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.

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