Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Outside In and Inside Out

Rummy was grumpy. TV generals and Pentagon reporters were poking at his war plan, wondering if he had enough troops and armor on the ground to take Baghdad and protect the rear of his advancing infantry.

"It's a good plan," the war tsar insisted with a grimace, adding that battle is "a tough business."

The cocky theorists of the administration, and their neo-con gurus, are now faced with reality and history: the treacherous challenge, and the cost in lives and money, of bringing order out of chaos in Iraq. With sandstorms blackening their TV screens, with POWs and casualties tearing at their hearts, Americans are coming to grips with the triptych of bold transformation experiments that are now in play.

There is the president's dream of remaking the Middle East to make America safer from terrorists. There is Dick Cheney's desire to transform America into a place that flexes its power in the face of any evil. There is Donald Rumsfeld's transformation of the U.S. military, changing from the old heavy ground forces to smaller, more flexible units with high-tech weapons.

When Tommy Franks and other generals fought Rummy last summer, telling him he could not invade Iraq without overwhelming force, the defense chief treated them like old Europe, acting as if they just didn't get it. He was going to send a smaller force on a lightning-quick race to Baghdad, relying on air strikes and psychological operations -- leaflets to civilians and e-mail and calls to Iraqi generals -- to encourage Iraqis to revolt against Saddam. The administration was afraid that with too many Iraqis dead, America would lose the support of the world. But some generals worry that by avoiding tactics that could kill Iraqi civilians and "baby-talking" the Iraqi military, we have emboldened the enemy and endangered U.S. troops.

Despite the vast sums we spend on our intelligence and diplomatic services, American officials often seem clueless about the culture of our adversaries. After Vietnam, Robert McNamara admitted that he and other war planners had never understood Vietnamese history and culture. Our intelligence services didn't see the Iranian revolution coming, or the Soviet Union's breakup.

It's hard to know why the administration seems so surprised at Iraqi ruses. As Sun Tzu, the ancient Chinese military tactician who inspired the "shock and awe" campaign, noted, "All war is deception." Besides, the Iraqis used similar fake surrender tricks in the last gulf war.

It's also hard to know why the Pentagon is surprised at Iraqi brutality, or at the failure of Iraqi ethnic groups, deserted by America after the last gulf war, to celebrate their "liberation" by the United States, or by the hardened resistance of Saddam loyalists like the fedayeen, who have no escape hatch this time around.

American war planners were privately experiencing some shock and awe at Iraqi obliviousness to shock and awe, which we can see on TV, as Iraqis crowd into restaurants and onto roofs to watch the bombing. Miscalculating, the Pentagon delayed trying to take down Iraqi TV until Tuesday because it hoped to use the network after the war. But that target should have been one of the first so the Iraqis could not have peddled their propaganda, paraded POWs and shown brazen speeches by Saddam, and the mockery of Iraqi officials over the predictions of a quick victory.

The Pentagon considered last year an "inside out" strategy that would rely on dropping Special Forces into Baghdad, with U.S. forces then taking over the rest of the country. That was scrapped in favor of the "outside in" strategy that we're now witnessing. But Saddam has turned our strategy upside down with his own "inside out" strategy.

Tragically for everybody, the Iraqi fiend is still inside, dug in and diabolically determined to kill as many people as he can on the way out.

Maureen Dowd is a columnist for The New York Times, where this comment first appeared.