"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 11 January 1999. Updated every WEEKDAY.
Rolling Blunder


[bishop was very excited to see us when we returned from hawaii.  we too were excited to see him.  ]

Anyone remember a CNN

correspondent named Wolf Blitzer

reporting from the Pentagon, in

January 1991, that military

officials were claiming credit

for wiping out almost all of the

700-plane Iraqi air force?

Robert Wiener, a CNN producer

involved in covering Desert

Storm, reminds us about the

report in his book Live from

Baghdad: "Wolf said all of

Iraq's fixed Scud and ballistic

missile sites were put out of

commission, and Baghdad's

nuclear, chemical, and

biological weapons arsenal had

been 'wiped out.'" Blitzer also

pointed out that the Republican

Guard had been "decimated."


A little while later - eight

years or so - reporters shoveled

out the straight dope from

military briefings describing

new strikes against Iraq.

American and British officials

boasted of destroying nine Iraqi

missile factories, putting them

out of commission, said US

General Henry Shelton, for "at

least a year." And hitting

barracks, ministry offices,

armed forces command sites, air

defense systems, and just all

kinds of other big stuff.


Something is off, though, when

you open your plain and sober

issue of The Economist and find

yourself reading sentences that

drip with sarcasm, not that

there's anything wrong with that.

"One serving Unscom inspector

questioned the usefulness of the

bombing," the 2 January issue of

the magazine reports. The

Economist continues: "He might

also have asked why, if America

and Britain knew where to find

Mr. Hussein's secret weapons,

they had not let the inspectors



Listen closely to all of

this and you begin to recognize

the song playing in the

background. For all the talk

that US commander William

Westmoreland was fighting World

War II again in Vietnam, the

general looks downright smooth

in comparison to our current

batch of political and military

leaders - who are, it's becoming

clear, fighting the Vietnam War

again as World War II again in



Mercifully true to the era, it's

the low-casualty version, so

far, yet the parallels to those

high-casualty wars are

everywhere, including how we

pour ever-greater resources into

the effort to salvage what we

lost and screwed up yesterday.

And how we end up baffled when

tactics that would defeat an

enemy who was just like us don't

work at all on the enemy we're

actually trying to fight.


[he expressed his thanks by ke
eping us up half the night with a
display of separation anxiety never seen before.

When Spc. 4th Class

James T. Davis of Livingston,

Tennessee, was killed in an

ambush on 22 December 1961, he

became the first American to die

in the Vietnam War. Two Marine

corporals caught in an artillery

attack on 29 April 1975 were officially

the last. And in the 14 years

between the beginning of our

involvement in the conflict and

the arguably inevitable

denouement, US forces were never

far from getting that darn

Charlie fella all wrapped up in

a box. Sample headline,

Washington Daily News, 16

November 1967: "The Enemy Is

Running Out of Men." Contributing

to the clear picture of the war,

in a headline a few days later,

The New York Times added,

"Westmoreland Is Sure of

Victory." A couple of months

later, the nearly-defeated, mostly

depleted enemy launched the Tet

Offensive: coordinated attacks

on 40 of South Vietnam's 44

province capitals, almost 100 of

its district seats, and four of

the five autonomous cities.


The Times made up for its

occasional cheerleading. Thanks

to the 1971 publication of the

so-called Pentagon Papers, we've

learned some interesting things

about the official view

that you can bomb an enemy

into submission. Defense

Secretary Robert McNamara wrote

to Lyndon Johnson in October

1966, "Attack sorties in North

Vietnam have risen from about

4,000 per month at the end of

last year to 6,000 per month in

the first quarter of this year

and 12,000 per month at

present... In North Vietnam,

almost 84,000 attack sorties

have been flown (about 25

percent against fixed targets),

45 percent during the past seven



That's a lot of bombs. And the

effects of the bombing - the

United States dropped more bombs

during the Vietnam conflict than

were dropped during all of World War

II, an estimated 2 million

tons falling inside the borders

of Laos and Cambodia alone - was

hardly vaporized the day we

finally stopped. People in that

part of the world will have warm

reminders of our good works during

the Vietnam conflict for decades

to come. The New York Times

Magazine ran some kind of

fascinating photographs, back in

its 28 June issue last year, of

the neat things folks are doing

these days with all the

leftover bombs and bomb

fragments in Southeast Asia. "It

is estimated that up to 30

percent of the bombs never

exploded," read one caption,

"until awakened by a farmer's

foot or a playful child. At

left, a casing of a defused bomb

was split in half and turned

into portable vegetable

gardens." They appeared to contain

green onions.


Echoing the current reality of

political leaders better at

depicting the postures of war

than actually fighting it, the

bombing wasn't just intended to

cause physical damage; we were

also supposed to be sending a

message to the enemy. And they

were supposed to be able to

decipher it when it arrived. The

point of the bombing campaign, a

military analyst wrote in August

1966, was "increasing

progressively the pressure" on

the North Vietnamese government

"to the point where the regime

would decide that it was too

costly to continue."


[once in the bedroom, bishop crawled onto the bed and didn't want to leave.  that's fine for awhile but then he stretches out and takes up alot of room.

Silly foreigners that the North

Vietnamese were, they fell down

on their part of the job - they

didn't get the message. But

there was another message that

someone didn't get. The same

defense analysis included this

amusing little paragraph, a nice

epitaph for an awful idea that

deserved to die, as it in fact



Initial plans and assessments
program tended to overestimate
the persuasive and disruptive
effects of the U.S. air
strikes and, correspondingly,
to underestimate the tenacity
and recuperative abilities of
the North Vietnamese. This
tendency, in turn, appears to
reflect a general failure to
appreciate the fact,
well-documented in the
historical and social
scientific literature, that a
direct, frontal attack on a
society tends to strengthen
the social fabric of the
nation, to increase popular
support of the existing
government, to improve the
determination of both the
leadership and the populace to
fight back, to induce a
variety of protective measures
that reduce the society's
vulnerability to future
attack, and to develop an
increased capacity for quick
repair and restoration of
essential functions.




So, in this context,

what would be the effect of 325

cruise missile strikes and a few

nights' worth of bombing runs on

an enemy that has already

withstood - with enough success

to still pose a supposed major

threat to the rest of the world

- a seven-year embargo, years of

arms inspections, and an

enormous defeat in a

head-to-head war with a military

coalition led by a superpower?


Of course, we're not just trying

to bomb and starve Iraq directly

into stability; we're really

hoping to bomb and starve Iraq

into an explosion of internal

political violence, which will

replace Saddam

Hussein with somebody cool and

mellow, thereby producing stability. As

the Los Angeles Times reported

on 5 January, Senate leaders are

blocking the Clinton

administration from implementing

planned covert operations in

Iraq, because they aren't

aggressive enough. Senate

leaders sent a letter to the

nominal president, Bill Clinton,

urging him to end the

"foot-dragging" and start

providing more direct military

support to Iraqi dissidents

living in exile - start, in

other words, directly supporting

a coup attempt.


This sort of thing worked well

in Southeast Asia, of course,

where New Jersey resident Ngo

Dinh Diem was selected to run

South Vietnam in 1954. The New

York Times Magazine just ran a

funny obituary, in the 3 January

issue, on Lucien Conein, the US

intelligence operative who

carried US$40,000 in cash to the

South Vietnamese generals who

ordered Diem assassinated in

1963 - just in case they needed

some help getting the job done

and our assurance that we didn't

mind at all, considering the way

the Diem presidency turned out.

(The Times suggests that other

ex-spooks recognize Conein's

death as "the end of their era."

Fuck, we certainly hope so.)


Arrogance ties all of this

behavior together, and the

arrogant view of Iraq isn't much

different than the arrogant view

of Vietnam that led to 58,022

American deaths. Iraq keeps

shooting at our planes, even

now, but - silly little people!

- they can't seem to hit very

much. And we, of course,

continue to have far more

firepower. Hell, it's almost

like using helicopter gunships

and napalm-loaded B-52s against

an enemy comprised almost

entirely of poorly equipped

ground infantry.


"Saddam is famous for doing

whatever it takes to stay in

power," Newsweek reports in its

11 January issue. "Now that the

United States has made his

removal from office a national

objective, he knows he is

fighting for his life. 'The

worst thing you can do is to

wound him, let him know you

meant to kill him, and then let

him survive,' says an Iraqi

Shiite leader in London."


[rockstar would kick him off the bed and he would get off, wait a few minutes 
and climb right back up.  once he even crawled right up the side and unto the
top of the pillows and laid down.
i think he learned that trick from the cats he stayed with.  'can you believe this shit?' said rockstar and kicked 
him off the bed again.  ]

And so Iraqi officials

representing Saddam Hussein

have been meeting with

a guy by the name of Osama bin Laden,

Newsweek reports, discussing

the possibility of attacking

American targets in the Muslim

world, using Iraqi weapons.

Which makes a certain amount of

sense; for weaker forces, after

all, terrorist tactics - hit

suddenly, vanish quickly - can

do a remarkable amount of damage

to a stronger enemy. Now, where

have we heard that before?


Maybe the first of the suicide

bombers will cross our transom

in black pajamas, so we can

finally understand the game

we've been playing. Again.

courtesy of Ambrose Beers