Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Donald Rumsfeld has a complaint with press coverage of the current fighting in Iraq:

The photo of terrorists using a mosque in Najaf as a base for attacks against our forces is an example of what we're finding. There have been additional attacks taken from mosques in Fallujah, and I believe there have been embedded reporters who have been able to -- as well as combat camera -- able to make some of that available to the American people.

There are two ways, I suppose, one could inform readers of the Geneva Convention stipulation against using places of worship to conduct military attacks. One might be to headline saying that Terrorists Attack Coalition Forces From Mosques. That would be one way to present the information.

Another might be to say: Mosques Targeted in Fallujah. That was the Los Angeles Times headline this morning.

Which is, I suppose, valid as far as it goes, though our own adherence to the Geneva Conventions has also been, say, less than scrupulous.

But there are other things in Rumsfeld's remarks which could also be portrayed more than one way. Like this:

What's happening is that General Abizaid, General Sanchez, General Metz, General Conway, General Mattis, down that chain, Jerry Bremer and his representatives, Dick Jones, have been in near continuous discussion with these four elements that are interacting with themselves and with the people of Fallujah. If at some point the military decides that the string has run out, then they will tell us that and take appropriate action. At the present time, I think it's accurate to say that their conclusion is that they see sufficient prospects that it leads them to believe that this is a useful thing to be doing.

Most of the coverage of current action around Falluja in the Western press is along these lines -- that we've decided to give negotiations and joint patrols a chance. But a quick glance at the headlines shows that they aren't likely to have much of a chance -- the Mujahedein, or whatever they are, in Falluja don't seem to answer to anyone outside their own ranks, which don't seem to be represented in the parties that we're negotiating with directly. The question of the hour is what to do about it, and in particular, whether to stay outside and try to contain the resistance, or to try to clear the town with a full-scale assault.

Or rather, that was the question of the hour last weekend, when several articles appeared saying that Dubya was going to make that decision personally. With that in mind, let's review again what Rumsfeld said about it yesterday:

If at some point the military decides that the string has run out, then they will tell us that and take appropriate action.

Nothing about further consultation with higher national authority, which, given last weekend's headlines, would seem a strange thing to omit, since "appropriate action", in context, pretty clearly means at the very least, a significant escalation in the use of force.

Now if the situation truly is as Rumsfeld described it, there are two ways, I suppose, to inform one's readers about it. One might be to headline, as Rumsfeld has, and as much of our media have, that we are giving negotiation another chance.

Another would be to say that our commanders on the ground have been authorized to initiate a full-scale assault, as and when they see fit.

Or maybe Rumsfeld just didn't mean what he said. But who could say that about a member of the current administration?

More on this general topic: There were times, during the '90s, when the U.S. government had to deal with violent, crazed fanatics on its own soil. Sometimes that went well, as in an 81-day standoff with the Montana Freemen; sometimes very badly, as at Waco. David Neiwert is a little worried that the guys who were in charge at Waco are now directing our dealings with al-Sadr in Najaf.

Update: Dubya himself is a bit more straightforward: "Our military commanders will take whatever action is necessary to secure Falluja".


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