Television, Newspapers Wrong on War in Iraq; Saw Lengthy Battle; Doubted U.S. Plan

Article excerpt

Byline: James G. Lakely, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Television screens, newspapers and magazines across the globe this week featured images of a joyously liberated Baghdad.

Iraqis danced in the streets, kissed the cheeks of coalition soldiers, threw flowers in the path of tanks and cheered as U.S. Marines helped bring down a statue of deposed dictator Saddam Hussein.

It was a scenario wholly contrary to a future many of those very same media outlets predicted just days before.

The Washington Post published a front-page story on April 4 with the unsourced assertion that "the U.S. invasion force, built around one tank-heavy Army division and one lighter Marine division, is not large or powerful enough to take Baghdad by force, especially with tens of thousands of heavily armed fighters believed loyal to Hussein still inside the sprawling city."

A front-page story in The Washington Post on April 1, titled "Rumsfeld's Design for War Criticized on the Battlefield," stated that "raw nerves were obvious" as officers compared the war planning of Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld with that of maligned Vietnam War-era Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara.

The story's sole quoted source of active battlefield complainers was an anonymous colonel who said Mr. Rumsfeld "wanted to fight this war on the cheap" and "he got what he wanted."A story the next day told of unidentified "senior U.S. military commanders in Iraq as well as retired officers at home" who "have questioned some of the Pentagon's assumptions behind the war plans."

Among the most prominent were retired Army Gens. Barry R. McCaffrey and Wesley K. Clark, who regularly took to the cable-news channels to predict a longer and more difficult battle for control of Baghdad than actually unfolded.

Retired Air Force Gen. Thomas G. McInerney, however, was virtually alone in predicting a quick defeat of Saddam's regime. In an op-ed piece he wrote for the Wall Street Journal in early October, Gen. McInerney predicted a "campaign that will be over within 30 days and have less casualties than we had in Desert Storm with a smaller attacking force."

At the time, he was accused of being overly optimistic, but U.S. troops arrived in Baghdad on the 21st day of fighting - accomplishing battlefield victory in less than half the time with fewer casualties and half the force it took to eject Iraqi troops from Kuwait in 1991.

"It turned out to be spot on, give or take a few days," Gen. McInerney said. "Not bad."

Getting it wrong

Many others were not as prescient. In a front-page analysis piece for the March 30 editions of the New York Times bearing the headline "Bush Peril; Shifting Sand and Fickle Opinion," R.W. Apple Jr. wondered if President Bush's "luck" was "about to turn in the winds and sands of Iraq?"

Failure to obtain permission from Turkey to stage American troops on the northern front was a "debacle" and "with every passing day, it is more evident that the allies made two gross military misjudgments in concluding that coalition forces could safely bypass Basra and Nasiriyah."

Mr. Apple warned on March 27 in a piece titled "Iraqis Learn the Lessons of How U.S. Fights Wars," that "Saddam Hussein had learned a lot since his forces were routed in the Persian Gulf war in 1991." He predicted that Saddam would bog down the coalition forces' march to Baghdad through guerrilla warfare.

"As Mao famously said, the populace constitutes the water in which the guerrillas can swim like lethal fish. In city after city, they are swimming," Mr. Apple wrote.

Brent Baker, vice president for research and publications for the Media Research Center, a conservative media watchdog group, said such analysis was rampant because reporters began to believe their own negative reporting - giving virtually no weight to explanations that a single day of battlefield difficulties did not constitute a failed plan. …