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.

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