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Balanced Fare: We Report, You Deride

Friday, April 11, 2003

Always Check The "Sell-By" Date

Sullivan has a round-up of predictions for disaster that ended disastrously. He does not seem to have mentioned Seymour Hersh's New Yorker piece. The story appears in a newsstand issue dated "April 7", which of course is the day it is meant to be replaced by a subsequent issue, or, in this case, subsequent events. The article apparently appeared on March 31.

According to a dozen or so military men I spoke to, Rumsfeld simply failed to anticipate the consequences of protracted warfare. He put Army and Marine units in the field with few reserves and an insufficient number of tanks and other armored vehicles. (The military men say that the vehicles that they do have have been pushed too far and are malfunctioning.) Supply lines-inevitably, they say-have become overextended and vulnerable to attack, creating shortages of fuel, water, and ammunition. Pentagon officers spoke contemptuously of the Administration's optimistic press briefings. "It's a stalemate now," the former intelligence official told me. "It's going to remain one only if we can maintain our supply lines. The carriers are going to run out of jdams"-the satellite-guided bombs that have been striking targets in Baghdad and elsewhere with extraordinary accuracy. Much of the supply of Tomahawk guided missiles has been expended. "The Marines are worried as hell," the former intelligence official went on. "They're all committed, with no reserves, and they've never run the lavs"-light armored vehicles-"as long and as hard" as they have in Iraq. There are serious maintenance problems as well. "The only hope is that they can hold out until reinforcements come.

The 4th Infantry Division-the Army's most modern mechanized division-whose equipment spent weeks waiting in the Mediterranean before being diverted to the overtaxed American port in Kuwait, is not expected to be operational until the end of April. The 1st Cavalry Division, in Texas, is ready to ship out, the planner said, but by sea it will take twenty-three days to reach Kuwait. "All we have now is front-line positions," the former intelligence official told me. "Everything else is missing."

Last week, plans for an assault on Baghdad had stalled, and the six Republican Guard divisions expected to provide the main Iraqi defense had yet to have a significant engagement with American or British soldiers. The shortages forced Central Command to "run around looking for supplies," the former intelligence official said. The immediate goal, he added, was for the Army and Marine forces "to hold tight and hope that the Republican Guard divisions get chewed up" by bombing. The planner agreed, saying, "The only way out now is back, and to hope for some kind of a miracle-that the Republican Guards commit themselves," and thus become vulnerable to American air strikes. "

Is there the journalistic equivalent of "bag and tag"? If Mr. Hersh ever quotes to this "former intelligence official" again, can he do it in a way that indicates the fellow's complete lack of credibility?

In asking this question, I draw special attention to "It's a stalemate now," the former intelligence official told me. "It's going to remain one only if we can maintain our supply lines", and "The only way out now is back".

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