vietnam phrase? Of course not. The US and Britain are going to win quickly and easily. But that's not the issue.

This was sold -- and that is exactly the right word (Remember White House chief-of-staff Andrew Card's comment about not rolling out a new product until after Labor Day?) -- as a quick campaign of liberation. Saddam would fall in days and Iraqi citizens would be dancing in the streets. This vision was intended to warm the hearts of George W. Bush's pro-war supporters and stifle the fears of antiwar critics.

That's not happening. Instead, we are seeing images of protracted fighting, dead and wounded civilians, terrified American POWs, a looming humanitarian catastrophe, and Iraqi citizens who, no matter how much they may hate Saddam, do not appreciate being invaded by a foreign power.

The war will succeed. But in a larger sense, it may have already failed.

Monday, March 24, 2003

A historian's verdict. Arthur Schlesinger Jr. is filled with "deep gloom" over the war in Iraq, arguing that a preventive war is essentially what the Japanese thought they were waging when they attacked Pearl Harbor.

In a Q&A with Newsweek (online only), Schlesinger analyzes George W. Bush's "fatal mistake," and criticizes the Bush administration's lack of historical knowledge, Donald Rumsfeld's insulting demeanor toward US allies, and Bush's grandiose sense of mission. Say Schlesinger:

They're ideologues. Bush seems to feel that he's been appointed by the almighty to go to war with Iraq. But Iraq is far less of a clear and present danger than North Korea. North Korea has nuclear weapons. The difference in our treatment between Iraq and North Korea is strong incentive for other countries, other rogue states, to develop their own nuclear arsenal.

On second thought, Saddam is probably still dead. Blogger Ken Layne makes a good point: if Saddam's speech were current, and not taped prior to last Wednesday's bombing raid, he certainly would have mentioned the captured American troops. Good point. (Via InstaPundit.)

Spectral leadership. Check out this exchange yesterday between Tim Russert, host of NBC's Meet the Press, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. (Full transcript here.)

RUSSERT: Let me show you the latest pictures from Iraqi TV of Saddam Hussein. They show him there in a rather jovial -- that's Tariq Aziz, the deputy foreign minister, enjoying a laugh, sitting around a table. The Iraqis are saying that these pictures were taken yesterday, more released today. What can you tell us about Saddam Hussein?

RUMSFELD: There are reports in Baghdad and in Iraq that he may be dead. There are reports that he may have been injured. There are clearly reports that the leadership is in some disarray, if he's alive. And until time passes and ground truth is learned, we'll just have to assume that he's alive and well. Those photographs, video pictures, appear to some people who watch them to have been prerecorded, and we do have intelligence saying that they prerecorded a number of events like that so that they would have them available in case they were either killed or were not in a position where they could be accessible to the kinds of cameras and communication devices that would enable them to do that.

RUSSERT: If you knew Saddam Hussein was dead, is it something that you would make public or try to prevent from being made public in order to make sure Iraq did not break down in disarray?

RUMSFELD: It wouldn't matter what we tried to do. We have so many press people, hundreds, hundreds of people that are right there. There are people on the ground in Baghdad. My personal view is if someone asked me that question, which no one ever has, I would say the truth is the truth. Just tell the truth, and if he's dead, he's dead. But we can't say that.

RUSSERT: Is Saddam Hussein directing the Iraqi military at this time?

RUMSFELD: It's not knowable....

Q: Well, Mr. Secretary, is Saddam dead or alive? A: We don't know. Q: Okay, what did he have for dinner last night?

Not knowable? I should say not.

By the way, it now appears that Saddam is probably alive.

They like us, they really like us. Don't they? No, they don't. Two stories today call into question the very underlying principles of this operation. On the front page of the Washington Post, Anthony Shadid -- formerly of the Boston Globe -- reports on a formerly middle-class Bagdhad family under siege. (The story was also carried on the front of the Globe's special war section.) They're anti-Saddam, they bravely talk about how glad they'll be to see him go, but they have no use for the Americans. Shadid writes:

When it came to the cause of Iraq's predicament, family members pointed to Hussein, describing him as rash. He invaded Iran, trapping them in an eight-year war. He seized Kuwait, bringing on the Persian Gulf War and the devastation of sanctions that largely wiped out Iraq's middle class. After that war, they were ready to overthrow him themselves.

But they bitterly denounced the war the United States has launched. Iraq, perhaps more than any other Arab country, dwells on traditions -- of pride, honor and dignity. To this family, the assault is an insult. It is not Hussein under attack, but Iraq, they said. It is hard to gauge if this is a common sentiment, although it is one heard more often as the war progresses.

"We complain about things, but complaining doesn't mean cooperating with foreign governments," the father said. "When somebody comes to attack Iraq, we stand up for Iraq. That doesn't mean we love Saddam Hussein, but there are priorities."

A friend of the family interrupted. "Bombing for peace?" he asked, shaking his head.

On the front page of the Globe, Charles Radin reports that Saddam is an increasingly popular icon on the West Bank, just as he was during the first Gulf War, and that he is certainly more popular than Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

The comments of the uninformed are frightening enough, but even the well-educated and reasonable -- such as Dr. Randa Nabulsi -- find Saddam preferable to an invasion by US forces. Radin writes:

''My children asked me, 'Why are you weeping?' and I said it was because we are all Iraqis,'' Nabulsi said. ''My 12-year-old daughter asked me, 'Do you like Saddam Hussein?' and I didn't know how to answer.

''I told her he was a disaster, he killed all those people in Halabja, and my daughter said, 'Are you with Saddam Hussein or not?' and I said I am with Iraq.''

Even though she tries to level with her children, this was not quite the whole truth, she said later.

''I am against Saddam Hussein. He is terrible, not a human being,'' Nabulsi said. ''But in this moment, I am with Saddam Hussein.''

The problem with this war is not that it is immoral but, rather, excessively moralistic and naive, driven by a view that we can make Iraq -- and, eventually, the rest of the Arab world -- just like Middle America. So how does stirring up such hatred serve our national interest? It would be a good question to ask Rumsfeld at his next briefing.

At this point, of course, there's no retreating. We have to win this as quickly, and with as little loss of life on both sides, as possible. But making this look like anything other than a mistake during the postwar aftermath is obviously going to be a monumental task.

"The right war at the wrong time." Kennedy School of Government dean Joseph Nye gets every nuance right in an op-ed piece for today's Globe.

Saturday, March 22, 2003

A terrifying look at the roots of terror. The cover story of tomorrow's New York Times Magazine is an adaptation from Paul Berman's new book, Terror and Liberalism. And it is terrifying. Berman examines the life and work of Sayyid Qutb, an early Islamist extremist, who was executed by the regime of Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1966.

According to Berman, Qutb is slightly known in Western circles as a writer who inspired Al Qaeda. But his best-known work in the West, Milestones, is "shallow," Berman writes. What really inspires terrorists is a 15-volume work he produced mainly in prison, under horrific conditions, called In the Shade of the Qur'an.

Berman's essay is long and detailed, and defies neat summary. Read it. Qutb loathed the Jews, and blamed the Christians for the 2000-year-old theological mistake of separating the secular from the sacred, a "hideous schizophrenia" that harks back to Jesus' telling his followers to render unto Caesar that which was Caesar's -- almost certainly a misquote, in Qutb's view.

Worse, the Christians later exported their notions of the separation between the worldly and spiritual realms back to the Muslim world -- particularly Turkey, a non-Arab country that nevertheless was the seat of the seventh-century Islamic caliphate for which Qutb and his followers so yearn.

Not-so-fun fact: Qutb's brother, who held similar views, taught theology to a young Osama bin Laden.

Qutb favored a society that practiced a particularly harsh form of Shariah, or Islamic law, and stressed martyrdom, a message that gained particular resonance after his execution. He would have loved the Taliban.

"He opposed the United States because it was a liberal society, not because the United States failed to be a liberal society," Berman writes. Later, he adds: "Qutb gave these people [Islamist radicals] a reason to yearn for death. Wisdom, piety, death and immortality are, in his vision of the world, the same. For a pious life is a life of struggle or jihad for Islam, and struggle means martyrdom. We may think: those are creepy ideas. And yes, the ideas are creepy. But there is, in Qutb's presentation, a weird allure in those ideas."

And this is an extraordinarily creepy article.

Death from above. A conservative critic of Media Log who goes by the name of Yee Haw thinks my item on Donald Rumsfeld's briefing yesterday suggests I was being critical of the Bush administration for not unleashing "shock and awe" earlier.

Yee: "Are you going to sit there and tell me you're going to second guess these guys on tactics? C'mon, Dan.  You're going to criticize them on trying to keep as many Iraqis alive as possible? Because there's a delay in how quickly the Iraqis are surrendering, this is somehow going to be a political problem for Bush?"

Wow. I hope Yee was the only reader who misinterpeted me that badly. For the sake of argument, I'll assume I wasn't clear enough, so I'll try again:

There would be no need for shock and awe if we hadn't launched this war in the first place.

Clear enough?

Having said that, we are at war, and everyone hopes it can be wrapped up as quickly, and with as little loss of life, as possible.

I'm glad that Rumsfeld and George W. Bush held off on the massive bombing. My only point is that, by raising expectations that shock and awe might not be needed after all, the effect on worldwide opinion is going to be even more damaging than if they had simply opened the war with it, as everyone had predicted they would.

Why Colin Powell shouldn't resign. New York Times columnist Bill Keller has called on Secretary of State Colin Powell to resign. Keller is a former managing editor of the Times and a legitimate bigfoot.

The first time I read Keller's column, I thought it was brilliant and right on the money. The second time -- no less brilliant, but ultimately wrong-headed. Keller seems overly concerned about Powell's ability to maintain his own personal credibility. He should be more concerned about the country.

Keller's take, which I'm oversimplifying, is that George W. Bush has rejected Powell's internationalist, multilateralist approach, and that Powell is essentially fighting a rear-guard action, occasionally slowing Bush down and ameliorating his and his hawkish advisers' worst instincts but not really changing the ultimate outcome in any significant way. Keller writes of Powell:

His formidable skills have been too much engaged in a kind of guerrilla war for the soul of the president, and it has shown. Critics in the administration and colleagues on this page have unfavorably compared his performance in the buildup to war with James Baker's whirlwind of global coalition-building before the gulf war in 1991. But Mr. Baker was operating as his president's right arm; Mr. Powell was busy protecting his right flank.

True enough. But here's the money graf, and, if you look closely, you'll see more reasons for Powell's staying than going:

I can't count the number of times in the past two years I've heard -- occasionally from my own lips -- the observation that the Bush administration would be a much scarier outfit without Colin Powell. Allied diplomats, international businessmen and the American foreign policy mainstream have regarded him as the lone grown-up in an administration with a teenager's twitchy metabolism and self-centered view of the world. He was the one who acknowledged that other countries had legitimate interests, and that in the application of America's unmatched power there was a case for generosity because what goes around comes around. His pragmatic caution offset a moralism that sometimes verged on recklessness. If others, including the president, seemed given to hype and swagger, Mr. Powell's word seemed bankable -- at least until the White House began misspending his credibility in its rush to the war that couldn't wait.

Okay, so it's been an ugly time for Powell, and he's losing some of his hard-won credibility. But is that a reason to resign? Powell is well into his 60s; the next step is semi-retirement, probably in academia. I'd rather have him keep playing the lone "grown-up" role for as long as he can stand it.

Imagine Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, and Paul Wolfowitz surveying the scene after they've finished destroying the regime of Saddam Hussein. As they look out at other trouble spots -- North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Syria, Iran -- they are going to be feeling very, very sure of themselves, full of smugness and vindication after having triumphed over their critics.

Now ask yourself this: do you not want Colin Powell in the room with them?

Hazardous duty. Boston Globe reporter Brian MacQuarrie, who's embedded with an Army unit, almost bought the farm yesterday. His harrowing account is online here.

Gitell on the Turks and the Kurds. The Phoenix's Seth Gitell writes to Media Log:

I think the focus the left has placed at merely protesting the war has robbed the country of an important moral voice right now. Turkey has currently placed at least 1000 troops into Northern Iraq. Pentagon spokesmen from Myers to Franks have minimized the danger posed by the Turkish Army in this region and have expressed little interest in the issue. But the Turks directly imperil the people who have been most victimized by Saddam, the Kurds of the North.

Because so much of the antiwar sentiment has done everything to ignore Saddam's humanitarian depravities in the North, you don't see any moral voices making the case on behalf of the Kurds in any of the antiwar protests on the street. To me, allowing the Kurds, who have managed to govern themselves for the last 12 years, to fall under the occupation of the Turks -- especially with the help they have given us in the effort against Saddam -- would be an unbelievable outrage.

That's something people should be protesting about. Unlike the question of war versus peace, it's probably a question that protesters could have some impact on.

Friday, March 21, 2003

Rumsfeld's -- and Bush's -- dilemma. It's hard to tell when things aren't going well for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, because he's so peevish and arrogant even on a good day. But at his news conference today, it seemed pretty clear that things aren't going the way he would have liked.

What's becoming increasingly obvious is that the White House and the Pentagon are striving mightily to avoid unleashing the full force of their "shock and awe" campaign, and that they're frustrated over the Iraqi leadership's refusal to behave in a way that, in the US view, is rational.

"Apparently what we have done thus far has not been sufficiently persuasive," Rumsfeld said at this afternoon's briefing. He listed a series of intermittent steps that could have brought about the desired result: the 48-hour ultimatum that President Bush delivered on Monday evening; the bombing of a leadership compound Wednesday night; the start of the ground campaign Thursday night; and, earlier today, what might be called "shock and awe lite" -- an intense bombardment of Bagdhad that lasted for a limited time.

One questioner noted that the ground troops seem to be moving through Iraq almost unimpeded. Given that, he asked, wouldn't the US be seen as a "bully" if it unleashed its full might on Bagdhad? Rumsfeld bristled. "It would be a misunderstanding of everything that has taken place," he said. Earlier, he spoke of the "humane" effort that would be made to spare civilians when the heavy bombing begins. Well, fine. But it was a good question.

It appears that Bush and Rumsfeld may have created a dilemma for themselves. Having chosen to open the war slowly, without "shock and awe," they raised hopes that massive destruction and killing would be avoided. Now they may end up doing it anyway, thus bringing yet another round of international condemnation on themselves.

If they'd done it at the beginning, as everyone assumed they would, they'd have taken the hit, it would be over with, and they could move on. But having created the perception that "shock and awe" had been called off, they're going to make it that much worse for themselves when -- if -- they unleash it.

The return of the white man's burden. Daniel Kruger, writing in the Spectator, makes the case against this war more effectively than just about anyone else I've seen. Too bad for him that he's in favor of it.

Imperialism is good, Kruger argues, because the savages need to be civilized, no less today than in the 19th century. (Link via Arts & Letters Daily.)

The wrong way to do the right thing. The dilemma that many liberals -- including Media Log -- find ourselves in is that we oppose George W. Bush's arrogant, unilateralist approach, fear the long-term consequences of his pre-emptive war, and yet understand how vital it is that the horrors and depredations of Saddam's regime at long last be brought to an end.

Boston Globe columnist Scot Lehigh, a moderate liberal, gets at that this morning:

But criticizing the diplomatic process that has led us to war is quite different from questioning the ultimate moral righteousness of this war. For all the predictable animadversions directed America's way, for all the accusations of unilateralism, of illegality, this is not an unjust war. Regardless of how one feels about this administration, there can be little dispute on this point: The end of Saddam's dictatorship will be an immense blessing to the average Iraqi.

And in a piece for the Weekly Standard's website, Jonathan Last -- a prowar conservative -- praises the media for "the fact that most Iraqis are eager to have Saddam Hussein removed is finally seeping into the mainstream."

Hypocrisy and dissent. Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne weighs in this morning on the importance of dissent in time of war. He also takes note of the hypocrisy of Republicans who all but accused Senate minority leader Tom Daschle of treason this week, yet who savagely went after Bill Clinton when he commenced military action in Kosovo and Serbia in 1999.

Dionne writes:

[T]he more a president's supporters use the term "commander in chief" to enhance his authority, the more important it is to remember his role as the political leader of a free republic who is not endowed with infallibility, unlimited power or immunity from criticism. That, after all, is the essential difference between our country and Iraq.

Coalition blues. Given the Bush administration's unilateralist bent, it did well to find 33 countries openly willing to support the US invasion. But as the Wall Street Journal notes this morning, it's not much of a coalition: Britain is contributing major military support, Spain and Australia a bit, and that's about the extent of it. One coalition member, Iceland, doesn't even have a military. (No link; subscribers only.)

Christopher Cooper and Mark Maremont report:

With the missiles flying and fighting under way, officers at Central Command in Qatar are careful to refer to every military operation as a coalition undertaking. But in truth, most of the missiles rocking Baghdad, tanks rumbling across the border or soldiers girding for battle are almost certain to be American.

Of course, this is one of those facts that means whatever you want. If you're antiwar, it's evidence that what the US is doing is deeply wrong. If you're with the White House, then this can be cited as support for the notion that only the US is willing to do the dirty work of keeping the country -- and the world -- safe.

What's sure is that this is nothing like the Gulf War coalition of 1991.

Hans Blix: Kicking ass and taking names. Click here for photo (link good today only).

Thursday, March 20, 2003

Saddam is dead. Or maybe not. The Washington Post is running a great story tomorrow that is no less fascinating for the fact that it doesn't answer a single damn question.

To wit: US officials are convinced that Saddam Hussein was in the bunker when the cruise missiles hit on Wednesday night. Some are privately exultant that he's dead. Some think he got away. He made several videotapes before the attack so that they could be released after his death or injury to make it look like he's still alive. And the coolest touch: his ex-girlfriend is convinced that the guy on the tape isn't Saddam.

Three bylines plus two contributing reporters equal no answers. But I love this story anyway.

Treason alert! Sean Hannity's got something to talk about tonight, provided he can find an intern to read him Michael Kinsley's latest for Slate. Kinsley dares to question the vast power that George W. Bush has arrogated unto himself in waging war against Iraq. Our commander-in-chief! (Don't cry, Sean; your make-up will run.)

Kinsley's piece has the additional virtue of being true, as geriatric war criminal Henry Kissinger used to say. Thus Kinsley has given us what we are unlikely to see on network television until, say, six months into the occupation: a good old-fashioned righteous attack on our only president in a time of war. Good for Kinsley.

Here's the wind-up:

Bush is asserting the right of the United States to attack any country that may be a threat to it in five years. And the right of the United States to evaluate that risk and respond in its sole discretion. And the right of the president to make that decision on behalf of the United States in his sole discretion. In short, the president can start a war against anyone at any time, and no one has the right to stop him. And presumably other nations and future presidents have that same right. All formal constraints on war-making are officially defunct....

In terms of the power he now claims, without significant challenge, George W. Bush is now the closest thing in a long time to dictator of the world.

The Supreme Court must be very proud indeed.

Troops on the move. Media Log is stuck with dial-up at the moment, as our DSL connection has unexpectedly gone on the fritz. We have no information at this time to suggest that Iraqi operatives may be responsible for this tragic return to the 56K Internet speed of the late '90s.

Just finished watching World News Tonight on ABC. What's going on right now is fascinating, if ultimately impossible to sort out until later. It appears that American and British troops are now pouring into Iraq and heading to Bagdhad without the two-day, massive "shock and awe" bombardment that we've all been hearing about these past few weeks.

Was "shock and awe" disinformation? Did military plans change? General George Joulwan, one of those retired military types who's advising ABC News, told anchor Peter Jennings that it appears last night's raid on Bagdhad -- reportedly aimed at killing Saddam Hussein -- has forced a change.

Because of the raid, Iraq retaliated today, shooting missiles ineffectively at the troops in Kuwait. And because of the missile attacks, the commanders decided to start moving rather than let the troops be sitting ducks. At least that's Joulwan's theory.

The consequence, of course, could be that the US and Britain will take Bagdhad without wreaking the massive destruction that so many had feared. A much better outcome -- and possibly by accident.

Sorting out the truth. has posted a piece called "Myths and Misconceptions About Iraq," which functions as kind of an urban-legends debunker. Were those aluminum tubes intended to produce nuclear weapons? No, not according to the best evidence available. Is this a unilateral war? Not with 30 partners supporting the United States. Something for everyone, in other words, all of it well-researched.

Flushing Saddam out. Joe Conason offers a fascinating theory in Salon -- that the US's claims that Saddam Hussein might have died in last night's raid may in fact be part of a ruse aimed at getting him to show his face.

"With intelligence units and special forces on the hunt," Conason writes, "the best and only way to find him may be to force him to end his radio silence and communicate. Surveillance of the Iraqi information ministry and broadcasting facilities could, in theory, allow a trace to wherever Saddam is holed up."

Then again, Saddam might really be dead, as Salon's Jake Tapper reports.

Winning without (much) war? The extent to which the White House and the Pentagon are trying to topple Saddam Hussein's regime without escalating to all-out war is surprising and heartening. At this morning's Pentagon briefing, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's main emphasis was on how Iraqi soldiers and officials could surrender without fear of reprisal.

Just one example: "Iraqi officers and soldiers must ask themselves if they want to die fighting for a doomed regime."

What really struck me, though, took place as the news conference was drawing to a close. Earlier, Rumsfeld had been asked what kind of evidence he had that the call for Iraqis to abandon the regime was working. "Good evidence," he replied with his characteristic sneer.

Just before leaving, though, he returned to the question, acknowledged he hadn't done a good job of answering it, and offered a several-minutes-long soliloquy -- of how Iraqis can't resist when they're under constant threat of arrest, torture, and execution, but of how things may reach a "tipping point" at which a critical mass of the population understands that Saddam isn't going to survive. At that moment, Rumsfeld said, the regime may simply collapse of its own accord.

Needless to say, if the psy-ops strategy succeeds, it would be the best possible news.

Stuck on one channel. News Dissector Danny Schechter compares television coverage of the first hours of the war to what it must be like in North Korea:

I have never seen North Korean TV but I have been told that all it offers is one unending commercial for the government featuring three channels locked in to the same programming. We had a dose of that last night as every channel locked on to the same stationery pictures of Baghdad and followed the same format, if not script.

He also cites a report by Jeff Chester, of the Center for Digital Democracy, on the pernicious effects of the major networks reporting on the war at the same time that they are begging for deregulatory favors from the FCC, headed by Secretary of State Colin Powell's son. Says Chester:

While the absence of critical analysis, including dissenting voices, on TV news programs, for example, can be attributed to the narrow, commercial mind-set of the U.S. media, viewers and readers should also be aware that these news organizations also have a serious conflict of interest what it comes to reporting on the policies of the Bush Administration.

Onward, ever onward. The quick and relatively painless victory we're all hoping for may have some truly ugly consequences, as the Boston Globe's Peter Canellos reports this morning. Canellos quotes Harvard foreign-policy expert Stanley Hoffman:

This is a very important moment, but not a reassuring one. If there is agreement in the administration on a wider plan, I think it's so wide as to be utopian.

I think after Iraq there'll be disagreement among the people who agreed on Iraq. Some will want to go into North Korea. Some will want to go into Iran ... but I'm not sure they have a game plan beyond Iraq.

On Tuesday, New York Times columnist Paul Krugman recalled what "a British official close to the Bush team" told Newsweek last August: "Everyone wants to go to Baghdad. Real men want to go to Tehran."

Nuke-bearing North Korea obviously needs to be dealt with -- preferably through the kind of one-on-one negotiations the White House has refused to engage in, as New Mexico governor Bill Richardson, Bill Clinton's UN ambassador, called for during an appearance on The O'Reilly Factor on Tuesday.

But the vision of war without end that some White House advisers seem to entertain is horrifying beyond belief.

Reporting for duty. Slate warblogger William Saletan avoided court-martial, filing his first post-bombing dispatch at 12:15 a.m. EST -- 44 minutes after Media Log!

Democracy through death. Josh Marshall, who writes the Talking Points Memo weblog and who is normally the most sensible of centrists, has written a truly bizarre little commentary for the Hill.

Marshall argues that US plans to democratize Iraq are likely to go astray because we're not willing to kill enough Iraqis to effect the kind of culture shift that's needed. The devastation we wreaked upon Germany and Japan in World War II, he writes, was a necessary precondition for the subsequent democratic transformation of those societies.

He continues:

Violence, death and destruction on such a massive scale have a profound conditioning effect on the psyches of individuals. And the same applies to whole nations. Japan and Germany weren't just "defeated" or "occupied," they were crushed -- not just their armies, but their civilian populations too. This led to a sort of national humiliation and a transformative willingness to embrace defeat and change.

Mind you, Marshall isn't in favor of destroying Iraq's civilian population in order to save it. ("If everything goes according to plan, the loss of civilian life in Iraq will be minimal. Certainly, we all hope so.") He just thinks that, absent such destruction, it's going to be pretty much impossible to accomplish the White House's long-term goals.

Here's where I think Marshall is wrong. Japan and Germany were infected by virulent nationalism. Their countries were composed almost entirely of true believers, with tiny resistance movements. Can you imagine Japanese or German soldiers surrendering without firing a shot, as thousands of Iraqi soldiers did during the Gulf War, and as many are already doing or trying to do as the latest conflict gets under way?

Marshall compares the people of Iraq to the citizens of Japan and Germany. A more apt comparison might be to Germany's Jews. Iraqis don't need to be reconditioned; just saved.

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

Saddam on a stick? I was hoping that when President Bush came on tonight, he'd be holding up a Polaroid with Saddam Hussein's head on a stick. No such luck. Maybe that quickie air raid at 9:45 p.m. got Saddam, but we likely won't know for hours, maybe days. It would be well worth it if it would avert a full-scale war.

William Saletan is blogging the war for Slate. Actually, he's supposed to be blogging, but is currently MIA. Bill! Wake up! The bombs are falling! Christiane Amanpour and Wolf Blitzer are standing on a rooftop! We all know what that means -- even if they are in Kuwait City, hundreds of miles away.

Take a look at the White House website. Yes, I know we're in a serious situation. But this is just over-the-top -- almost nothing but war messages and terror alerts. (Orange, Connie Chung's favorite color.) Bush comes off as the ruler of a national-security state rather than an elected (or whatever he was) president.

Here are his remarks from the Oval Office. The nut graf: "On my orders, coalition forces have begun striking selected targets of military importance to undermine Saddam Hussein's ability to wage war. These are the opening stages of what will be a broad and concerted campaign."

This is it. Despite my misgivings, I'm hoping for the best. It's in all of our interests for the US and Britain to win quickly, with as few civilian casualties as possible, and to begin the work of rebuilding the long-suffering country of Iraq.

Into the darkness. My piece for this week's Phoenix -- a mediacentric reflection on the pending war -- is now available on

Liberation and the left. Edward Lempinen of Salon has written an impassioned and important essay to his fellow-travelers on the left on why they should support the invasion -- and liberation -- of Iraq. Lempinen makes a number of points that I would have thought were obvious, but I guess that's the difference between being a mainstream liberal (Media Log's political hangout) and a genuine leftist like Lempinen.

Here's one example of that difference. As Lempinen acknowledges, the left opposes this war on so-called principle, spouting -- if perhaps not quite believing -- that George W. Bush is no better than Saddam Hussein, or for that matter Adolf Hitler. Try to wrap your minds around the genuine offensiveness of that point of view.

What Lempinen leaves out is that most liberals who oppose the war -- like me -- do so mainly out of the fear that Bush's unprecedented feat of alienating the vast majority of international opinion will produce myriad nasty and unpredictable consequences down the line, not out of blanket opposition to the use of force. The French probably never could have been brought along, but a few more weeks, some tough benchmarks that Saddam would have had to comply with, and who knows? Maybe we could have done this as world heroes rather than international pariahs. But a leftist would never think that way.

Lempinen's main concern is the ongoing human-rights catastrophe in Iraq. Among leftists, he writes:

Such opposition to war is reflexive, and too often outweighs its outrage on behalf of the oppressed. Its capacity for the kind of muscular empathy that leads to action has atrophied, leaving only the possibility of reaction, of opposition. The antiwar left does not mount massive protests against China, Pakistan or Egypt. Millions do not pour into the streets on behalf of the student-led democracy movement in Iran. And Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden are not angrily compared to Hitler -- that treatment is more often reserved for George W. Bush.


The implicit assumption of the post-Vietnam culture is that pacifism always holds the moral high ground. But in the Iraq conundrum, there is no high ground, no moral purity. If you argue for war, on humanitarian grounds, you are saying: We must risk thousands of casualties not only among soldiers, but among children and civilians, so that Saddam's weapons can be destroyed and his murderous system of repression can be dismantled. If you argue that war is to be avoided because of those potential casualties, then you are arguing that Saddam's system of repression -- the political murders, the torture chambers, the slow death of the soul that comes from living under such tyranny -- must be endured.

Not that our thoughts matter any more -- the deadline for Saddam and his sons will come in about 20 minutes -- but Lempinen articulates exactly why any thinking person's position on the war should be agonizing, subject to constant reflection, and open to change.

The only people who think this is an easy call are Bush and the right-wing ideologues egging him on -- and the leftists who'd rather march around with posters depicting Bush as Hitler than confront the terrible reality of Saddam's Iraq.

Here's where your money went. Can't ignore all non-war news today -- especially when Boston Globe columnist Steve Bailey is reporting that one-third of the state's 50 largest publicly traded companies paid the $456 minimum state tax for 2000, a year when money was still growing on trees. Read it and be angry.

Bailey notes that Governor Mitt Romney has shown some willingness to close corporate tax loopholes. Well, here's one big enough to serve as a fourth harbor tunnel.

The Killing Fields revisited. Syndey Schanberg, the legendary former New York Times reporter whose coverage of the Cambodian holocaust was transformed into the 1984 film The Killing Fields, offers up his outrage in the Village Voice.

Schanberg runs through a list of US inconsistencies: its cozying-up to nuclear proliferator Pakistan, its studied indifference to North Korea's nuclear capabilities, its friendship with Saddam Hussein in the 1980s, when he was no less evil than he is today.

Schanberg writes:

As for the instant question of Iraq, what would be so wrong if, instead of the all-out smash-and-destroy war the president and his people have planned, the U.S. and Britain simply began to ratchet up the small, quiet war that has been going on for quite a while. The air patrols in the northern and southern no-fly zones could be gradually enlarged until all of Iraq was blanketed with overhead surveillance that could spot and, when necessary, knock out clearly identified weapons installations. Economic sanctions could be tightened as well, with stiffer penalties against those selling contraband to Saddam Hussein.

True, this would not bring about a change of regime as swiftly as a blitzkrieg, but over time it would loosen Hussein's grip on power and make change possible.

Wise words, but too late. Seven hours and 18 minutes to go.

The Herald's man on the scene. While Boston Globe (and New York Times) reporters will be appearing on CNN, the Boston Herald's Jules Crittenden has been writing an on-the-scene diary from Kuwait for the media website Crittenden also has a terrific dispatch in today's Herald on three young soldiers who were caught drunk in the desert -- a far more serious situation than they could have imagined back home, where the most pressing issue would have been finding a designated driver.

Truth is the second casualty of war. The first is dissent. Senate minority leader Tom Daschle has been taking a pounding for his mild comments criticizing George W. Bush's failure to put together a broadbased international coalition to invade Iraq. Naturally, he's being called unpatriotic and worse by everyone from Ari Fleischer to the editorial page of the Sioux City Argus Leader, a leading daily in his home state of South Dakota.

Here is what Daschle actually said on Monday: "I'm saddened, saddened that this president failed so miserably at diplomacy that we're forced to war. Saddened that we have to give up one life because this president couldn't create the kind of diplomatic effort so critical for our country." It's hard to believe such a common-sense utterance could even be considered controversial.

By far the nuttiest attack on Daschle I've run across is this short piece by Hugh Hewitt, a radio talk-show host who contributes little screeds to the Weekly Standard's website. Hewitt compares Daschle -- who voted in favor of the war resolution last fall and who hasn't changed his mind about that -- to the Hitler-appeasing Charles Lindbergh. The Lindy quote that Hewitt cites: "I do not want to see American bombers dropping bombs which will kill and mutilate European children, even if they are not flown by American pilots."

Thus does Hewitt conflate Daschle's sadness over having to go it alone in Iraq because of Bush's arrogance and Lindbergh's out-and-out support for Hitler, support that was so deep that he opposed Franklin Roosevelt's efforts to put weapons in the hands of our allies in the years before 1941. Ugly, ugly stuff.