If the military invasion of Iraq got off to a "rolling start," the bureaucratic and political fratricide in Washington began with full "shock and awe" firepower.
Supposedly, Americans hold their critical tongues after the first shot of war is fired. Allegedly, patriots end their arguments at the water's edge.
Not this crop of Republicans and beltway warriors.
The second-guessing of the Pentagon's war plan has been instantaneous and ferocious.
Well before Operation Iraqi Freedom was even two weeks old, the military strategy behind it was under siege and predictions of disaster were common. The most listened-to critics were not Democrats, protesters or foreigners.
They were generals, ex-generals, and wise men, often anonymous, associated with the regime of Bush the Elder.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, according to an apparently orchestrated squadron of "sources," was trying to wage war "on the cheap." Vice President Cheney, they said, led a brigade of counselors who gave the president "bum advice." Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz has also sustained some collateral damage from the critics.
Now, to be even grudgingly fair, the most hardened skeptic would have to say it's too early for definitive judgments on the war plan and its execution. The country's mood bobs like a sewing machine needle. It's Vietnam on Tuesday, Grenada on Thursday. It's emotion.
But the critics of the Rumsfeld-Cheney-Wolfowitz cabal are serious people.
Early into the action, Lt. Gen. William S. Wallace, the Army's senior ground commander in Iraq, said, "The enemy we're fighting is a bit different from the one we war-gamed against."
Joseph Hoar, the retired marine general who was commander in chief of CENTCOM from 1991 to 1994, wrote an op-ed piece in the The New York Times entitled, "Why Aren't There Enough Troops in Iraq?"
Retired General Barry McCaffrey, who commanded an infantry division in Desert Storm, was even more critical in numerous television appearances.
The Washington Post and The New Yorker reported voluminous anonymous quotes from active generals, ex-generals (essentially the Defense establishment) and Bush I statesmen accusing Rumsfeld of being a micromanager and an ideologue who didn't send enough force into Iraq to get the job done.
This is an astounding amount of friendly fire at an early point in a war where Americans are getting killed.
And while it seems premature and venal, it also must be said that the Bush administration made its own bed in this regard.
The administration's marketing and customer relations departments did a lousy job of preparing the nation, the bureaucracy and the world for this war.
They did not manage to build a wide coalition of big-country allies willing to contribute to the fight.
Open schisms with the CIA about the extent of Saddam's connection to al Qaeda forged a credibility gap about the case against Saddam.
The Pentagon pushed a strategy of "shock and awe" that did not pan out. They rejected mainstream Pentagon advice to send more boots to Iraq.
Administration spokesmen were irresponsibly optimistic about how short and easy the war would be until the very last minute. They over-promised and under-warned.
And they still treat all questioners and worriers as unpatriotic, ill-informed rats.
So serious players who were dissed in the war planning are eager to get on the record before the final battles. And we in the national audience are primed to listen to them carefully.
Dick Meyer, a veteran political and investigative producer for CBS News, is Editorial Director of CBSNews.com based in Washington.
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Against the Grain
By Dick Meyer