Thursday, March 20, 2003

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.

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