Howling Dog Graphic
Point. Click. Search.

Contents: Archives:

Search this weblog
Search WWW
Howler Graphic
by Bob Somerby
E-mail This Page
Socrates Reads Graphic
A companion site.

Site maintained by Allegro Web Communications, comments to Marc.

Howler title Graphic
Caveat lector

11 June 1999

Our current howler (part II): None dare call it victory

Synopsis: Pundits now found themselves under big pressure to explain why Vile Bill hadn’t “won.”

Commentary by John Harris
Washington Journal, C-SPAN, 6/11/99

Picking Up the Balkan Pieces
Unattributed, Time, 6/14/99

Commentary by Sen. Kaye Bailey Hutchison
Larry King Live, CNN, 6/10/99

We couldn’t help chuckling, here at DAILY HOWLER World Headquarters, as John Harris responded to Brian Lamb. Here’s what Brian had said:

LAMB: In Helen Dewar’s piece in today’s Washington Post, your paper...she starts out by quoting Don Nickles from Oklahoma, the deputy Senate Majority Leader: “The administration grossly miscalculated the [Yugoslav] response and the result was a humanitarian disaster. If the administration calls this ‘winning,’ that what we’re winning is that we get to occupy Kosovo at the cost of billions of dollars and we get to be in Kosovo for no telling how long.” “It’s a relief, not a victory,” said Kaye Bailey Hutchison. Why are the Republicans taking this line?

They were doing so for a very good reason. Harris said he found Hutchison convincing. He agreed that Wild Bill hadn’t “won:”

HARRIS: I think I really agree with what Senator Hutchison said, that--this seems very plausible to me--that really it’s sort of a close call averted rather than necessarily a grand triumph, because if ground troops had been necessary to secure the victory, it really would have been an expensive undertaking, certainly in dollars and quite conceivably in lives.

You see the reasoning. You really can’t call what happened a victory, because if things had turned out differently, it would have been a real mess! Under this reasoning, no one on earth has ever engaged in a triumph.

There are various analyses already underway about the conduct of the Kosovo action, and we applaud those critics who present reasoned views about the way this action proceeded. But under the force of grim GOP griping, even bright pundits like the Post’s Harris were emitting odd statements like this. Insider thinking had clearly changed, away from the line that Wild Bill had been lucky. Luck had nothing to do with it now--it turned out that Bill hadn’t won! A Post editorial quoted Rep. Mark Souder asking, “If this is a victory, what would defeat look like?” And the Post then explained to the grumbling Souder how he might spot real defeat. But as the GOP line was coming clear--we hadn’t achieved a victory at all--scribes inevitably found themselves pushed into oddities like the one Harris voiced.

We’re giving the analysts the day off today, as they prepare for another speaking engagement, but you’ll forgive us if we set time aside to be entertained by the grim, gloomy press. Nothing on earth ever turns out well, if you’re willing to listen to this grumbling bunch, and we’ve chuckled this week as the black-nail-polished scribes dreamed up all imaginable bad outcomes:

TIME: Many ethnic Albanians were stripped of their identity papers when the Serbs drove them out. Now they have no proof of their right to go home--and some could be too frightened to try. [Our emphasis]

Get it? Half the Kosovars won’t want to go home, and the other half won’t be able to get in! Only the press corps could come up with this one: that people will be trying to sneak into Kosovo--that so many outsiders will be drawn to the rubble, NATO will have a mess trying to sort them all out. Victory? It will end in chaos like that outside Studio 54, in the days when live disco was hot.

Only this press corps--no one else on this earth--could ever dream up a “problem” like this.

As we said: there will be reasoned critiques of the Kosovo action, critiques which deserve full debate. On the other hand, don’t be afraid to laugh at the others, in which pundits compete for the GlumPrize. Endlessly wrong in their comments to date, the pundits know what will be going wrong next. Don’t be afraid just to sit back and laugh--as you seek out critiques worth considering.

Tearing our hair: Then again, folks, it ain’t just the pundits. Here was the gloomy Senator Hutchison, in the statement that Dewar excerpted:

HUTCHISON: Well, I don’t think you can call it a victory. I think it is a relief. But I don’t think you can say it’s a victory, with the wear and tear on our troops and our equipment. [Our emphasis]

Lacking casualties, we track “wear and tear.” In fairness, Senator Hutchison went on to name costs less comical. But the notion that we “stopped a slaughter,” in the senator’s words, but couldn’t call it a victory due to “wear and tear” on the troops--well, it signals the lengths to which people will go to come up with a gloomy conclusion.