Pontificator: News and Commentary

Saturday, March 22, 2003 :::
Live from the New York City Anti-War Protest

I just visited the New York City Anti-War March, and walked with them from Times Square all the way down to Washington Square Park. My reaction to the sheer mass of people and energy present was simply “shock and awe.”

In terms of the number of people present, Broadway (the street area and both accompanying sidewalks) is packed full of people from 42 Street down to Waverly Street, then over to Washington Square Park, which is about 38 City Blocks altogether. I chatted up a couple of rank and file police officers as to what the crowd estimates were. One said they had been told in the morning to expect about 20,000 people, but now he had heard that there were over 100,000 people. I also spoke to a police officer dressed in a suit with a fancy looking police badge (which led me to think he was a quite senior member of the force) and he said the estimate was that there were 50,000 to 100,000 people attending the march. Although I am no expert at crowd estimates, there is no question in my mind that the crowd would not have fit in Yankee Stadium. Part of the reason for the huge crowd was no doubt the great weather. The weather was outstanding – sunny and warm – which undoubtedly contributed to the high crowd numbers.

In terms of signage at the protest, while there were certainly a large number of cookie-cutter A.N.S.W.E.R. placards, they were far outnumbered by the often-hilarious homemade signs, which said things like: “Freedom Fries while Baghdad Burns,” “The Only Bush I Trust is My Own,” and “Somebody Please Take Junior’s War Toys Away!”

There were scores of police in riot gear, but they mostly seemed bored and amused by the protesters. Some seemed to enjoy the protesters’ company, and, in my view, there was a good deal of banter and camaraderie between the police and the protesters. There was certainly nothing I saw even approaching violence or serious disorder.

Overall, it was a hell of a great march which will, unfortunately, probably have no affect whatsoever on foreign policy.

::: posted by Pontificator at 3:16 PM

Friday, March 21, 2003 :::
Donald Rumsfeld, paraphrasing Winston Churchill:

In a press briefing in September 2001, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld noted occasions during World WarII when false information about US troop movements was leaked to confuse the enemy. He paraphrased Winston Churchill, saying: "Sometimes the truth is so precious it must be accompanied by a bodyguard of lies." [Scott Peterson, The Christian Science Monitor, September 06, 2002]

Is Saddam dead? Is the Iraqi leadership in disarray?

Hopefully. But given the source, a fair degree of skepticism is in order.

::: posted by Pontificator at 7:59 PM

Now that we're in the middle of the Iraq war, let's remember what we thought beforehand. We thought that the regular army would surrender en masse, and that the U.S. military would roll unchallenged through the desert. We thought that the Pentagon would effectively fight the information war, as it did in Afganistan. We thought that the Republican Guard would withdraw and consolidate in Baghdad, where Saddam would attempt to re-create the battle of Stalingrad, the greatest military victory of Saddam's idol -- Joseph Stalin. So far, then, everything is going exactly as expected. If everything continues as expected, then Baghdad will be a horror show, another Stalingrad. Hopefully, however, by that point, we'll exceed expectations and Baghdad will go down peacefully, without a fight.

::: posted by Pontificator at 7:24 PM

If we don't see Saddam make another speech by the end of the day, it's over. . . . done. . . put a fork in Iraq. Saddam is dead or incapacitated, no one is in charge, and this will all be over in a week.

UPDATE: via the Agonist, Saddam and Qusay were reportedly on Iraqi TV today. No details.

::: posted by Pontificator at 9:33 AM

Thursday, March 20, 2003 :::
Often, in the middle of a drastic change in events, a new news source emerges as uniquely capable. Here, with the start of the Iraq war, I've discovered just such a source. Check out the Agonist!!! You'll be glad you did.

::: posted by Pontificator at 6:32 PM

I don't know whether Saddam is alive or dead. However, this I know. If Saddam were alive, and I were in charge of the U.S. war effort, I would tell the news media that there is a high possibility that Saddam is dead. By spreading that (dis)information, I would undermine the confidence of the Iraqi mid-level military officers who would not normally have contact with military leadership, convince them that there would be no retribution from Saddam for surrendering, and possibly persuade them that the war was already over and that there was no point in continuing to fight.

Saddam may still be dead, and I hope he is. However, I would not accept the voiced suspicion of a "highly placed source" in the U.S. government as evidence one way or the other. Rather, I would see it as evidence of a well-thought-out and effective disinformation campaign.

::: posted by Pontificator at 12:47 PM

Iraqis set oil wells on fire.

Meanwhile, Matt Drudge quotes a CBS on-air reporter quoting anonymous Pentagon sources who believe (but don't know for sure) that Saddam was killed in last night's strike.

::: posted by Pontificator at 11:41 AM

Wednesday, March 19, 2003 :::
Another principled resignation?

"The top National Security Council official in the war on terror resigned this week for what a NSC spokesman said were personal reasons, but intelligence sources say the move reflects concern that the looming war with Iraq is hurting the fight against terrorism.

Rand Beers would not comment for this article, but he and several sources close to him are emphatic that the resignation was not a protest against an invasion of Iraq. But the same sources, and other current and former intelligence officials, described a broad consensus in the anti-terrorism and intelligence community that an invasion of Iraq would divert critical resources from the war on terror."

::: posted by Pontificator at 11:16 PM

Bill O'Reilly exposed!!!

::: posted by Pontificator at 8:06 PM

MSNBC reports that combat pilots in the Gulf have been ordered to sleep through the day.

Sounds like preparation for a nighttime strike to me.

::: posted by Pontificator at 5:55 PM

As the fog of war descends upon us, we can expect to see plenty of startling rumors which later prove to be false. We've already seen one today, when it was reported that Tariq Aziz had been shot, and was later seen giving a press conference on CNN.

The question for any blogger, then, is whether to post on any of these rumours. Obviously, no one wants to post an item that later turns out to be false. On the other hand, bloggers should not kid themselves that by perpetuating a rumour they are adding to the "fog of war." Tommy Franks is not charting military strategy based on what's reported by Stephen Den Beste or Glenn Reynolds. And frankly, as most people who are honest with themselves will admit, rumours are fun! Moreover, rumours are relatively harmless when the reporter of a rumour explains that the story is unconfirmed, and honestly explains any doubts he has. Therefore, my personal blogging policy will be to report rumours when I see them, but if I have honest doubts to then explain those doubts in a straightforward and honest fashion. (Of course, with respect to material which is potentially defamatory, I will go to great efforts to make sure no false information is published). If I were CNN, I would probably take a stricter approach to material, since I would understand that anything I report on would be invested with the veil of legitimaticy. But I'm not CNN, I'm a two-bit blog. And let me tell you, I do this for fun, and gosh-darn-it, rumours are fun. So I will report on rumours with the caveats listed above.

::: posted by Pontificator at 5:18 PM

I suggest that everyone check out the Israeli-sourced www.debka.com (the "Debka File") for news from Iraq. In light of the fact that the Pentagon is putting a tight rein on U.S. reporters and is, in all likelihood, actively spreading disinformation for military purposes, the Debka File may be the only source of real news from the war front.

UPDATE: Debka blew the Tariq Aziz story (he's alive, and has not defected). So take what you read there with an extra grain of salt.

::: posted by Pontificator at 12:00 PM

Bush seeks devaluation of human life. And no, it's not an article about Iraq:

WASHINGTON -- The Bush White House is pushing federal agencies to slash the dollar value they place on human life, a move that has ignited an ethical debate with administration critics and allies alike.

. . .

Business and industry stand to gain from the White House initiative. Regulators must weigh benefits against costs of regulation, so lower life values can limit government's reach in cutting emissions and requiring companies to invest in new equipment.

Indeed, opponents fear that consequences could ripple across the bureaucracy as agencies apply the method to an array of laws intended to protect human health -- from toxic-waste cleanup to workplace safety and food labeling.

"It can prevent EPA and other agencies from taking action they otherwise would have taken," said Wesley Warren, an assistant budget chief under President Clinton.

President Bush: devaluing life both at home and abroad!

::: posted by Pontificator at 12:41 AM

Bush sticks another finger in the eye of the international community.

This time, he's derailing negotiations on the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, a global treaty to reduce cigarette smoking.

Phillip Morris must be more important to Bush than our allies who support this treaty in Europe, Asia, and Africa.

I'm sure this insult to our allies will go far in getting them to support our upcoming wars against North Korea and Iran.

::: posted by Pontificator at 12:08 AM

Tuesday, March 18, 2003 :::
So, given we are where we are with respect to Iraq, here is what the United States should do (in my opinion) to avoid war and topple Saddam:

First, make a public offer (in a Tony Blair speech on Al Jazeera) to Saddam for him and his family to go into exile. Make the offer specific, naming the country, the amount of land he would get, the amount of servants, etc., etc., so everyone agrees that it is a sweet deal for him. Have other Arab leaders say he should do it to save the Iraqi people from the "infidels" -- that way Saddam could save face. And then wait, with our troops surrounding him, with the inspectors continuing to do inspections, and with our intelligence agencies continuing to gather intelligence. Under that scenario, I believe Saddam would either accept the offer, fall on his own accord, or we would gradually gather international support for war.

::: posted by Pontificator at 3:13 PM

This is an interesting development. The French will join the war effort if Saddam uses biological or chemical weapons. That is good news. Since Saddam has no chance militarily against the U.S., his only chance to prevail is by winning the political war. In other words, Saddam hopes to prevail by getting world opinion (and perhaps even U.S. public opinion) on his side to such an extent that Bush is forced to withdraw. France's ultimatum guarantees that if Saddam uses chem or bio weapons, he will lose this political war.

In light of this development, perhaps Saddam's best bet for survival is to actually go ahead destroy his chemical and biological weapons so that they're not found by U.S. troops. On the other hand, if Saddam actually uses chemical or biological weapons, we'll know this is a fight to the death.

::: posted by Pontificator at 12:00 PM

A terrorist threat has closed down parts of the Mall in Washington D.C.

Yet there is virtually no media coverage.

Why do you think that is??

Could it be because the terrorist is a "North Carolina tobacco farmer," and not a person of middle eastern origin?

That darned liberal media!

::: posted by Pontificator at 10:23 AM


Thanks Tom.

::: posted by Pontificator at 1:45 AM

Let's all hope that the war is short, and that as few people as possible are killed, and that post-war reconstruction goes well, and that there is no significant terrorist backlash, and that our relations with our allies have not been permanently strained, and that the United Nations remains a vital institution on the side of peace and human rights, and that Bush loses in '04.

::: posted by Pontificator at 1:23 AM

Matt Drudge sez we're going to "obliterate" a tenth of the buildings in Baghdad:

THE BLITZ, THEN SIEGE OF BAGHDAD STARTS IN FOUR DAYS: Troops hope to have Saddam Hussein surrounded in Baghdad within four days after an unprecedented aerial blitz which will obliterate one in 10 major buildings in Iraq... Developing...

No word on what percentage of people get obliterated along with the buildings.

::: posted by Pontificator at 1:03 AM

Let's see -- Iraq is disobeying the United Nations' resolutions. That's unacceptable! And full justification for war!

Oh wait -- to go to war, we have to to disobey the United Nations.


Is our position that everybody else has to obey the United Nations, except us?

Apparently so.

::: posted by Pontificator at 12:53 AM

Sunday, March 16, 2003 :::
Is it too late to persuade Saddam Hussein to go into exile?

Saddam could save face. He could say he's doing it to save Iraqi lives.

And he could live the rest of his life (he's basically retirement age) in plush luxury.

It worked for Idi Amin, who's been living it up in Saudi Arabia for decades.

Instead of wasting time with photo-op summits, we should be putting together a serious, public offer to Saddam for him and his family to live the rest of their lives in exile. It could be a multinational offer, and it would get a lot more support than a war resolution. We could probably get the entire Arab world behind it. The pressure on Saddam to accept would be overwhelming.

We could get an offer on the table in 48 hours, and give him 72 hours to accept it.

The key is to make it multinational, legitimate, and public. It will then be impossible for Saddam to ignore.

If Saddam refuses, than he's at fault when the war starts.

If he accepts, it will save many, many, many lives.

In short -- everybody wins.

So why aren't we doing it?

::: posted by Pontificator at 10:58 PM


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