HERSH: Well, you know, what I was writing about in The New Yorker this week is our plan is to pull out American troops if we start to do that. And I think the president probably will next year. But the war is not going to slow down. We're going to increase the pace of air operations. There's going to be more bombing in direct support of Iraqi units now.
BLITZER: Let me read to you what you write in The New Yorker magazine, the article entitled "Up in the Air." "A key element of the drawdown plans, not mentioned in the President's public statements, is that the departing American troops will be replaced by American airpower. Quick, deadly strikes by U.S. warplanes are seen as a way to improve dramatically the combat capability of even the weakest Iraqi combat units."
Wasn't this the US strategy in Vietnam after Nixon's re-election in 1972? Or do I have my history facts wrong?
Anyway, Hersh then goes on to explain the reason why the US will substitute ground troops with air strikes (basically b/c the Iraqi troops are so weak that they won't be able to defend the Iraqi political regime):
HERSH: Absolutely. Not very competent. Very weak. And if we must -- many of them Shiite, many of them controlled by militias. I mean, they're not necessarily loyal to any particular regime. And if we pull away the American ground support and the American air support, they're in trouble.
But if we -- we can take out troops if we increase air. In other words, the temple of air bombing, bombing's sort of the unknown story right now. We don't know how many bombs are dropped, where. Nobody reports publicly as they did, Wolf, in Vietnam.
During the Vietnam war, we got a daily total of how many missions, sorties per day, how much tonnage. We have no idea here how many bombs are actually dropping every day and where. But the idea is, you increase the pace of the bombing. And that will make an inadequate Iraqi unit be able to stand up a little bit, certainly against the insurgency. That's the thinking.
Sy Hersh then continues that there are several Air Force generals who have expressed concerns to him about the safety of our Air Force, using this new approach:
BLITZER: And then you go on to write this: "The prospect of using air power as a substitute for American troops on the ground has caused great unease. For one thing, Air Force commanders, in particular, have deep-seated objections to the possibility that Iraqis eventually will be responsible for target selection. 'Will the Iraqis call in air strikes in order to snuff rivals, or other warlords, or to snuff members of your own sect and blame someone else?' another senior military planner now on assignment in the Pentagon asked."
Your concern, specifically, is that American air power, which can be decisive, clearly, is going to be used for untoward, for bad purposes.
HERSH: It's not my concern. It's the concern of many senior generals in the air business, you know, in the Air Force. And planners, because they say, this is, you know, the power of American air is enormous. And the idea, it's, and it's, this is a skill.
People talk in terms, to me, the Air Force planners, of the exquisite nature of air bombing. The idea that you're going to turn over this control, this kind of force, to Iraqi units who can be penetrated by the insurgency, that have a lot of internal battles, as I say, many are militias. And they have problems that other people and other militias -- who knows what will motivate them?
BLITZER: So your concern is the spotters on the ground, the people who are going to be targeting, finding targets are going to be Iraqis as owe opposed to Americans. HERSH: It's the concern of a lot of people in the Pentagon. They'll tell you no, that they're going to be joint units. The Pentagon will officially say there's going to be joint units, Iraqi and Americans together. But eventually we know it will evolve into Iraqis calling in targets.
And it's not just spotting. We use a lot of sophisticated laser guided weapons and you have to have somebody on the ground to actually do a strike or illuminate a target with a laser beam for the plane to come in. And as I've had people in the Air Force say to me, what are we going to be bombing? Barracks? Hospitals? You know, who knows who's going to be telling us what to do?
BLITZER: So what you're hearing is that the U.S. air power, the U.S. Air Force, they're getting jittery even thinking about the fact that they may be called in to launch air strikes based on what they're getting from Iraqis on the ground.
HERSH: It is good to know there is a lot of ethics in the Air Force. There's a lot of guys that are, that drop the, they know the force of the weapons they have, and they don't want to be responsible for bombing the wrong targets. They don't want non-Americans telling them what to do. This is a real doctrinal issue that's being fought right now in the Pentagon.
Ademption: I didn't think about this before (I'm not that familiar with military strategy), but I think Mr. Hersh raises a HUGE concern. If we can't rely on Iraqis to give us the proper intelligence on the ground, then how can we rely on the same intelligence sources to target the right people in airstrikes?
Mr. Hersh then goes on to write in his new article about Pres. Bush's precarious mental state:
BLITZER: In this new article you have in The New Yorker, you also write this about the president: " 'The president is more determined than ever to stay the course,' the former defense official said. 'He doesn't feel any pain. Bush is a believer in the adage, "People may suffer and die, but the Church advances." ' He said that the president had become more detached, leaving more issues to Karl Rove and Vice President Cheney. 'They keep him in the gray world of religious idealism, where he wants to be anyway,' the former defense official said."
HERSH: Suffice to say this, that this president in private, at Camp David with his friends, the people that I'm sure call him George, is very serene about the war. He's upbeat. He thinks that he's going to be judged, maybe not in five years or ten years, maybe in 20 years. He's committed to the course. He believes in democracy.
HERSH: He believes that he's doing the right thing, and he's not going to stop until he gets -- either until he's out of office, or he falls apart, or he wins.
BLITZER: But this has become, your suggesting, a religious thing for him? HERSH: Some people think it is. Other people think he's absolutely committed, as I say, to the idea of democracy. He's been sold on this notion.
He's a utopian, you could say, in a world where maybe he doesn't have all the facts and all the information he needs and isn't able to change.
I'll tell you, the people that talk to me now are essentially frightened because they're not sure how you get to this guy.
We have generals that do not like -- anymore -- they're worried about speaking truth to power. You know that. I mean that's -- Murtha in fact, John Murtha, the congressman from Pennsylvania, which most people don't know, has tremendous contacts with the senior generals of the armies. He's a ranking old war horse in Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. The generals know him and like him. His message to the White House was much more worrisome than maybe to the average person in the public. They know that generals are privately telling him things that they're not saying to them.
And if you're a general and you have a disagreement with this war, you cannot get that message into the White House. And that gets people unnerved.
BLITZER: Here's what you write. You write, "Current and former military and intelligence officials have told me that the president remains convinced that it is his personal mission to bring democracy to Iraq, and that he is impervious to political pressure, even from fellow Republicans. They also say that he disparages any information that conflicts with his view of how the war is proceeding."
Those are incredibly strong words, that the president basically doesn't want to hear alternative analysis of what is going on.
HERSH: You know, Wolf, there is people I've been talking to -- I've been a critic of the war very early in the New Yorker, and there were people talking to me in the last few months that have talked to me for four years that are suddenly saying something much more alarming.
They're beginning to talk about some of the things the president said to him about his feelings about manifest destiny, about a higher calling that he was talking about three, four years ago.
I don't want to sound like I'm off the wall here. But the issue is, is this president going to be capable of responding to reality? Is he going to be able -- is he going to be capable if he going to get a bad assessment, is he going to accept it as a bad assessment or is he simply going to see it as something else that is just a little bit in the way as he marches on in his crusade that may not be judged for 10 or 20 years.
He talks about being judged in 20 years to his friends. And so it's a little alarming because that means that my and my colleagues in the press corps, we can't get to him maybe with our views. You and you can't get to him maybe with your interviews.
How do you get to a guy to convince him that perhaps he's not going the right way?
Jack Murtha certainly didn't do it. As I wrote, they were enraged at Murtha in the White House.
And so we have an election coming up -- Yes. I've had people talk to me about maybe Congress is going to have to cut off the budget for this war if it gets to that point. I don't think they're ready to do it now.
But I'm talking about sort of a crisis of management. That you have a management that's seen by some of the people closely involved as not being able to function in terms of getting information it doesn't want to receive.
Ademption: This latest bit from Sy Hersh seems to reinforce other stories we've heard about Pres. Bush's isolation from the rest of the administration. From the Newsweek's article in the middle of the Katrina crisis, where Andy Card and others were afraid to confront Pres. Bush to recent reports that he only talks to Laura Bush et al. The more and more I hear about Pres. Bush lately, the more I wonder if he's going to have a mental breakdown or something. This is simply too frightening for words to think that no one can tell the "leader of the free world" that we might have to nip the "freedom is on the march" in Iraq and the Middle East in the bud. We live in scary times. I hope that the defense official that Sy Hersh talked to was exaggerating or something. That would be much more comforting than seeing "The Madness of King George" play out in modern times. Scary stuff indeed!!
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