Press Box

Pollyanna Pincus

The Washington Post’s national security reporter—and his nameless sources—smell easy victory over Iraq.

You expect the hometown boosters on the Washington Post “Sports” page to make the best case for the Redskins when they play, but you’d expect a lot more from the likes of its national staff as we go marching into war.

But there it is, on Page One and above the fold of yesterday’s Post: “Attack May Spark Coup in Iraq, Say U.S. Analysts; Ouster of Hussein Tied to Onset of Military Action.” National security reporter Walter Pincus reports that it’s the “consensus” view of “senior intelligence experts inside and outside government” that the United States could win victory over Iraq without firing a shot.

Evidently, in the days or hours preceding the attack, “Hussein would likely be ousted in a coup led by members of his inner circle,” the consensus whispered to Pincus. We can assume that the experts were unanimous in predicting this coup because Pincus didn’t quote a single discouraging word. And yet, for all their confidence in a bloodless rout, not one of Pincus’ voices of unanimity would put his speculations on the record.

Now, I’m all in favor of sources—named, unnamed, and those who insist on using their middle names—speculating about what may or may not happen in the World Series, the swooning stock market, and even the coming war in Iraq. But in this case, surely there’s one lone nut in the national security establishment that designed the Bay of Pigs, imagined a light at the end of the Vietnam tunnel, sent rescuers to their unfortunate end at Desert One, and billeted Marines in Beirut who could imagine the stark opposite to the consensus.

Remember, this is the same national security establishment that figured the Gulf War would result in a Mussolini-like end for Saddam.

I refuse to believe that Pincus is stealing a sportswriters’ move or that he’s stroking his sources by publishing their pleasant prognostications. But if the consensus view is that Saddam’s crew will turn on him without a fight and Pincus can’t scare up a dissenting “analyst,” shouldn’t he draw on his own insights to note that the not-for-attribution ass-coverers have been wrong many times before? This piece is the sort you expect from the jingo-dancers at the Weekly Standard, not Page One of the Post.

If Pincus won’t do it, I will: Thousands of officers faced and ate death in Gulf War I without turning on Saddam. Why shouldn’t we expect them to do it again? Post reporter David Von Drehle plays the anti-Pollyanna with his fine bit of speculative work in today’s Post, “Debate Over Iraq Focuses On Outcome; Multiple Scenarios Drive Questions About War.” Quoting from testimony given by retired Gen. Joseph Hoar before Congress, Von Drehle posits a possibility:

“The nightmare scenario is that six Iraqi Republican Guard divisions and six heavy divisions, reinforced with several thousand antiaircraft artillery pieces, defend the city of Baghdad. The result would be high casualties on both sides, as well as in the civilian community … [and] the rest of the world watches while we bomb and have artillery rounds exploded in densely populated Iraqi neighborhoods,” Hoar testified before Congress. “It looks like the last 15 minutes of Saving Private Ryan.”

I’d love to hear one of Pincus’ nameless multitudes refute this speculation.