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Sunday, March 30, 2003

Incestuous Amplification

“defined by Jane's Defense Weekly as ‘a condition in warfare where one only listens to those who are already in lock-step agreement, reinforcing set beliefs and creating a situation ripe for miscalculation.’”

Paul Krugman uses this military term today to explain the Bush administration’s reaction to the California energy crisis. By doing so, he also cleverly highlights the fundamental problem with the Republican establishment that runs Washington. They live in an intellectual echo chamber of insular think tanks, political operatives and partisan media.

But, war is not as controllable as the American political process.

Brad DeLong posts this article and rightly points out that 3 senior administration officials say that: "President Bush's aides did not forcefully present him with dissenting views from CIA and State and Defense Department officials who warned that U.S.-led forces could face stiff resistance in Iraq."

The New York Times explicitly stated this back on March 18th:

During a White House planning session with his top military advisers late last month, President Bush turned to Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, with a pressing question: How long would war with Iraq last? But before General Myers could respond, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld put a hand on his arm and said, "Now, Dick, you don't want to answer that."

The exchange is recounted by senior officials at the White House and State Department, as well as the Pentagon, as a window into Mr. Rumsfeld's complicated management style — and, indeed, it presents a Rorschach test to separate Mr. Rumsfeld's detractors from his supporters.

Critics cite the meeting as evidence that Mr. Rumsfeld muzzles the military, as an effort by the defense secretary to prevent the nation's highest-ranking general from performing his lawful duty to give his best military thinking, unvarnished, to Mr. Bush.

Keep in mind that this article was written before the current cover-your-ass operation began. They had no way of knowing at that time that the rose colored glasses scenario would not come to fruition, but there was obviously concern on the part of some that Junior was being managed by the IraqHawks, particularly the starry eyed neocons.

As DeLong noted, this "Sr" complaint can only come from a very limited number of people (my guess being Rove, Card and possibly Powell.) And most amazingly, in the March 28th article, they name Cheney and Rumsfeld as being the ones who misled the Commander in Chief. It's possible that Rove is beginning to circle the wagons to protect Bush's viability and as a result, Rummy (and Cheney?) are feeling a little heat coming from the inside.

This is very intriguing, if true. Much depends upon developments in the war over the next few days. If the troops remain dug in outside of Baghdad for any length of time (even if air power is being used relentlessly against the Republican Guard positions) there will be a news vacuum that might very well portend a continued drumbeat of complaint against Rumsfeld. If suicide bombings become common, he looks very bad indeed.

And, that might lead him to want to take a big gamble and push into Baghdad before the situation on the ground is optimal. The question then would be whether Bush's true inner circle would start to lead Junior away from Rummy and toward the Generals. The only person, after all, who can stop Rumsfeld from ordering General Franks to take a wild unnecessary chance is Bush himself.

Rumsfeld's problem is of his own making. There were many reports of friction between Rumsfeld and the pentagon staff from long before Iraq planning began in earnest. Daily Kos has a great post up about Robert Novak’s reporting on the dissention in the pentagon going back more than a year. Everyone chalked this up to the "transformation" that Rumsfeld was attempting and in typical Howie Kurtz style, it was
reported by most of the press as it interprets everything -- as a high school turf battle. But, this goes way beyond that to a serious concern amongst the brass that Rumsfeld is actually endangering national security.

Perhaps the biggest issue is that he depends almost entirely upon a small group of advisors from Republican think tanks. His insistence on deploying a missile defense system that doesn't work, his uncritical dependence on unproven theories like "effects based warfare" and most importantly, his refusal to allow for contingency battlefield planning are seen by many as not just bad management, but as reckless and dangerous at this particular time. We aren't just playing any more, it isn't theoretical, Rumsfeld is insisting on actually using untried military doctrine based upon pop futurist and techno dreamer scenarios. And he is so sure he is right that he refuses to fully consider back-up plans, instead seeing any deviation as a political concession and therefore without merit in its own right. Franks asks for extra time to adjust to the Turkey debacle and Rumsfeld grumbles that he already gave him 50,000 more troops, what more does he want?

Military planners and intelligence sources were all very aware that Iraq was a different situation than Afghanistan, as anyone with half a brain could see. But, in the tight world of right wing thinkers (remember, they fired all the moderates and liberals that had previously given the Defense Policy Board a variety of perspectives) it was time to put their long time theories into practice. They were not going to be dissuaded by a bunch of cowardly military officers or ossified state department careerists.

They had spent many years, from the Plan B group up through the back halls of the Reagan administration to the AEI/CSP/PNAC echo chamber refining their dreamy utopian vision of a world easily dominated by American technology, business and values and they were not going to let a bunch of cynical naysayers get in their way with nitpicking about how to get there.

We've made this mistake before, as The Pentagon Papers made clear. But, this time it is even worse. There is no rival superpower to keep us from completely destabilizing the world order and then having nothing tangible to replace it with besides the chimera of brute American force.

Despite all the hype and all the money, we are kidding ourselves if we believe that we can rule the world with our military power. The American people are not Spartans and we are not willing or able to take on that project. These people know that which is why they are depending upon this "projection" of power, "effects based" warfare, "3rd wave" information manipulation and fake missile defense to do the job for us. They believed that we would not really have to demonstrate our power because we can make people believe that they face sure defeat.

And remember, many of the people who have theorized this new world order have no personal experience with war, have learned all the wrong lessons from history and formulated many of their ideas from popular fiction, movie myths and half baked futurist proselytizing. These are not the smartest guys in the world. Remember, the two top planners of the war with Iraq came from the Ford administration. The intellectual neocon claque of Wolfowitz and Perle are slightly deranged from having spent their entire careers convinced that the Soviet Union was so all-powerful that any compromise was a defeat. Wolfowitz thought Gorbachev was a stooge and lobbied hard for the US to name Lithuania a US vital interest so as to put a US presence on the ground to prepare for our inevitable invasion of Russia. And, this was after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

They have always been wrong. Always. But events have now taken on a life of their own. We may just have to depend upon Karl Rove to pull Bush back from the brink. That is a very slender thread to hang on to but it looks like it's all we've got.

Update: Josh Marshall also believes that this “3 senior officials” designation is significant also and may mean that there is some serious rumbling inside the administration.