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Caveat lector

SPUN AND AWED! For two solid months, the public was spun. Now the spinners deny that it happened:


SPUN AND AWED: Is the Admin bogged down in Iraq? Here at THE HOWLER, we have no idea. But it’s hard to believe this weekend’s big flap, in which conservatives swore that the public had never been spun about the length of the war. Meanwhile, liberal pundits have again fallen short in their efforts to detail the spinning. Working off a set of quotes that the (hapless) DNC sent around, pundits have cited remarks by Richard Perle, Dick Cheney and Ken Adelman (among others). But they have generally ignored the heaviest spinning—the widespread spinning in the last two months that was known as “shock and awe.”

Through the spinning of “shock and awe,” we were told that the war would be short and flower-strewn. If we retain any interest in knowing the truth, it’s important to recall just what happened.

The spinning of “shock and awe” began on January 25, on the CBS Evening News. The network summarized David Martin’s report on its web site:

CBS NEWS: They’re calling it “A-Day,” A as in airstrikes so devastating they would leave Saddam’s soldiers unable or unwilling to fight.

If the Pentagon sticks to its current war plan, one day in March the Air Force and Navy will launch between 300 and 400 cruise missiles at targets in Iraq. As CBS News Correspondent David Martin reports, this is more than number that were launched during the entire 40 days of the first Gulf War.

On the second day, the plan calls for launching another 300 to 400 cruise missiles.

“There will not be a safe place in Baghdad,” said one Pentagon official who has been briefed on the plan…

The battle plan is based on a concept developed at the National Defense University. It’s called “Shock and Awe” and it focuses on the psychological destruction of the enemy’s will to fight rather than the physical destruction of his military forces.

“We want them to quit. We want them not to fight,” says Harlan Ullman, one of the authors of the Shock and Awe concept.

“If Shock and Awe works, there won’t be a ground war,” CBS pleasingly said.

Was this pleasing picture coming from Bush? Not directly, no. CBS sourced its report to Ullman—but as Bill Plante told Ari Fleischer last Friday, the White House made no apparent attempt to shoot down this pleasing speculation (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/31/03). And “shock and awe” spread far and wide. By February 26, for example, William Bunch was chatting it up in the Philadelphia Daily News:

BUNCH: It starts on a pitch-black, moonless night—quite possibly in two weeks or less—over the sands of the Iraqi desert…

By the end of 48 hours, as many as 800 Tomahawks will have fallen on Baghdad—more than during the entire 1991 Gulf War. At the same time, Stealth bombers will strike as many as 3,000 military targets across Iraq.

The Pentagon calls the proposed pyrotechnic display “Shock and Awe”—a new kind of psychological warfare technique aimed at forcing a confused and shellshocked Iraqi military to collapse within two days, thus achieving quick victory.

By now, Bunch was attributing shock and awe to “a Defense Department spokesman, Lt. Dan Hetlage.” And “shock and awe” had already made it to Newsweek. In the February 24 edition (released 2/17), John Barry and Evan Thomas described the Admin’s pleasing plan:
BARRY: The desired effect of the first night’s bombing, in the expression commonly used by military planners, is “shock and awe.” The overall goal of the American blitz against Iraq will be to so stun and demoralize the Iraqi Army that Saddam’s forces will quickly give up. The Iraqis will realize that resistance is futile and throw down their weapons—or turn them on Saddam. In the first 48 hours of the attack, the United States armed forces are expected to rain some 3,000 precision-guided bombs and missiles on Iraqi air defenses, command-and-control, WMD sites and “leadership targets,” which is to say they will try to kill Saddam, his sons and their closest followers.
Let’s not belabor an obvious point. “Shock and awe” was bruited all over—offering citizens a pleasing dream, in which the war would last two days, ending in a shower of tulips and roses. Who wouldn’t sign up for a war like that? “Saddam’s forces will quickly give up!” As Americans were deciding their stance on the war, this pleasing picture was being spread all through the American media.

But somehow, Weekend I came and went, and the Iraqis—surprise!—were still fighting. And when journalists began to take note of this fact, domestic propagandists got busy. You’ve seen the fakery all about, but let’s return to this weekend’s Fox News Sunday. At one point, William Kristol scalded the press for daring to note that shock and awe hadn’t worked. Kristol refers to the innocuous questions to Ari Fleischer which we included in yesterday’s HOWLER (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/31/03):
KRISTOL: Let’s take the questions to Ari Fleischer. Ari Fleischer himself said at the White House briefing, the Friday that the war began, when everyone’s expectations were very high, here’s what Ari Fleischer said in a room at which Bill Plante and Terry Moran, the two people you showed asking those questions…sit: “I think it’s important for the American people to remember that this still can be a long, lengthy, dangerous engagement,” Ari Fleischer said this, last Friday, nine days ago. “This is the opening phase, it can be a long, lengthy, dangerous engagement, because this is war.” So Ari Fleischer says this Friday. A week later, two reporters say, “You never told it could be a long, lengthy, dangerous war.”
But that isn’t what the reporters said (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/31/03), and what the reporters said was perfectly accurate. At any rate, for two solid months leading up to war, Americans were told that the war could be over in the first weekend. Now, propagandists want to pretend that this spinning never happened. So people like Kristol got busy faking—telling us about the note of caution Fleischer struck on the day that the war began. Many noted that our plain-spoken president, George W. Bush, also warned us at this very same juncture.

Kristol rarely spins like this. But for many others, this faking is normal. We live in an age of High Propaganda—a time when many pseudo-conservatives serve as mouthpieces for the king. On Sunday, Hume and Snow were spinning hard too. But how “shocked” could you be about that?

Final point: By the way, who was an early author of “shock and awe” (circa 1999)? That’s right—Donald Rumsfeld! Safire explained it in Sunday’s Times. You know what to do: Just click here.

THE REPUBLICAN GUARD: In this world of High Propaganda, pseudo-conservatives invent preferred facts. According to Fox, no one said the war would be easy—and over at the Wall Street Journal, Dorothy Rabinowitz is making up quotes, helping us see who is anti-American. Of course, anyone can see who’s really “anti-American” in Eric Boehlert’s excellent piece, which you simply must read at Salon. But then, they made up quotes for Gore all through Campaign 2000, putting Candidate Bush in the White House. Why would Rabinowitz ever have dreamed that she can’t keep inventing quotes now?

The Daily update

MARSHALL LAW: Some readers have been uncomfortable with our criticisms of William Raspberry. We’re uncomfortable with it too; we’re sure that The Razz is a very fine man, and for that reason we don’t enjoy slamming him. But the “liberals” at the Post op-ed page put it on cruise control long, long ago, and—given the influence of their page—their endless sleep-walking is nothing less than a national security problem. We simply can’t continue with the Post Three phoning it in. The three “liberals” embarrassed themselves a month ago with their hapless response to Powell’s U.N. presentation (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 2/14/03, 2/24/03). Yesterday, Raspberry was months behind the curve—and was congratulating himself for his currency!

In yesterday’s column, Raspberry expressed shock at things he read in a Josh Marshall column. Make no mistake—we still think that Josh and other “good guy” pundits elected Bush by their own Campaign 2000 sleep-walking. But Marshall’s recent work has been superb. How much better served would our nation by if he were on the Post op-ed page, and the Post’s “liberal” dozers were finally allowed to spend all their time at polite dinner parties?