Thursday, October 23, 2003

WHAT THEY'RE SELLING. Of course it's a plant. The questions are -- or would be, if I cared -- which faction planted the Rumsfeld memo, which faction that faction was trying to screw, and to what end?

Well, maybe the last one does interest me a little.

My suspicion is, whoever did it has at least one wider goal in mind: softening the public up for a "long, hard slog" in the Mideast.

Recent polling shows that while most Americans favor the war effort, an even larger majority is quite anxious to offload at least some of the military responsibilities in Iraq to foreign troops. So they're still following the Leader, it seems, but are getting squeamish about the cost in time, blood, and treasure.

What would you do in this Administration's place? Everyone remembers Bush acting studly in his flight suit, announcing "mission accomplished," and everyone is also aware that the mission isn't accomplished, really; the Bush linguistics team could draw up charts explaning what the President really meant, but your average American isn't interested in that sort of hair-splitting, especially from a guy who positions himself as a straight-talkin' hombre.

POTUS could make speeches about our continuing commitment to the Iraqi people. That would not go over well. An economically becalmed (or, if you prefer, joblessly recovering) country like ours will not be eager to send billions to take care of foreigners.

The trick is to make everyone believe that it's what they wanted all along.

Look at the WMD issue. We'd been encouraged to believe that Saddam would blow us all to smithereens Tuesday if we didn't act fast. Now the smart guys are saying, WMD? Whoever cared about them?

So the idea that Iraq is our albatross has been more subtly introduced, via covert actions like these, so that by the time anyone thinks hard about it (preferably before the next election), it will seem as if we had been expecting a long, hard slog from the beginning.

Yes, I know the President never said "Out by Labor Day!" or "Piece o' cake!" But the coming conflict was described to us in terms of apocalyptic dread. "One crate slipped into this country to bring a day of horror like none we have ever known" -- 'member that one? Now that we've dispatched Saddam, quickly and at a relatively low cost, the horror-movie rhetoric seems nearly absurd, and a citizen might feel, watching his money flow down an Iraqi sinkhole, as if he might have been conned.

Unless, of course, his memory of the war fever Bush pumped up is less clear than the idea now coursing through the feeder-streams of the press: of course it's a quagmire. What the hell did you expect?

And he'd feel less cause to complain, bless him, because he'd been warned. Retroactively; but still.

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