more wars to come...

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    Investigative reporters utilize new media
    Melding of electronic press and old-fashioned reporting means controversy can be addressed in a timely manner
    By Tim Rutten, Los Angeles Times
    This second Persian Gulf conflict may reshape the Middle East's political landscape, but it already is altering the way the American news media cover war.

    One example of this change is the astonishingly early role traditional investigative journalism has assumed in shaping the coverage.

    In Vietnam, for instance, the massive U.S. buildup was more than a year old before investigative reporting began to play a significant role. During the 1991 Persian Gulf War, solid reporting on the actual performance of America's high-tech weapons and the scope of Iraqi casualties didn't occur until the fighting was over. And the interplay between old media -- such as investigative journalism -- and new media -- such as online blogging -- is providing timely perspective unavailable during previous wars.

    A case in point is the development of one of this week's biggest stories, the controversy over whether Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and his neo-conservative advisers forced U.S. military commanders to accept a dangerously small number of ground troops.

    As early as last Thursday, Lt. Gen. William S. Wallace, the V Corps commander, said the Pentagon's war plan had failed to foresee some of the worst difficulties his troops are encountering. Then, last weekend, advance copies of an article by Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Seymour Hersh in this week's New Yorker began circulating. In the piece, Hersh writes:

    "Several senior war planners complained to me in interviews that Rumsfeld and his inner circle of civilian advisers, who had been chiefly responsible for persuading President Bush to lead the country into war, had insisted on micromanaging the war's operational details." Rumsfeld's team, according to Hersh's sources, pushed uniformed military planners aside. "'He thought he knew better,' one senior planner said. 'He was the decision-maker at every turn' On at least six occasions, the planner told me, when Rumsfeld and his deputies were presented with operational plans he insisted the number of troops be sharply reduced."

    Hersh reported commanders were stunned when Rumsfeld decided that "he, and not the generals, would decide which unit would go when and where."

    The article further quoted a high-ranking former general, who described the Defense secretary's approach to the war planning as "'McNamara-like intimidation by intervention of a small cell' -- a reference to Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and his top aides, who were known for their challenges to the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Vietnam War."

    Assuming Hersh's sources are correct, what beyond Rumsfeld's well-documented belief in precision aerial weaponry and low-cost military operations, would account for such a risky imposition of civilian will on the senior military? What, in other words, was Rumsfeld thinking?

    Enter the bloggers, who by Sunday night and early Monday morning had begun to connect the dots in a number of leading American and British print publications -- particularly The Washington Post and The Guardian -- into a provocative picture of the war plan's ideological roots.

    Since the war's outset, the most sophisticated and analytic online commentary is being provided by Slate's Mickey Kaus and The Washington Monthly's Josh Marshall. Their work is particularly notable for the breadth of its sources and their scrupulousness in providing links to the original material.

    By late Sunday night, for example, Kaus had put the relevant question on the table: "Why would Rumsfeld do this? Sure, Rumsfeld wants to prove that his theories about lighter, more maneuverable high-tech forces are right and the Army's plodding theories about 'boots on the ground' are wrong. But why does he want to prove these theories so badly? It can't just be intellectual vanity, or the desire to win an internal Pentagon budget battle."

    Kaus provides an answer, drawn partly from Marshall's piece "on the military side of the grand neocon strategy."

    Kaus writes that "if regime change in Iraq were the only goal, there'd be no reason not to provide plenty of soldiers to do the job, with an ample margin of safety. But regime change in Iraq isn't the only goal. Rather neocons in the Bush administration see the Iraq campaign as the opening move in a series of potential power plays that might involve at least credibly threatening military action against Syria, North Korea, Iran and maybe even Saudi Arabia.

    "If we can take Iraq only with a huge, heavy force we can't very credibly claim that we can take on (or take over) all these other countries at the same time, or even in rapid succession, can we? But if we can topple a heavily defended government in Iraq with a light, quick force -- using but a small portion of our strength -- then taking on multiple targets suddenly become a real possibility and a real threat to regimes in Tehran, Damascus and Pyongyang.

    "That's why the slowdown in Iraq (and the coming furor over 'troop dilution') is a bigger blow to the neocons than the actual military situation on the ground, which doesn't seem that bad."

    The notion of an American pre-eminence -- asserted militarily when necessary and free of the restraints imposed by international organizations and treaties -- is key to the neoconservative view of a post-Cold War world order. It is held as dogma by such influential Rumsfeld advisers as Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, Kenneth Adelman and Richard Perle, who resigned as chairman of the Defense Policy Board after an earlier Hersh piece revealed the conflicts of interest posed by his international business dealings.

    Neocons, as Kaus pointed out Tuesday, "have a habit of trying to thuggishly suppress annoying journalism with withering bursts of ad hominem fire. When The Washington Post published stories raising the issue of Rumsfeld's 'troop dilution,' Bill Kristol (editor of the neocons' leading ideological journal, the Weekly Standard) charged they were 'close to disgraceful.'"

    William Schneider, CNN's senior political correspondent, points out that while antiwar public opinion in the Mideast almost uniformly ascribes the American invasion of Iraq to a desire for oil, surveys in Europe find that many opposed to the war fear the consequences of the neoconservative drive for U.S. pre-eminence. "Antiwar Europeans express a great deal of anxiety about this," he said. "Unlike Americans, they think ideas matter and that these particular ideas are dangerous."

    Many European journalists also understand that since Vietnam, American military policy and domestic public opinion have conjoined. As the Guardian's Jonathan Freedland writes: "Why would a hawk like Rumsfeld prefer less to more? My Washington source offers an astonishing explanation: 'So they can do it again.' The logic is simple. Rumsfeld and Co. know that amassing an army of a quarter of a million is a once-a-decade affair: 1991 and 2003. But if they can prove that victory is possible with a lighter, more nimble force, assembled rapidly, then why not repeat the trick? 'This is just the beginning,' an administration official told The New York Times this week. 'I would not rule out the same sequence of events for Iran and North Korea as for Iraq.'"
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