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Analysis: The scramble to blame and deny

By MARTIN SIEFF, UPI Senior News Analyst

WASHINGTON, March 30 (UPI) -- Success, President John. F. Kennedy famously said, has many fathers. Defeat is an orphan.

Even though President George W. Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld are continuing to claim everything is going to plan in their war on Iraq, perhaps the most ominous development from the U.S. point of view, 11 days into the war, is the scramble to assign or deny blame within the Pentagon. That kind of thing never happens when things are going well.

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Last week, Lt. Gen. William S. Wallace, the tough, highly capable commander of the U.S. V Corps and the top-ranking U.S. Army ground commander in Iraq, said frankly that the war he and his embattled troops were having to fight was not the war they had war-gamed for or had been led to expect.

The April 7 issue of the New Yorker magazine, which will be released on Monday, contains an article by veteran investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, who reports that Rumsfeld at least six times overruled regular Army ground commanders and sharply reduced the number of troops in the initial U.S. thrust.

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The article also claims that Rumsfeld had overruled cautious theater commander Gen. Tommy Franks, when he urged that the invasion be delayed until the 4th Mechanized Infantry Division, having been denied access to Iraq overland through Turkey, could be deployed in the Gulf instead.

On Sunday, Rumsfeld denied that he had overruled uniformed Army war planners.

But Hersh is hardly out on a limb in making his allegations. In the past year, we have repeatedly reported the growing chasm of distrust and lack of respect of senior uniformed Army and Marine officers in the Pentagon for Rumsfeld and his senior civilian staff. One of these conflicts went public a few weeks ago when Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz publicly slapped down Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki for telling Congress several hundred thousand U.S. troops would be needed to occupy Iraq for a significant period of time after it was conquered.

This Sunday, a further flood of U.S. press reports alleged or documented discord within the Pentagon and bitter recriminations over a war already turned sour after less than two weeks.

The New York Times led its influential Week in Review section with an article by Vietnam vet and respected author James Webb entitled, "The War in Iraq Turns Ugly: That's What Wars Do." It was not, however, predicted or expected by the many vocal media proponents of this war.

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Webb can hardly be accused of being a pacifist or a liberal critic of the Bush administration. He served as secretary of the Navy in the administration of Ronald Reagan 20 years ago.

And the Washington Post carried a report Sunday by Vernon Loeb accusing Rumsfeld and his lieutenants of having "micromanaged" the deployment plan out of mistrust of the generals and an attempt to prove their own theory that a light maneuverable force could handily defeat Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

"More than a dozen officers interviewed, including a senior army officer in Iraq, said Rumsfeld took significant risks by leaving key units in the United States and Germany at the start of the war," Loeb reported. "That resulted in an invasion force that is too small, strung out, under-protected, under-supplied, and awaiting tens of thousands of reinforcements who will not get there for weeks."

None of these criticisms will come as news to readers of United Press International analysis where, apart from Hersh's regular scoops in The New Yorker, we have been virtually alone in U.S. journalism in reporting and tracing these strategic and tactical rows between the Bush administration and its top military serving officers.

Prominent media supporters of the war who repeatedly predicted a quick and easy victory are now pooh-poohing such reports and analyses as hysterical and defeatist. But it is notable that not a single one of them is either a ground combat veteran or has shown any scholarly expertise or serious credentials in the history and study of war.

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By contrast, two of the most experienced and respected war correspondents in American journalism, Hersh and R. W. "Johnny" Apple of The New York Times, have just published far more somber assessments of what we might expect to see next.

Hersh, in his April 7 New Yorker article, reported that the U.S. armed forces are already close to running out of Tomahawk cruise missiles and that the U.S. Navy would soon face a similar problem with aircraft carrier-based precision-guided bombs. He also cited a former intelligence official as claiming that the war had already bogged down into one of stalemate for the United States.

Apple, writing in Sunday's New York Times, concluded: "Street-by-street fighting in the rubble of Baghdad and other cities -- an eventuality that American strategists have long sought to avoid -- now looks more likely."

Saddam's aides, Apple continued, "have promised savage resistance. If it materializes it could produce large coalition casualties, challenging American resolve, and equally large Iraqi civilian casualties."

In our multi-part assessment of the looming conflict "Will Iraq Fight?" published earlier this month before hostilities started, we warned that the overwhelming likelihood was that indeed it would, and that the expected popular uprisings and mass army defections would almost certainly not come about.

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We also predicted that Iraq's Army, far from being the incompetent joke that was almost universally confidently expected, would show a formidable level of tactical ability, professional skill, bravery, coherence and sheer effective ruthlessness.

It gives us no joy to have already been proven right.

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