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Published: Saturday, 4/5/2003

Saving the world, or is it the opposite?

My little darlings have just discovered opposites. Every example of one is a breathlessly proclaimed triumph. Up. Down. Night. Day. Full. Empty. It's amazing. Opposites are everywhere just waiting to be noticed.

But in the adult world opposites are sometimes unintended. Black is supposed to be white but it still looks black. Sometimes, masterful political spin can convince people that black is really white. A case in point is Operation Iraqi Freedom. Opposites there are different and yet the same.

For starters, the name the administration gave its war with Iraq presents a picture quite opposite to an earlier White House marketing strategy. The first ad campaign to sell the Bush pre-emptive battle policy called for a full bore assault on Baghdad. It was all about regime change and disarmament. The government of Saddam Hussein needed to be taught a lesson about what happens when the will of the international community - as expressed by the United Nations - is ignored.

The White House war/election handlers figured they had fashioned a pretty compelling sales pitch for invading an evil empire and saving the world. When the world said it wasn't imminently threatened by Iraq and war was premature, administration marketers tried another tack that stuck.

Besides saving the world from Saddam, the new spin said America invaded Iraq to liberate its people. Curiously, those citizens have done the opposite of the expected by not discarding weapons en masse or welcoming their emancipators with open arms. But that's another column.

To pull off its invasion/liberation/occupation, the Bush Administration also did the opposite of adhering to the will of the United Nations, and did the best it could to cast aspersions on U.N. inspectors scouring Iraq for weapons of mass destruction. They had found the opposite of what the administration was alleging about such weapons in its haste to wage war against Saddam Hussein.

Undeterred, the Bush neo-conservatives did the opposite of what U.N. inspectors, many member nations, and millions of protesters worldwide urged, and plowed ahead with what they intended to do all along.

Instead of painstakingly crafting an international alliance of heavy-hitters to help defray the sacrifice and expense of battle, like the first Bush Administration did in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the producers of Gulf War II did the opposite. They either bullied or bribed parties - many with limited firepower or public support at home - to join their “coalition of the willing.” But no matter how hard Donald Rumsfeld tries to leave the impression that the coalition is far greater than can be publicly revealed, his propaganda doesn't belie the fact that the coalition is far weaker than the one assembled before.

Many of the countries that were part of the 34-nation coalition supporting the Persian Gulf War are sitting out the sequel. Key players in the first conflict, including France, Germany, and Canada along with major strategic gulf allies like Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Qatar, prefer the sidelines this time around.

Other than a couple hundred Poles swelling a couple thousand Australian troops in Iraq, and some noncombatant help from lesser coalition partners, the Bush war is being fought foremost by Americans with significant help from the British.

Operation Desert Storm was paid for in full not by the U.S., but largely by contributions from the war alliance. Just the opposite is true for Operation Iraqi Freedom, which will be paid for by American taxpayers in lieu of social services and depleted benefits.

A prideful Defense Secretary Rumsfeld predicted a shock and awe lightning strike on Iraq as the American invasion began. But fighting has become the opposite of fast. When Iraqis actually put up a fight to repel the invading military, even the mighty U.S. appeared shocked and awed.

Commanders in the field said Iraqi response was not what they anticipated. They hadn't “war-gamed” for the kind of guerrilla warfare they encountered. The administration testily defended its war preparations and insisted its plan to disarm the Iraqi regime, remove it from power, and free Iraq, is right on schedule.

Let's hope it's not the opposite.



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