Tuesday, March 25, 2003

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.

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