The Breakfast Table

Spinning the War

Dear Mary,

Yes, the train kept the story on most of our front pages. Was it just the Sun that dared to be different, taking a break from “backing our boys” with a worrying account of how Prince William has hurt his finger? But I see from Slate’s indispensable Morning Delivery that today’s American papers mostly led with the latest fluctuation in the Clinton-Jones epic: The train got a picture on Page One, but with text inside. This interests me in a narrow professional sense, of course. With the editor of the Economist away in India (we’re opening a new bureau there; many bigwigs to be greeted), it falls to me to decide what to put on the cover of this week’s issue. I’d better not say what I’m thinking–I’m sure competitors are hanging on my every word–but the fact that America may be starting to tire of a war that doesn’t seem to be getting anywhere has been duly noted.

Don’t you like Wesley Clark? When I watched him last night I was quite impressed–he seemed very clear and firm about his responsibilities as opposed to those of his political leaders. He didn’t waffle. Yes, he said we’re winning, whatever that means, but he couldn’t say much else. If the operation has been bungled, it really isn’t the military’s fault–they have been told to fight a (sort of) war without hurting the other side’s civilians. I suppose you saw the report from John Simpson saying that the allies may even be warning the Serbs of attacks so they can get civilians out of the way. It’s an impossible job. And as for what the strategists’ advice to the political leaders was before the bombing started–hasn’t it now emerged that they said an air campaign wouldn’t be enough by itself, and that Milosevic might accelerate the cleansing once we started? Clinton, Blair, and the others apparently decided to ignore that information and go ahead anyway.

My main doubt about the prowess of the military concerns all this wonderful (and awesomely expensive) technology. After the Iraq war, and what we later learned about all those videos of missiles popping down chimneys (makers’ promos, in some cases), I thought we might be spared all that this time. But no. We are treated nightly to the same kind of footage, plus briefing to say how much more effective the weapons are by now. Yet as you say, an invisible, high-flying F-117 is still brought down (it must have been by luck, or “old technology,” we are told); bombs and missiles still “go astray” and kill people they aren’t supposed to.

Coming back to the cover, I think I can risk saying: Not Donald Dewar, whatever happens. Any other ideas?