Just 49 Miles!!!
Posted on March 30, 2003 Posted by John Scalzi 12 Comments
“Speaking on the CBS News program ‘Face the Nation,’ General Myers said he had full faith in the war plan, adding ‘I just can’t explain why people are sniping at it.’ And Mr. Rumsfeld, speaking on the ABC News program ‘This Week,’ said, ‘We’re within 49 miles of Baghdad, and there are all these people hyperventilating that this isn’t working.'” — “U.S. Officials Vehemently Counter War Doubts,” New York Times, 3/30/2003 (reg. required to read)
I find the “49 miles” thing to be really weird. Most people, confronted with 49 miles of anything, would round up to 50 miles for the purposes of conversation — “We’re within 50 miles of Baghdad,” certainly sounds a lot more normal than “We’re within 49 miles of Baghdad.” It makes me suspect that Rumsfeld, et al are using the “49 miles” metric for the same reason that candy bars at the local Speedway are sold for 49 cents rather than 50 — the idea that the number “49” is a rather more deeply attractive number than “50” for the purposes of selling something. As in, we’re just 49 miles from Baghdad? Hell, that’s progress!!!
It’s probably just me, but I’d feel a lot more confident in the planning skills of our war planners if I didn’t get the feeling they were trying to use the same psychological tools to reassure me of their progress in this war that Hershey and M&M Mars use to tempt me to purchase their empty calorie confections. I don’t need the psychological sugar coat.
I agree with the gist of what the Bush Administration and Gen. Myers are saying. We HAVE made progress. We’ve moved to within an hour of Baghdad by most of our vehicles in less than a week. Those who appear to be camping out on the left of center, I tend to camp on the right, seem to be moaning about the length of time we’ve spent over there just a smidge too much. Thinking back to what little memories I have of Operation: Desert Storm (I’m two months shy of 21 right now), it seemed stunningly short. We’ve done so much with less in 10 days, not the 100 of Desert Storm. The only reason this war feels likes it’s taking so long is because 1) 24/7 exposure thanks to the media and 2) a tiny bit of hubris about our military might. To address point 1, I think it’s remarkable that all these networks can have live feeds in with our troops. It’s a miracle of technology as well as a leap forward into the accessability of information. But, like most things, this much exposure has jaded us a bit as it becomes common place. Let me add a few comments to point 2 as well. I think it’s ironic that those who are supporting our endeavor in Iraq are the ones with the patience, and it’s the opponents of our presence there that overestimate our forces. The US military is an awesome power, but nowhere near the quasi-divine status people seem to put it at. Awesome though it be, it’s still nothing more than a force of humans, albeit highly trained and superbly equipped. I also think it’s interesting to note that these same people were much quieter, if not totally silent, when it was Clinton who was sending troops into places like Somalia and Kosovo where, in the minds of many people, we had no business being either.
“Thinking back to what little memories I have of Operation: Desert Storm (I’m two months shy of 21 right now), it seemed stunningly short. We’ve done so much with less in 10 days, not the 100 of Desert Storm. The only reason this war feels likes it’s taking so long is because 1) 24/7 exposure thanks to the media and 2) a tiny bit of hubris about our military might.”
I was 20 during DS 1.01. The 24/7 exposure you are experiencing now is a mere refinement of the 24/7 exposure we received then. And the tiny bit of hubris about our military that we may or may not have certainly seems to have been felt by the Bush government prior to a single shot being fired. I remember a few speeches about a swift and just resolution to the war, or something along those lines…
“I also think it’s interesting to note that these same people were much quieter, if not totally silent, when it was Clinton who was sending troops into places like Somalia and Kosovo where, in the minds of many people, we had no business being either.”
The situations in Bosnia and Somalia are in no way comparable to DS 1.02. In Bosnia, US troops were part of an official UN Peacekeeper force. We were — this is important to remember — ASKED to be there by the UN to help stop the genocidal civil war there that was threatening to spill out of Bosnia into the rest of central Europe. In Somalia, the civil war there spilled over onto US embassy and civilian personnel, necessitating the use of US troops in country to make sure those same US citizens could get out of the country other than in bags. In neither case was the vast majority of world governmental and popular opinion against a US troop presence there. In neither case was it the stated goal of the US government to overthrow the leader of the country in question and replace them with one of our own choosing. In neither case did the US overstep its authority and blatantly disregard the UN’s decision on the matter.
I remember how President Clinton asked congress for permission to ask the UN to enforce the cease-fire treaty in Iraq. In 1993. And 1996. And 1997. I remember how a Republican House denied him the authority to do so on the basis that it was only a ploy to distract the American people from scandal X (X being dependent on the year in question). I remember Clinton telling us how Bin Laden was a threat to Americans (this was around 1996-7, as I recall). I remember the Republicans saying how Bin Laden was a myth, and how Clinton was trying to distract us from Monica Lewinsky.
I remember a booming economy that tanked in a matter of months, and economic scandals that threatened members of Bush’s government and cabinet. I remember Bush’s approval rating dropping like a barometer in a hurricane. I remember Democrats throwing their support to Bush in the aftermath of 9/11 on the basis of the promise that he would bring those responsible to justice — a promise that Bush has yet to keep, and one that this war will not fulfill.
I also remember a country where constitutional rights were applicable to all citizens. I remember a country where citizens weren’t disappeared on the basis of the country in which they were born.
If I seem to be critical of the pace of the war, or if I seem to suspect the motives for which it is being fought, or even if I seem to be critical of the Bush government, you’ll have to forgive me. I was, am, and will continue to be all of those things. I will not be silent about this war (not that I’m going to lie down in front of traffic to make my point, mind you). Even if I was silent about Kosovo and Somalia.
One other thing (you’ll have to forgive me again, I’m afraid. It’s quite late and my brain is fried). I also fail to remember a UN resolution against US involvement in either Kosovo or Somalia.
Also, not to nitpick, but wasn’t it George Bush I, not Clinton, who sent our troops into Somalia?
dude, maybe he (rumsfeld)was just being, well, exact, about the forty-nine miles; you know, so that no one could accuse him of lying to the american public.
i grew up in dc. when “watergate” happened, it opened a gaping entry in to the world of total distrust of our government; after all, we then had proof instead of sneaking suspicion to work with.
however, george the later, rather than former, is kinda “one of us,” meaning he, also, was a “kid” during the ‘sixties. his “hippie-ness” just kind of pokes through. in fact, i think i may have seen him at some st. albans mixers, which were literally overrun with uniform clad, rich-kid and brainiac, “hippies.”
we, as gender sequestered females from the ballet academy, located down the road from the cathedral, were invited to these things, or we just wandered in, i can’t remember. no, george didn’t attend st albans, but another all boys’ academy in town, but they all got together (i think) for rock bands and fun.
so, he’s, much, more a dc brat than the undereducated redneck texan some apparently assume him to be. i think it is possible that he is being, exactly, what he appears to be; sensitive, deeply concerned, committed to greater good.
in addition, except for anachronisms in the house in senate, who should die off soon, i think it is entirely possible that our current government, is, being straight up about most things; not, out of fear of being caught, but, because so many in influential positions, are, held by those same “kids” who were so disgusted with “watergate” and with what came later to be recognized as reinvented events of the vietnam war, and with other revealed secrets, ad nauseum…..
‘course, i could just be hopelessly naive and hopeful, i have certainly been accused of such things before.
maybe, just, maybe, we, meaning our country, our government, are truly trying to evolve in to something more honest, more fair, more giving, and, more given to seeking logic over greed and gossip…..hope so. i know that this kind of evolution is certainly the focus of what our “antiestablishment” convictions during the ‘sixties, were all about.
xxoo, mary anne
“dude, maybe he (rumsfeld)was just being, well, exact, about the forty-nine miles; you know, so that no one could accuse him of lying to the american public.”
Well, “less than 49 miles” is no more truthful than “less than 50 miles,” presuming Rumsfeld’s numbers are correct (which I’m happy to do), because “within 49” is a subset of “within 50.” So if was simply a matter of truthfulness, one is as good as the other.
I’m less inclined to believe this particular administration is interested in being upfront and honest than you are, given its predilection for keeping documents classified, pushing various “patriot act” legislations that trim back constitutional rights and holding American citizens without benefit of legal representation until forced to do so by the courts. This isn’t an administration that has much of a “sunshine policy” regarding what it does.
However, in this particular case the issue isn’t *truth,* it’s about the packaging of the truth. I don’t doubt we’re within 49 miles of Baghdad, I just think it’s odd to put such an emphasis on that particular number.
No, it was Clinton who sent in the troops. It was 1994 when the civil war exploded.
It could be “49 miles” rather than “50 miles” because from now until the end of the war, every SINGLE mile is going to be a hard fought slug fest.
herewith, my, imperfect analogy…
if you, assume, your wife is having an affair, and treat her with suspicion, dogging her every moment on the phone, interrogating her when she is forty-nine minutes later getting home than her eta given to you, eventually, she may, just because you have already “convicted” her, decide to go with a “damned if you do/don’t” policy, and just have the stupid affair, anyway, even though the thought might not have occurred to her prior to your harassment rituals. or, she might try to, sweetly, persuade you that the affair is a figment of your paranoid insecure imagination, which imagination attacks you every time you peer in the mirror and see that less than perfect male specimen peering back. she might just go ahead and have the affair because you are no longer the confident charming relaxed trusting guy she married, and she’s looking around for another guy like that. she might, instead, assume that the reason you are being so paranoid is that, you, are flirting around on the side, and your guilt has driven you to fear of her doing the same. or, she might totally ignore your insanity, because she loves you, and go about her business, hoping, that you will eventually realize what idiocy you have been so diligently perfecting…maybe, she was having the damned affair all along, but, not wanting to hurt you, and struggling with her conflict to get out of it, she finally ends the affair, and never does the same thing again, because, she, is not happy with the women peering out of the mirror, and she wants her “old faithful” self back…or, she is a demon goddess from hell, has, always, cheated on you, is mildly amused by your panic, laughs about you with her, numerous, boyfriends, and plans to divorce you, for incompatibility, just as soon as the assets column piles up enough and she is sure she can convince a judge of what a loon you are, so that she doesn’t have to deal with the headaches of joint custody..
people can’t even work this stuff out on a personal level, too, well; look at the divorce rate.
so, what kind of government are we married to, these days? maybe, it is one full of people who can not stand by and let saddam do his crazy thing, one full of people who want keep their cars full of gas, one full of people who are, trying, to be up front, but maybe aren’t telling the whole scoop, because they don’t even know what the scoop is, or that the scoop in question doesn’t look too good and they are trying to “fix” it, or one full of people who are just a bunch of power hungry, self-serving, sociopaths to whom lying is an effortlessly brilliant game…..
uh, so, a, difference here, is that you can tap your wife’s phone, or have her followed around with a camera snapping guy, and these options are not available to us re our government. we either have to trust, distrust, or some combination of both. i prefer to trust, than to assume that they are corrupt oinkers. of, course, i could be wrong about the whole thing. i just don’t want to live in a personal hell of fear and suspicion, when, maybe, they are just a bunch of mostly well meaning, sometimes bungling, humans, who get caught in the shmooze and booze, needing to be lightly slapped back in to ethical consciousness once in a while.
xxoo, mary anne
oh, and, touche, on the “within” thing, although, i think he was just saying, “from” or, that maybe it was, exactly, forty-nine miles when they were last notified and reasonably assumed that some more distance had been covered..or, that the area they are located in covers a distance which starts at forty-nine miles out and includes all of the space which is required to hold that many people….maybe we should stop looking for subtext and manipulation when, maybe,it’s just a semantics thing, or, you know, a mistake. :)
I remain unconvinced that Camp X-Ray is the action of a group of “mostly well-meaning…humans.” Certainly if it is, I would hate to see what would come out of this administration when it quit being friendly.
I’m not exactly sure if I follow the analogy there, Mary Anne. Personally, if I thought my wife was having an affair, I’d just ask her about it and dispense with both the pre- and post- psychological angst.
But I think the larger issue there you’re trying to point to here is to ask whether one should fundamentally trust or fundamentally distrust the government. My personal opinion is to go with the Founding Fathers, who implicitly distrusted government — so much so that they intentially designed our government such that it is internally inefficient for the purposes of governing (you know it as “checks and balances”), and saddled it with operating instructions (The Constitution) that explicitly set specific limits on what the government can do, and also allows the citizenry to change the small-c constitution of the government on a regular basis (voting).
There’s nothing *wrong* with being fundamentally distrustful of the government — indeed, it’s the American Way. Be that as it may, some governments and administrations are to be distrusted more than others, and my personal inclination regarding the administration at hand, based on its previous actions, is to distrust it rather significantly.
I don’t know that much about Rumsfield, but one thing I’ve noticed about military men and women in general is that they tend to insert a lot of unnecessary detail and accuracy into their conversation, out of habit. Like the Apache pilot I heard interviewed on NPR the other day, talking about being forced to ditch due to mechanical problems, placidly recounting the incident, including landing at a “35 degree” cant. I remember being amazed that during what has to one of the most terrifying few seconds of a pilot’s life, he took notice of the precise angle at which the chopper finally came to rest. This seems to be a recurrant theme, listening to millitary personnel; they don’t like to say they are engaging “tanks” if they can say “T-55s” instead; they don’t like to say they are engaging “dozens” of enemy combatants if they can say they are engaging “at least 27”; they prefer to tell you the range to a target in yards rather than miles if they can. I imagine that after a career of this it becomes a habit that no amount of “how to talk to the public” lessons can erase. I suspect it’s similar to the mental hangup I encounter, as an engineer, when I try to generalize – the subconscious rule is, “why on earth be general when you know specifics? More information is *always* better, right?” Which tends to annoy the non-engineers I talk to, understandably.
So for all I know you could be right; but my gut reaction is to cut him some slack for being immersed in a business where specificity is a way of life.