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How they missed that story; the first casualty of Desert Shield was a skeptical press.

HOW THEY MISSED THAT STORY

It's hard to recall now that in the first days after Iraq invaded Kuwait, sending any American troops--much less 430,000 of them--to the Middle East never seemed inevitable. In fact, it didn't even seem probable, since many lawmakers didn't like the idea. The New York Times reported on August 3 that "Senator Sam Nunn ... expressed the prevailing view on Capitol Hill when he said that the proper response should be economic and political pressure and not military action." When reports did discuss the possibility of military action, the emphasis was always on air power, as in The Washington Post the following day: "'Carpet bombing is the phrase being used,' said one Pentagon official familiar with the planning.... Military leaders have recommended against sending U.S. ground forces to the Mideast." Why? Because "any plan for using American troops on the ground in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait or Iraq chills military experts," explained a Los Angeles Times story on August 5. "I think an economic boycott can be effective," said Caspar Weinberger on "Nightline" the next day. "I think it would have to be backed up by a naval blockade to be sure that that was working."

Even in the early hours of the deployment, there was more than a whiff of potential disagreement over the type of force we should apply. The New York Times again called on Nunn: "'My hope is that we'll continue to confine our role to protecting air bases' and perhaps using American troops to mine highways from Kuwait on which Iraq might send tanks into Saudi Arabia, he said." But by the following day (same paper) "congressional opinion swung solidly behind the president's action," and none of the three national dailies mentioned above was able, evidently, to find someone to criticize either the president's goals or the means he'd chosen to achieve them--although 40 percent of Americans disapproved of the deployment. Just two days before, the Los Angeles Times had explained that "Bush and his advisers are wary of any military option involving a confrontation with the Iraqi armed forces because they realize that it would run the risk of an enormous loss of life, not only of U.S. military personnel but also of U.S. civilians in the region." But now, and for the next crucial weeks of the buildup, the notion of "an enormous loss of life" almost vanished from that paper's pages.

You don't have to oppose the American troop deployment in the Middle East to worry about the singular absence of public debate--in the House and Senate, in the major papers, on TV--during those first few weeks. You just have to believe that good debate makes good policy. The initial deployment and its subsequent spectacular growth came as surprises: We progressed almost magically from a projected ceiling of 50,000 troops to nine times that number. Likewise, we faded from "The mission of our troops is wholly defensive" (George Bush's words) into trying "to ensure that the coalition has an adequate offensive military option" (George Bush's words). Meanwhile, the national dailies and "Nightline" provided blow-by-blow accounts and occasionally ran some tougher stories analyzing U.S. interests in the Persian Gulf and the president's goals--whether we were preparing to fight only for oil, whether it was feasible to push for Saddam Hussein's ouster. On the op-ed pages, there was some grumbling back and forth as to whether those goals were worth chasing. But there was almost no discussion in any of these influential, supposedly adversarial sources of news about the means the president had chosen and what human cost they'd entail.

For example, the Post editorialized in early September that all those American troops have to be in Saudi Arabia because "the circumstances in Iraq's case would make complaisance there intolerably costly. Suppose that the United States and the others had not sent troops and ships or shut off Iraq's trade." OK, let's suppose. If the Post had bothered to distinguish among those muddled alternatives, it might have found that they don't have to add up to "complaisance." Imagine that the U.S. had cut off Iraq's trade and, to contain Saddam (we were originally aiming for "wholly defensive" measures, remember), had sent ships and a) sent only a small "tripwire" force to Saudi Arabia, as other nations have done, or b) sent planes to Saudi Arabia, and only enough troops to protect them, since that nation has poor defenses. Or imagine that the U.S. had sent "no troops," but had relied on the naval embargo and on air power based on carriers and in Turkey, which has strong defenses of its own. It's easy if you try. For some reason, our national dailies and "Nightline" never did.

When Bush announced in early November that he was sending another 200,000 troops to the Gulf, the validity of the deployment--instead of the deployment itself--abruptly became news. Why were we risking so many lives? How could Bush be talking about taking the offensive? Congressmen were worried, columnists troubled, and reporters finally interested. But by then, we already had a quarter-million troops practicing offensive maneuvers in the desert who, according to the debate we were suddenly having, shouldn't have been there at all. Doing what many people now recognized was the right thing--reneging on Bush's new commitment and withdrawing some of the already deployed troops--would send dangerous signals to Saddam. As Al Haig, Henry Kissinger, and others pointed out, the horses had fled months before the press got excited about the idea of shutting the stable doors. Judging by a close reading of their coverage in the crucial first six weeks of the crisis, reporters for the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and "Nightline" never asked the questions-- Are any troops needed? If so, how many are enough? How many dead would be too many?--that would have jump-started the national discussion that we at last began in November, maybe too late.

Of the three dailies, only one--the Los Angeles Times--published an editorial in the first six weeks that evaluated the size of the deployment. It's a doozy. "An anonymous Defense Department source is widely quoted as saying that contingency plans for the Persian Gulf 'could result in the insertion of up to 200,000 to 250,000 [U.S.] ground forces before it's all done,'" began the editorial on August 11. "These are sobering, not to say mind-boggling, thoughts. Before they gain too much currency, it would be a good idea to freeze the frame and take a clear and realistic look at just what's being talked about." Ah, the omniscient voice of editorial reason, poised at last to tell it like it is. Read on:

Predictions about world events are best avoided, especially in an area as volatile as the Gulf, but here's one anyway: Hundreds of thousands of American fighting men are not going to be put into the ferociously hostile environment of Saudi Arabia. That won't happen because (1) Congress would refuse to approve such a commitment; (2) the American people wouldn't support it; (3) the Saudis would not invite or tolerate it; (4) probably no senior military official would propose it, and finally, (5) President Bush, if for no other reason than that he faces reelection in 1992, would not request it.

Well, This is, of course, wrong. But that's not why it's so interesting. After all, the editorial writers weren't the only ones being suckered by the Bush administration, which planned to send a massive force from the very beginning of the deployment, according to reports published in The New York Times and the Post in late August--none of which noted that the press had been duped. On August 10 in The New York Times, R.W. Apple wrote of the estimate of 250,000 troops, "One of the handful of senior policy planners in the administration described that figure as preposterous." On the same day in the same paper, Michael Gordon pooh-poohed the idea of even 200,000. (The failure to take a more critical look at these numbers is surprising given that many of the same reporters had bought the fallacious "carpet-bombing" line at the beginning of the crisis. Gordon seemed to be expressing some frustration when he wrote the next day, after the official deployment figure had doubled almost overnight to 100,000: "The increased figure seemed less a reflection of a change in the Administration's plans, or its evaluation of the Iraqi threat, than a willingness among officials to discuss the size of the force with greater candor.")

The reason the editorial is interesting is that it hinted rather broadly that the Los Angeles Times thought a massive deployment of ground forces would be a lousy idea. In fact, it went on to urge, "Bush and his advisers ought to be making clear that the Arabian oil fields can be defended without involving American troops in an open-ended land war in the Persian Gulf. The key to defending Saudi Arabia and nearby smaller states is air and naval power." [Italics added.] If Bush doesn't come clean, American support could "fade very quickly under the impact of horror stories suggesting that 250,000 American troops could be sent to fight a long and brutal desert war."

On August 22, the Los Angeles Times reported that the deployment "could grow to as many as 150,000 personnel." On September 3, it reported the force could grow to more than 200,000. Those new figures seem sufficient grounds for the editorial board to have revisited its earlier argument, either to announce that it had changed its collective mind or to attack the president's policy and push the air-and-naval power alternative. The L.A. Times did neither. No L.A. Times reporter wrote a story critiquing the buildup or exploring other options (on the Times oped page--which did a much better job than the other papers' in presenting a range of views--Edward Luttwak of the Center for Strategic and International Studies twice slammed the Bush approach). The other newspapers didn't pursue that story either. As late as September 12, "Nightline" managed to do an entire program dedicated to "A Critical Look at U.S. Persian Gulf Policy" that focused on the boycott and never critiqued the troop deployment.

In early September, the Los Angeles Times praised Bush for his "reasonableness" and "willingness to listen," and for "the George Bush style--on the slow side, on the cautious side, on the consensus side, on the pragmatic side." This about a man whose staff had misled the paper's reporters; who had made a monumental decision affecting the nation's future based on the advice of a handful of advisers; and who was pursuing a policy that the paper had called a "horror." Talk about appeasement.

Arabian Nightlines

On November 8, after the elections and while Congress was in recess, the consensus-building, slow and cautious Bush made the announcement that he was adding another 200,000 troops to beef up our offensive capability in the Middle East. That evening, Ted Koppel expressed some confusion: "I have a sense that we have taken sort of a major step forward from being ... in a defensive posture to avoid an invasion of Saudi Arabia, to moving into a totally different kind of posture."

This shouldn't have come as such a shock, since for more than two months the nation's top dailies and "Nightline" had been running news that suggested American forces were preparing to attack, not only defend. Just as "Nightline" and the three papers never pointed out that the official size of the deployment was steadily ratcheting upward, none of them firmly came to grips with the fact that the initial line that the U.S. had deployed its forces for "wholly defensive" purposes had been crumbling from the get-go. The New York Times, at least, asserted in an editorial that "unilateral American military action may ultimately prove necessary." But in the first month and a half of the crisis, The Washington Post never went beyond endorsing defensive measures, and the Los Angeles Times declared, "Senator Sam Nunn ... puts the issue clearly, leanly, and correctly: 'Our military mission is to defend Saudi Arabia.' Let's keep that in mind." Yet these papers never sounded the alarm as the true goals of the deployment became obvious.

There were clues everywhere that the mission was growing far beyond mere defense--clues like "In the early morning hours ... troops practice offensive maneuvers" (The Washington Post, September 6); "Hostilities could also begin from the U.S. side" (Los Angeles Times, August 25); "The question here has shifted from how well the United States and its allies would defend the Saudi kingdom to how well Washington and its allies might exercise an 'offensive option' to push the Iraqis out of Kuwait" (The New York Times, September 16); "The only thing keeping that [offensive readiness] from happening is the arrival of big U.S. equipoment, particularly the M-1 tanks which are aboard these fast sealift ships and begin arriving next week" ("Nightline," August 24). I could find no article in any of the newspapers and no discussion on "Nightline" that pulled the pieces together--the excessive numbers of troops, the offensive maneuvers the troops were practicing--into a description of what the administration was really up to.

On August 29 on "Nightline," Dick Cheney told Sam Donaldson, "Well, again we'll come back to the proposition that our dispositions in the region are defensive. We're there to deter and to defend. . . . but we're not there in an offensive capacity, we're not there threatening Iraq." Those M-1 tanks slipped Donaldsonhs mind, evidently, since he didn't pursue the issue. Koppel's astonishment on November 8 was no doubt feigned, but he was making an important point: No one (including Koppel) had been telling the average American that it was part of U.S. policy to prepare to launch an attack. That was a strategy, by the way, that a majority of Americans opposed.

The closest anyone came, in the words of the Los Angeles Times editorial, to freezing the frame and taking a clear and realistic look at just what was going on was Michael Wines of The New York Times, who kicked off an August 19 story with this promising lead: "In only 15 days, while Congress was scattered on summer recess and much of official Washington was on vacation, senior Bush administration officials have committed the United States to its broadest and most hazardous overseas military venture since the Vietnam war." Wines went on to point out that the administration had "deliberately kept vague" the length of the military commitment as well as the projected size of the force. He quoted Senator John McCain opposing the idea of a ground war, thereby--virtually for the first time among the three publications--introducing the concept of death into an analysis of the deployment: "'We cannot even contemplate, in my view, trading American blood for Iraqi blood."' And Wines quoted a dazed-sounding Senator Joe Biden on the dimensions fo the force, saying he was "struck by the size of this. This is a big, big deal. . . . I never contemplated talk of 250,000 troops." There should be, Biden said, "Not only some consultation, but some extensive debate."

But Wines came to the conclusion that since massive deployment was inevitable, we might as well lie back and enjoy it: "In the atmosphere of crisis, there is no evidence that extensive debate or consultations would have changed the American commitment in any way." He pointed out that "the pivotal decisions have been made by Mr. Bush and a handful of his top advisers," but offered this astonishing reassurance to those, like Biden, who worried about the absence of public discussion: "As the Vietnam experience proved, public debate and congressional action do not guarantee wise policymaking, several Bush administration officials and former government officials from the 1960s said in interviews."

When the United States first sent ground forces to Vietnam in March 1965, "You had overwhelming support in the public and the press," says Stanely Karnow, author of Vietnam: A History. "It's very hard to think of anyone--besides Izzy Sone--who objected." At the crucial moment in 1965, there was almost no dissent within the administration (Maxwell Taylor was the exception). Nearly 80 percent of Americans favored the move--partly because they didn't understand what it would entail, since Lyndon Johnsonhs spokesmen were pursuing "a policy of minimum candor." Sound familiar? The questions--What are we fighting for?--and the debate started when Americans began dying. If you believe that the United States should have fought the Vietnam war indefinitely, then you might consider that debate to have been unwise. Otherwise, you might wish it had started a little sooner.

Bushkrieg

As the Vietnam war progressed, Karnow argues, the press tended to trail public opinion, not the reverse. Johnson, watching Walter Cronkite report on the Tet Offensive, declared Cronkite would turn public support against the war. But by Tet, more Americans already were against the war than for it. Somehow, that news hadn't percolated up: "It was kind of like a wind tunnel, you know, with the press and the politicians talking to each other and not listening to anyone else," says Karnow. "Sort of like today, I guess."

Because no one pieced together the presidenths actual policy toward Iraq, throughout the first couple of weeks of the crisis the nation's leading newspapers couldn't help but overstate American support for the deployment. As the Los Angeles Times editorial quoted at length above makes clear, even Americans who closely followed the news (in fact, especially them, according to the polls) were tripping over each other to line up in support of a policy that was in fact not the one we were practicing. The pollsters were asking, as in a CBS News survey: "Do you approve of George Bush's decision to send U.S. troops to Saudi Arabia?" They weren't asking whether Americans approved of sending 250,000 of them to Saudi Arabia. Robert Shogan of the Los Angeles Times was one of very few journalists to make this elementary distinction. On August 19, he wrote, "Bush enjoys overwhelming public support for his decision to send U.S. troops . . . but he does not have a blank check." ("Nightline" for the most part didn't concern itself with public opinion, although Rep. Les Aspin did point out on the August 17 broadcast that "there is not, at this point, public support for using our military to invade Kuwait or to invade Iraq.")

Even taking the early poll results at face value, journalists--not just editorial writers or the flocks of hawkish columnists--repeatedly overstated the results. As late as August 24, by which time the size of the deployment and its offensive potential were becoming clear, E.J. Dionne led a story in the Post with: "After several weeks of nearly unanimous public support for President Bush's moves in the Middle East. . . . ." The paper's own poll of August 10 had reported that, while most Americans support the president's "initial response," they "view the prospect of U.S. military engagement in the Middle East with a mix of skepticism, frustration, confusion, and outright fear." Sixty-eight percent said that the United States should not go on the offensive to liberate Kuwait. A New York Times poll published August 12 found that 40 percent of Americans thought Bush was "too quick to send troops." In another Times poll conducted over a week later, that 40 percent figure still held. By most standards, 60 percent doesn't qualify as "nearly unanimous support."

What Dionne probably meant is that support seemed unanimous among "opinion leaders"--that is, the people top journalists interview. His story featured those opinion leaders--what he called "small minorities on the left and the right"--who were "beginning" to dissent from the president's policy: Patrick Buchanan, Thomas Bethell, Ramsely Clark (all of whom dissented from the start). As another example, consider a story by Andrew Malcolm that ran in The New York Times on August 21. The teaser on the front page read, in part, "Little Dissent in U.S.: IF war in in the offing, few Americans are voicing opposition." The headline declared: "FEW FROM LEFT OR RIGHT PROTEST BUSH'S BIG STICK." "So far," wrote Malcolm, "the critics of American military involvement in Saudi Arabia have been few and soft-spoken." It quickly becomes obvious that the piece is not about "Americans" in general but about a certain type of American: opinion leaders, like Buchanan, Walter Mondale, Coretta Scott King, William Sloane Coffin Jr. And in fact in the course of the story these people voice quite a bit of dissent, arguing in general for deterrence and a negotiated settlement--a policy drastically different from the one Bush was implementing.

It's at the bottom of the story, however, that we discover what "little dissent" really means, when Malcolm refers to the Times poll and dials up a couple of Americans with unfamiliar names: "40 percent [of those polled] said the administration was too quick to send in the military and only 48 percent felt the government had tried hard enough to reach a diplomatic solution.... Deborah Huber, a 21-year-old housewife in Wichita, Kansas, was among those in the poll with doubts. 'This is really hitting home for us,' she said in a subsequent interview. 'My husband's brother, David, is being shipped over on the 24th this month.'"

When it comes to matters of war and peace, the troubled Mrs. Huber is what The New York Times would call "unsophisticated." In an August 12 editorial, the Times assessed the president's efforts to rally support to his cause. Though Bush had demonstrated he was "a superb ciris manager," as a communicator he was stumbling: "A New York Times poll shows that while most Americans endorse the president's action, half do not comprehend the dangers.... Why must the U.S. again bear a disproportionate share of the burden of defending oil...?" The Times understands, but too many Americans don't: "Sophisticated citizens know how much the world depends on Saudi oil. It's up to the occupant of the bully pulpit to educate ordinary citizens, including parents of those G.I.'s, to these harsh realities." In other words, the views of the Mrs. Hubers are supposed to be changed, not taken into account.

Casual ties

That editorial expresses an attitude that is certainly one source of the newspapers' repeated failure to give serious consideration to the opinions of the silenced 40 percent. The attitude is summed up by the opposition of "sophisticated citizens" and "ordinary citizens, including parents of those G.I.'s." Editorial writers and reporters and the talking heads they interview are too sophisticated to have children in danger of being gassed, shot, or blown up. Although by November others were waking up to that issue, in the first six weeks of the deployment, of all the columnists--hawks and doves--venting their opinions on the crisis day after day on the national op-ed pages, only one--Mark Shields--raised it.

One day in August, the celebrated op-ed by Alex Molnar, a Marine's father who didn't think the president's goals in the Gulf were worth dying for, appeared shoulder-to-shoulder with, of all columns, one by A.M. Rosenthal, a leading hawk. It's interesting to compare their tones. Molnar: "I kissed my son goodbye today.... You have ordered him to Saudi Arabia." Rosenthal: "The likelihood is that Americans will die in the Middle East.... In decency to them and the people of the Middle East and in pressing self-interest, the United States must how think through and make clear two connected sets of war goals. . . . Saddam may still be able to kill thousands." If Molnar's tone struck many as melodramatic (and letters to the editor suggest that it did), Rosenthal's struck at least me as astonishingly breezy. The op-ed hawks purported to make their arguments out of common sense. The party line, as Rosenthal expressed it, was that "if Saddam is allowed to keep the missiles, poison chemicals, and nuclear potential . . . then one day he will murder far more people." The math is compelling, but it totally ignores--as almost all these columnists did--the possibility that other means than a ground war might accomplish the same ends. Without the pressure of knowing that your son or your brother-in-law could be among the "thousands," it becomes easier to overlook the "unsophisticated" question" "Couldn't there be a better way to do this?"

How else can you explain the total lack of interest the newspapers and "Nightline" expressed in the number of soldiers who might die? During the first weeks of the crisis, reporters occasionally referred to the prospective conflict as "bloody" or noted that "thousands" might be killed, but no one explored the question of what the war would actually look like. There were some clues, however. A doctor called up from the reserves told the Los Angeles Times, "There may never be another opportunity for me to see trauma cases like this." Without comment on page 22, The Washington Post reported this chilling detail: "The department [of Veterans Affairs] has notified the Pentagon that it could make 9,200 [hospital] beds available within 24 hours, 18,321 within 72 hours and 25,000 within a month."

When 13 American servicemen died in a plane crash in West Germany, the Post headline read: "CRASH OF GULF-BOUND JET REVIVES GERMAN FEARS." The story ran on p. 33. Later, the Post did a longer piece on the families of the dead, offering this observation, "Treatment of the crash has been somewhat muted, partly because of uncertainty about whether the 13 victims will become only an early and forgotten footnote in a much larger conflagration and perhaps partly because they did not die in the deserts of the Mideast." The New York Times ran about two inches of an inaccurate AP story: "10 Die in Transport Jet Crash."

On September 5, Joshua Epstein, a Brookings Institution military analyst, held a press conference at which he presented a model that projected the number of divisions the United States would lose if it attacked Iraq. The Los Angeles Times wrote it up in a short piece at the foot of page six. The reporter asked government analysts to translate the division numbers into human terms: "They said Epstein's model implies that American and Saudi forces would suffer casualties of 32,000 to 48,000 troops." Hmmm . . . 48,000 . . . hey--that's close to one-quarter as many as we suffered in the whole Vietnam war! And Epstein predicted that a Mideast war would be over in one month. Seem like important news? Well, you probably never heard about it, because nobody else touched the story.

Also on September 5, CNN's "Crossfire" featured Richard Lugar and Les Aspin. Michael Kinsley pressed both guests to answer the question: "Is it worth 0,000 to 30,000 American casualties to get Saddam Hussein?" Both men--the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee--said yes. Just for the record, here was Lugar's justification: "Finally we will come down to the point that if he exists and we're left our there in Saudi Arabia with our forces hunkered down, forever monitoring the situation, the casualties over the course of time will be greater or the loss of our national prestige and the whole world order will collapse in the process."

No newspaper or TV show picked up the story.

According to Joh Mueller, author of War, Presidents and Public Opinion, during the Korean and Vietnam wars, as casualties climbed from 100 to 1,000, support for the war dropped by 15 percentage points; as casualties rose from 1,000 to 10,000, support decreased by another 15 points. What would happen if U.S. forces suffered 20,000 casualties in the Middle East in a month-long war? "That would be catastrophic," he says. "That would be vastly more than were suffered in Korea in the first year.... I can even imagine impeachment." Unfortunately, like most journalists, pollsters haven't asked questions like, "Is it worth 20,000 to 30,000 casualties to get Saddam Hussein?"

Banalyses

The reporters who write "news analyses"--those who are supposed to bring a knowledge of history and a sense of proportion to bear on the news--are the ones who most let their readers down in the early weeks of the crisis. Generally based in Washington, these reporters tend to be those called on by the television talk shows to analyze events. Without exception in the first weeks, their analyses focused on the politics of the deployment and the view from D.C.: Could any cracks form in the president's domestic or international support? Does Scowcroft or Baker have the president's ear? What are the scenarios the military planners and armchair analysts think might be played out? Perhaps because these reporters don't have sand under their fingernails and some sense for which machines work, you never found yourself reading an authoritative analysis of the wisdom of the administration's means.

"Nightline" lagged far behind the print journals in this department. While the U.S. was in the first stages of building up its forces, ABC deployed Sam Donaldson to the Gulf, from where he was asked by the show's host, Jack Smith, if Iraqis really believed they could outfight Americans. "It's bluster, Jack," declared Donaldson. "The United States conventional forces are such that once they are brought to bear in this area, all of them--the sea power that we are amassing, the land power--B-52s, as you know, can come from Diego Garcia and elsewhere--we could, with conventional forces, level Iraq. I think there's no question about that."

The newspapers were a bit more thorough. At times, they served up analytical pieces on the president's goals like the ones Thomas Friedman of The New York Times produced in the early days of the crisis that aggressively compared the administration's rhetoric with our real, historical interests in the region. But more typical were pieces that suggested that the photos of aircraft carriers and tanks and the president's angry rhetoric had caused their writers to lose a little perspective, like this chest-thumping, navel-gazing August 20 "news analysis" by R.W. Apple: "The obituaries were a bit premature. There is still one superpower in the world, and it is the United States. . . . There is a rush of excitment in the air here. In news bureaus and Pentagon offices, dining rooms and lobbyists' hangouts, the fever is back--the heavy speculation, the avid gossip, the gung-ho, here's-where-it's-happening spirit, that marks the city when it grapples with great events." Or when it grapples with itself.

Koppeling out

Aside from journalists' lack of personal risk in a potential conflict, there are undoubtedly a number of reasons why stories appraising the size and strategy of the deployment didn't get writtin. For one thing, daily journalists rely on politicians to criticize other politicians' policies, and few in Congress had the guts to do that. For another, journalists can be patriots, too, and may have felt a duty to support the president's policy (whatever it was). On "Nightline," Koppel and Barbara Walters invoked the administrative "we" in interviewing the Iraqi ambassador, and the Los Angeles Times editorialized on August 27 that it would be "bad policy" for Congress and the White House to start "quarreling over U.S. policy in the Middle East." Furthermore, criticizing the deployment could put you at some risk, since charges of "dual loyalty" (by Richard Cohen), "second guessing . . . to encourage Saddam" (by Jim Hoagland), "anti-Semitism" (Rosenthal), being "for Saddam" (William Safire), and "appeasement" (just about everyone) were flying thick and fast. But whatever the reason, the "adversial" press spawned by vietnam let us down. The president's policy, right or wrong, left plenty of room for debate, and that room simply wasn't filled. When politicians close ranks behind a military action, journalists must have the intellectual independence and imagination to supply the critical counterweight on their own. If not, Americans will continue, over and over again, to find themselves crying over spilt blood.

On "Nightline" on November 8, Koppel discussed with his old mentor, Henry Kissinger, Bush's decision to double the size of the American forces in Saudi Arabia. After fielding several questions about the wisdom of the government's action, Kissinger grumpily observed, "America seems to specialize into putting 300,000 or more troops somewhere and afterwards starting a debate how important that is."

Koppel shot back: "Well, that's because there was never any opportunity to have a debate beforehand."

Later, Kissinger backpedaled a bit: "I'm not saying that shouldn't be--no, I'm not saying we shouldn't have a debate, but I'm saying that the debate must take into account what has already happened."

Koppel: "But what has already happened has happened without the benefit of the debate, that's precisely the point."

And whose fault, Ted, is that?

James Bennet is an editor of The Washington Monthly. Research assistance was provided by Andrew Bates, Joshua Ray Levin, Patrick O'Rourke, Pam Schauble, and Craig Weicker.
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Title Annotation:Operation Desert Shield
Author:Bennet, James
Publication:Washington Monthly
Date:Dec 1, 1990
Words:5511
Previous Article:The making of the president 1996.
Next Article:The right priorities for the nineties; let's not get hypnotized by the Persian Gulf; let's start fighting the battles that really matter.
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