Bush administration officials are defending coalition military strategy in Iraq, blaming the news media for fostering the perception that things may not be going as well as the Pentagon anticipated. But there are some serious questions about the planning of Operation Iraqi Freedom that appear to be going unanswered.
Did the Pentagon's war planners miscalculate, particularly in their assessment of how coalition forces would be received when they entered Iraqi territory? Did they fail to heed warnings about the strength of the resistance that would be offered by Iraqi militia forces?
These are among critical questions being asked by many reporters after the first week of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
But when confronted with them, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld appeared to dismiss the underlying concerns, insisting the war is going well and calling such questions "premature." He said there will be ample time to address them later, that is, after Saddam is ousted. "We'll know the answer to that as portions of the country are liberated. We'll have people on the ground, embedded with our forces, so we'll have a chance to see what happens and see how they feel about it," he said. "Why do we want to guess?"
But some senior military officials believe the Bush administration did have what they consider an unrealistic expectation that allied troops would be greeted by cheering crowds and that resistance would collapse quickly. These officials think this belief was based in part on the experiences of U.S. troops in the 1991 Gulf War when Iraqi troops often seemed desperate to surrender.
When it comes to assessing the mood of ordinary Iraqis this time around, Mr. Rumsfeld disputed the notion that there is such a thing as an ordinary Iraqi or that the administration feels all Iraqis share the same views about the allied operation. "There is not an Iraqi people. There are individual Iraqi people and they're going to be all across the spectrum," he said.
Still, Mr. Rumsfeld believes coalition forces will ultimately be welcomed - not rejected. But how does he know that, especially after first suggesting it is not knowable until the operation is over? He said his view is based on limited contacts with Iraqis but does not provide details. "We have a good sense, not of everybody, because we don't have Gallup polls going on in there," he said. "But in terms of the limited amount of contact we have with people inside various cities. My guess is it will vary from city to city."
Instead, the Bush administration is suggesting the news media are to blame for accentuating perception problems affecting the Iraq operation. Mr. Rumsfeld complains the nonstop coverage, particularly on television, is "disorienting." "We have seen mood swings in media from highs to lows to highs and back again, sometimes in a single 24-hour period," he said.
Mr. Rumsfeld said he believes things will be seen in a more positive light, especially by Iraqis, after they see that coalition forces have no intention of occupying their country and that those forces will be bringing in food, water and other supplies to assist the needy.
Perhaps more importantly, he believes many Iraqis will feel and act differently about the operation once the militias he calls "death squads" and who he charges are holding guns to their heads are removed.