The Blog

Once More, with Feeling

There's nothing wrong with having been spectacularly wrong on Iraq. It's what the antiwar crowd has done since April 9 that's unforgivable.

12:48 AM, Apr 24, 2003 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
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SOMETIMES it's necessary to beat a dead horse. Many recriminations pieces have been written since the end of the war (here, for starters) and while they may seem like simple gloating, they're not. It's crucial to keep score on public commentators because if you bat .115 in the bigs, you get canned. Bob Herbert gets to write for forever.

So, a few stray scribbles which may have eluded you:

But, as we have heard the military saying goes, "Hope is not a plan." The plan was Bush's and Cheney's and Rumsfeld's, and as a result of it, hundreds of thousands of American and British soldiers are now stuck in what could prove to be a much more harrowing situation than those planners promised. . . .

--Scott Rosenberg, Salon, March 28, 2003

Of course, the administration may yet proceed with a fairly prompt move on Baghdad--i.e., without waiting for the 4th Infantry Division to arrive in mid-April. But approaching Baghdad with less than overwhelming force will probably mean more civilian casualties. The fewer ground troops we have, the more bombs we use; and the more precarious a soldier's position, the less picky he'll be about whom he shoots. . . .

--Robert Wright, Slate, April 1, 2003

The war machine is loose, apparently unstoppable. An escalating air war, a rush of reinforcements, an enemy that surprises, demonstrators in the streets, a nation divided. But as before [in Vietnam], Washington's war policy is made in fantasyland--and is even now being exposed as such.

--James Carroll, the Boston Globe, April 1, 2003

The dilemma is now acute. Retreat is unthinkable. George W. Bush's neoconservatives (standing safely in the back) will figuratively execute any who quail. The level of violence will therefore be raised. Meanwhile, the prime stocks of precision munitions have been drawn down, and speculation about the future use of cluster bombs and napalm and other vile weapons is being heard. And so the political battle--the battle for hearts and minds--will be lost. If history is a guide, you cannot subdue a large and hostile city except by destroying it completely. Short of massacre, we will not inherit a pacified Iraq.

--James K. Galbraith, the American Prospect, April 1, 2003

The pre-invasion hype had all been about festive Iraqis stocking up on flowers to give the kind of toothy colonial welcome the Queen gets from dancing Maoris on a royal tour. Now look what's happened. Our boys are faced with a medieval siege of Baghdad, and the reprisals of Saddam's death squads, with nothing to prepare the American public but the DVD of "Black Hawk Down."

--Tina Brown, the London Times, April 3, 2003

And concentrating on commentary leaves out some of the best worst prognosticating, which was done by actual reporters. There's no time to get bogged down in this sub-genre, but clearly the winner is this April 1 gem by Reuters' Merissa Marr, headlined "Iraq's No-Frills Media Show Outshines US, Britain." Excerpts:

Iraq is winning battles in the propaganda war with a modest media strategy, despite a multi-million dollar U.S. campaign featuring painstakingly choreographed briefings and Hollywood-style sets.

Undeterred by America's elaborate media plan, Iraq is making its mark on the airwaves with its decidedly basic approach, media pundits say.

From a crude Baghdad set, Iraqi ministers each day knock down Western media reports and list their latest claims of conquest, sometimes wielding chrome-plated Kalashnikovs.

Unlike America and its allies, theirs is a simple message delivered directly: "We will defeat the infidel invaders."

Despite poorly-lit surroundings and a sea of microphones often crowding the view, Iraqi Information Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf has become something of a global television star. . . .

As the dream of a quick, clean war and cheering Iraqis evaporated last week, America and its allies have been furiously tweaking their media strategy.

But how can they hope to gain the upper hand?

It's unclear how Marr will be able to keep her job. However you needn't worry about Galbraith and Wright and The Tina. For better or worse, pundits are never held accountable for their mistakes. And in one way, that's good for public discourse because it makes for lively argumentation. We shouldn't live in an intellectual Riyadh where they cut your pen off for wrongly predicting the outcomes of events.

After all, before the war, no one knew what would happen. Everyone had their suspicions and an incomplete set of facts and that was it.

But if a public figure is wrong about the question of the day, it is incumbent on them to (A) acknowledge their failure, and (B) honestly reevaluate their position, trying to understand why they were wrong.