Jewish World Review August 5, 2002/ 27 Menachem-Av, 5762

Wesley Pruden

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The road to Baghdad:
Get a map right here | SAN LUIS OBISPO, Calif. "You're from Washington," my old friend said, with just the slightest hint of contempt in his voice. "So tell me why we're putting our plans for going to war with Iraq on the front page of the newspaper every morning."

This is the question often asked by Donald Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense who, since September 11, has been the secretary of war. Every man (and a lot of the women) at the Pentagon, from the sergeants presiding over the parking lot to the generals looking for colonels to carry their briefcases, have been on the front pages with the latest, hottest skinny on when we're going to war and how we're going to do it. The only "facts" missing are the names of the troop ships, sailing dates and the menus at the mess halls we're soon to deploy to Jordan, or Qatar, or Kuwait. (No pork chops.)

Mr. Rumsfeld, as befits a secretary of war, affects a high dudgeon (a secretary of state is allowed only a low or medium-height dudgeon) at these reports, alleging that he regards publication of "battle plans" as little short of treason and vows to send whoever leaks them to a lifetime of leisure at government expense.

This may or may not be a carefully calculated affectation; this administration, more than most, regards leaks as poisonous to the body politic.

But if you're trying to keep Saddam Hussein and his Republican Guard off their guard, how better to do it than by leaking misinformation, disinformation, malinformation or even occasionally real goods? This is the administration, after all, that early on in the war on terrorism announced that it was setting up an agency within the Defense Department to manufacture lies, ostensibly to confuse the enemy. The idea died an early death, slain by an outraged public that was satisfied that it already had a gracious plenty of government lies.

Saddam Hussein, who is cruel but not stupid, might think he has figured out that Washington is lying to confuse him, but when the lies fly so thick that every new one contradicts all the others, how can he be sure which lie to disregard? Maybe one of them will actually be a failed lie, and thus true.

Only this week Mr. Rumsfeld, perhaps beating the tom-toms of war, said that Saddam has deployed mobile biological-weapons laboratories and these would be very difficult to effectively bomb. This was taken in Washington to mean that the secretary of war is leaning toward dispatching ground troops, perhaps as many as a quarter of a million of them, to destroy Iraq's weapons of mass destruction.

But the news of the mobile labs is not new. Certain circles in Washington have been awash in speculation for months that Saddam has these mobile biological-weapons labs and, in fact, this newspaper was prepared to report this in February and withheld the story at the urgent request of the White House.

The latest Rumsfeld disclosures reflect the growing intensity of the debate within the administration over what to do about Saddam, and when to do it. The feeling is growing that the yelps from the European weenies will have to be brushed aside (nobody in the administration would ever be so rude as to say it that way in public), not only because time is running out, but because the Europeans will never want to do anything about a threat, unless it's a threat to their sausages and cheese. Or their oil. There is no urgency now, as there was a decade ago when Kuwait's oil fields were threatened with seizure by Saddam. This time, the threat is aimed at American interests, and perhaps at America itself. That's a threat the Europeans can live with.

Kofi Annan, the secretary-general of the United Nations, is flying hither and yon on diplomatic missions, but these are merely the usual make-it-look-like-work missions of the diplomats who are milling about on the fringes of the action. His goal is to get the weapons inspectors back into Iraq, but any usefulness such inspections would bring to bear has long since dissolved. Saddam has had years to bury his weapons laboratories and bug factories, and the likelihood that the inspectors would find anything Saddam doesn't want them to find is believed to be small indeed. Hence the wave of order-of-battle plans washing over Washington.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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