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How Long Do Wars Last?

Aired March 29, 2003 - 22:30   ET


AARON BROWN: Here's a question to put on the table tonight. Who's being unreasonable? Those who say the war should be over by now, things must be going wrong or those who say it is a ridiculous position. You don't oust a deeply rooted regime in less than two weeks.
Put it another way. How long do wars last? The answer is read your history books. They last from six days, to years, to decades. It could be we need some perspective.


BROWN (voice-over): Just a little more than a week into the war, impatience.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You did nothing to low what we hearing from the Pentagon and from other outside pundits about how well, how quickly this war would go.

BROWN: And frustration at the White House that the president was being blamed.

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN: I could not dispute that more strongly. And let me cite it for you. If you take a look at what the president said on October 7th in Cincinnati in a major speech to the country, the president said "military conflict could be difficult. An Iraqi regime faced with its demise may attempt cruel and desperate measures. There is no easy or risk free course of action."

In public, the president has always been confident.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will plan carefully. We will act with the full power of the United States military. We will act with allies at our side. And we will prevail.

BROWN: Again and again.

BUSH: America will act decisively. And America will prevail because we've got the finest military in the world.

BROWN: While never saying directly how long the war would last, or how much the war will cost. His vice president, however, has not always been as careful.

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I'm confident that our troops will be successful. And I think it'll go relatively quickly. But my (UNINTELLIGIBLE), weeks rather than months.

BROWN: This conflict is in some ways as old as both war and modern media combined. Keeping expectations in check...

GEORGE H. BUSH, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE U.S.: We must be realistic. There will be losses.

BROWN: But remaining confident as to the outcome.

G.H. BUSH: And war is never cheap or easy. And I say this only because I am somewhat concerned about the initial euphoria in some of the reports and reactions to the first days' developments.

BROWN: The hard sell of the policy before...

CHENEY: I think things have gotten so bad inside Iraq from the standpoint of the Iraqi people, my belief is we will in fact be greeted as liberators.

BROWN: Staying consistently confident throughout.

DONALD RUMSFELD, DEFENSE SECRETARY: The regime of Saddam Hussein is gone. It's over. It will not be there in a relatively reasonably predictable period of time.

BROWN: And blaming any setback, not on the failure of American war planners, but on the brutality of the Iraqis.

PAUL WOLFOWITZ, DEPUTY DEFENSE SECRETARY: I don't think we anticipated so many people who would pretend to surrender and then shoot. I don't think we anticipated such a level of execution squads inside Basra, but I would not exaggerate the degree of difficulty that this presents.


BROWN: We're joined to talk about some of the issues put on the table by "Washington Post" reporter Dana Milbank who joins us I assume from Washington. Good to have you with us.


BROWN: Do you get the feeling that in a week and a half or so, that the whole mood in Washington and to some degree in the country has changed in regards to the war?

MILBANK: Well, it has - the mood has changed here in Washington among the people reporting it and also in the opinion polls. But I think we have to be careful as your report there was indicating that it's not necessarily about saying that this war is going badly and it's going to turn out badly. We did this in Afghanistan. We did this in Kosovo. It's sort of a perpetual thing we in the media do. And the public seems to embrace this as well.

But a much different issue is this question of the expectations game that the administration's been playing. BROWN: Do you think the administration is being - you're going to hate me for this question - a bit disingenuous to say that it did not on the one hand raise - well, that it did not raise expectations now that those expectations are not being met in quite the way that perhaps some people thought they were?

MILBANK: Well, it's saying it didn't raise expectations. But wait, those very nice expectations may yet come true. So the two explanations are a little bit contradictory.

Now as your report indicated, the president himself was pretty standoffish on this, but the point is he only addressed the question of cost of danger of risk in the war three times from last October, all the way up until the night the bombs began falling. And then suddenly, we hear about this very dangerous episode we're going to have in this country the size of California. And there are going to be all sorts of risks involved.

It was a striking change. You could feel it just at that moment. And it was echoed time after time. So the idea of when they were selling the policy of going to war in Iraq, it was a much more confident tone about how easy the campaign would be. And afterward, it was important to lower expectations because if you enter a war with such high expectations, then even the smallest setback looks like a defeat.

BROWN: Why did your colleague Tom Ricks, I think it was, who wrote the piece that was headlined war may last for months, and it had these quotes in it, and it just had the administration ballistic from what I hear in Washington, why do you think that piece a week into the war or so bothered the administration so much?

MILBANK: Well, any criticism, obviously, bothers this administration. The thing there that I think particularly gets under their skin is when - is coming from inside. These were top people in the military talking about this or people who had talked with top folks in the military about this. So it wasn't outside analysts saying it. It was coming from within the government, within the administration. And this administration on matters of war or taxes or anything else really does not brook any criticism at all. That it must be perfectly uniform and on message. And that's where it becomes intolerable if the criticism is internal.

BROWN: You mentioned the country sort of how the country is taking this all in. I saw some polling to suggest that the country now does have a belief that they or we or all of us together underestimated the Iraqis and the Iraqi military and the Iraqi willingness to fight the fight?

MILBANK: That's right. And they're not really blaming the president. His - there's been this rallying effect. His numbers are really quite high. Not as high as they were in the Afghanistan War. But we're also seeing I believe it was a CBS News poll just yesterday was saying something like 55 percent of Americans believe that we as a country underestimated the Iraqis, while only 37 percent figured we had it right. So there is - even if the Bush administration is saying we did not intend to foster that perception, in fact, that perception was very much fostered.

BROWN: Dan, there's one other question that really is - it's not necessarily in your reporting sphere, but just as you watch the international battle for public opinion play out, the Pentagon briefing today, which we'll talk more about tonight, the way the Iraqis have managed it, do you think it's possible for the American administration to win that battle in the international community?

MILBANK: No, I mean it - I think it's pretty clear that the United States lost that battle in the international community before a single shot was fired in this war. What the administration is doing now is pointing out a - the terrible atrocities committed by the Iraqi regime in contrast to the benevolence is in fact the word Ari Fleischer was using for the American side. That I think is understood here at home. But abroad, this whole question of saying well, yes, we're attacking, we're invading their country, but they're not playing by sort of these gentile rules of war.

And of course, they're fighting for their lives. So there's plenty of reason for them not to really consider the Geneva Conventions in their actions. So we may understand that in an intellectual way here at home, but it is a pretty sell over there.

BROWN: Dan, it's nice to meet you if only electronically. We appreciate having you on the program.

MILBANK: Thanks, Aaron.

BROWN: We hope you'll join us again. Looks like we'll be here for a while. Dana Milbank among the highly respected reporters at "The Washington Post" and good to have him on the program.

Bring in General Clark who's been writing away here as we go. Take a break first.


BROWN: And Sunday morning in Baghdad, coming up on 7:00 in the morning. Smoke and clouds over the city. The smoke over the city almost every morning now, as we look at it over another night of significant bombing. A Reuters report hearing more than 30 explosions in the night.

General Clark, expectations they in some ways started with what the expectation of the beginning of the war would be like, and the way you've sort of broken this down as it's not one expectation. It's a series of expectations to look at, right?

GEN. WESLEY CLARK (RET.), CNN MILITARY ANALYST: That's right. I mean, I think the first think that we're talking about, and what's caused the greatest concern is the feeling that we've had on the outside, that the military themselves didn't expect the level of resistance of the Iraqi forces. And that seems to be what's been reported that somehow this level of resistance just wasn't quite expected.

BROWN: And it's not that people are offering that opinion. It's a military as there are generals in the field, General Wallace, I think now the other day virtually said that?

CLARK: He did.

BROWN: Okay.

CLARK: He did. And he was being very direct. He was being very honest. And he's caught a lot of flack because of that, because the public opinion war is war. And it would be better if the Iraqis probably didn't know that. Okay.

BROWN: Okay.

CLARK: But they do know that. Okay.

BROWN: Right.

CLARK: So what? So we're going to work against that. And our guys have to - these American military leaders have to figure out how to deal with it, as the Brits are dealing with it in Basra, But that's one set of expectations.

BROWN: Okay.

CLARK: Then there's the problem of domestic politics. And the president's the commander in chief. He's got to retain the support of the American people. The American people always have perspective on these things. It's amazing. You know, they're sort of riding this out. They're the ones who are critical of the news media for showing the ups and downs and saying you guys be steady out there. You know, this is war. I mean, you can't tell what's going to happen. It might take a long time.

And then there's international opinion. And there seems to be among the Arabists, a feeling that there's a sort of a break point. Don't know exactly when it is, four weeks, six weeks, maybe longer into the war beyond which if Saddam can survive the American onslaught, then he becomes - he moves to a different level of esteem.

BROWN: It's a kind of mythical quality, even having survived the opening night bombing attack raised to stature in some people's eyes.

CLARK: Sure, because even though this wasn't exactly explained and the president never briefed this, but you know, there were enough comments from people. This is going be 3,000 strikes. It's going to be massive. It's going to be overwhelming. You've never seen anything like it before.

And so, people around the world were prepared for something they had never seen before. There was going to be - there were rumors of secret weapons and...

BROWN: Right. CLARK: ...there was - there were all kinds of expectations that just sort of crept out there. It wasn't a plan of the administration. It was there. And so, it means that reasonable, effective military operations, which is what's going on now, are discounted. This is a military campaign. There's going to be some tough fights ahead. And there have to be a variety of tactics and the men in charge have to push and pull and experiment with this. They're going to the air. They're going to use the Apaches. They're going to try a ground probe. They're going to go around the flank. And they're going to find, they're going to work the problem. And that's the way it works in war.

BROWN: I want to come back to the expectations question before the night's done. And we'll have time. Take a break first. Our coverage continues in a moment on CNN.


BROWN: We're talking about expectations, military and domestic, political expectations. No doubt the Iraqis have expectations too of what it means for the American military to come in. And how those expectations are met will have a lot to do would presume with how the peace is achieved. Winning the war means not just defeating the Iraqi military. It means winning over often skeptical Iraqi people.

To do that, the coalition, of course, is planning to bring in tons of humanitarian relief, see if that works. However, it has been a trickle so far for a variety of reasons. Here's Martin Geissler in Safwan, Iraq.


MARTIN GEISSLER, ITV NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As our convoy rolled through southern Iraq, the desperation of the people here soon became evident. In trucks and on foot, they came to the town of Safwan.

These people have been without food or water supplies since the war began. Now they're desperate. Within seconds, the Kuwaiti aid workers who had organized this trip were overpowered by the mob.

GEISSLER (on camera): These desperate scenes are exactly what the aid agencies wanted to avoid. This is survival of the fittest. Only the healthy and the strong can get to the food. The weak and the ill are left with nothing.

(voice-over): Despite this effort to help the Iraqi people, resentment is never far away.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: ...hate you as we hate British, England. We hate any state in war.

GEISSLER: What do you think about Saddam's regime?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Saddam's very good man. GEISSLER: As the supplies ran out, the mood swung from frantic to ugly. Drivers were threatened. One of the buses in our convoy was held up at knifepoint.

The troops have moved into Safwan. We as a consequence have had to move out. It's simply too dangerous.

(on camera): This is a clear indication that despite the coalition reassurances this part of Iraq is safe, and despite the aid being brought in to the people here, it is still a very, very volatile area.

(voice-over): Tonight here the strong are eating. The weak still go hungry.

Martin Geissler, ITV News, Safwan, southern Iraq.


BROWN: All right, moving on now to another Iraqi town in another delivery of relief supplies delivered by a group of Americans that we haven't seen much of during this war or in fact any way, U.S. Special Forces. And that kind of mission may not seem that's come to mind when you think about the Special Forces, but soldiers wear a lot of hats in war.

CNN's Mike Boettcher is embedded with Special OPS.


MIKE BOETTCHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): British tanks and American special horses provided security in As-Ubar (ph), a city on the outskirts of Basra for two trucks that carried 2,000 humanitarian daily rations, which carried beans, cake, rice, jam and other items and additional large rations that can feed up to 500 more people.

In addition, there were 3,000 bottles of water. The Army calls this targeted humanitarian assistance. The purpose is not to feed an entire city. Only large, non-governmental organizations or charities are capable of that. Instead, the coalition hopes the aid wins over neutral Iraqis to the coalition side in this battle for Basra.

The U.S. Special Forces Civil Affairs team, Charley Company of the 96th Battalion of U.S. special operation forces is led by a man who identifies himself as "Major D.J." The special operators do not use their last name.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well hopefully, we gave the local leader an element to provide his people a little hope. We told him this will not be the last time we do this, but he's got to cooperate. His people have to cooperate or it becomes very hazardous equation for everyone.

BOETTCHER: Military planners holding the battle to wrest control of Basra from Iraqi paramilitary forces could be won more easily if Basra's Shi'Ia Muslims, traditionally Saddam Hussein opponent actively supported the coalition forces. So far, they have not. Winning them over is made more difficult by events 12 years ago, a Shi'ia revolt against Saddam Hussein after the first Gulf War was harshly put down after the U.S. decided not support it.

This time, Iraq's Shi'ites appear to be taking a wait and see attitude.

Mike Boettcher, CNN, embedded with special Operations forces on the outskirts of Basra.



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