Back Off, Syria and Iran!  MAUREEN DOWD, The New York Times, March 30, 2003

WASHINGTON —We're shocked that the enemy forces don't observe the rules of war. We're shocked that it's hard to tell civilians from combatants, and friends from foes. Adversaries use guerrilla tactics; they are irregulars; they take advantage of the hostile local weather and terrain; they refuse to stay in uniform. Golly, as our secretary of war likes to say, it's unfair.

Some of their soldiers are mere children. We know we have overwhelming, superior power, yet we can't use it all. We're stunned to discover that the local population treats our well-armed high-tech troops like invaders.

Why is all this a surprise again? I know our hawks avoided serving in Vietnam, but didn't they, like, read about it?

"The U.S. was planning on walking in here like it was easy and all," a young marine named Jimmy Paiz told ABC News this weekend with a rueful smile. "It's not that easy to conquer a country, is it?"

We will conquer the country, and it will be gratifying to see the satanic Saddam running like a rat through the rubble of his palaces. But it was hard not to have a few acid flashbacks to Vietnam at warp speed.

The hawks want Iraq to be the un-Vietnam, to persuade us that war is a necessary disciplinary tool of the only superpower, that America has a moral duty to spread democracy. This time, we crush the opposition swiftly. This time, the domino theory works in reverse, as repressive regimes in the Middle East fall in a chain reaction set off by a democratic Baghdad. Yet in just a week we've seen peace marches, world opinion painting us as belligerent, and draining battlefield TV images.

We saw American commanders expressing doubts about a war plan that the Pentagon insisted was going splendidly while being vague about the body count. "The enemy we're fighting is a bit different than the one we war-gamed against," Lt. Gen. William Wallace, the Army's senior ground commander, told reporters. (No doubt, that truthful heads up will earn General Wallace a slap down.)

Retired generals were even more critical of the Rumsfeld doctrine of underwhelming force. The defense chief is so enamored of technology and air power that he overrode the risk of pitting 130,000-strong American ground forces — the vast majority of the front-line troops have never fired at a live enemy before — against 350,000 Iraqi fighters, who have kept their aim sharp on their own people.

The incoherence of the battle plan — which some retired generals say is three infantry divisions short — has made the guts and stamina and ingenuity of American forces even more remarkable.

Rummy was beginning to erase his fingerprints. "The war plan," he said, "is Tom Franks's war plan." Tommy, we hardly knew ye.

Paul Wolfowitz, Rummy's deputy, conceded that the war planners may have underestimated the hardiness of the heartless Iraqi fighters.

This admission is galling. You can't pound the drums for war by saying Saddam is Hitler and then act surprised when he proves ruthless on the battlefield.

In their wild dreamscape, the hawks envision Iraq as the rolling start of a broader campaign to bring other rogue states, like Iran and North Korea, to heel.

But in pursuit of what they call a "moral" foreign policy, they stretched and obscured the truth. First, they hyped C.I.A. intelligence to fit their contention that Saddam and Al Qaeda were linked. Then they sent Colin Powell out with hyped evidence about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. Then, when they were drawing up the battle plan, they soft-pedaled C.I.A. and Pentagon intelligence warnings that U.S. troops would face significant resistance from Saddam's guerrilla fighters.

In cranking up their war plan with expurgated intelligence, the hawks left the ground troops exposed and insufficiently briefed on the fedayeen. Ideology should not shape facts when lives are at stake.

Asked about General Wallace's remarks, Donald Rumsfeld shrugged them off, noting that anyone who read Amnesty International reports should have known the Iraqis were barbarians.

Rummy was too busy shaking his fist at Syria and Iran to worry about the shortage of troops in Iraq.

As one administration official marveled: "Hasn't the guy bitten off enough this week?"