Along the Tracks

Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Hopeful signs

No, certainly not this attack. Read further down, however, and you’ll find that there are signs the administration is “rethinking” its strategy in Iraq. That can only mean two things, really: An accelerated pullout or a fresh offensive to smash these insurgents and terrorists. Based on what I’ve seen Bush say, and what I’ve seen him do, I believe it will be the latter.

Last night, I heard Sen. John McCain talking on Sean Hannity’s radio show about the need for more troops with a specific offensive strategy to eliminate these last dead-enders. I, too, (with a much smaller pulpit) have been calling for a major operation - an “Operation Iraqi Anaconda,” if you will. It really comes down to whether we can sustain the support of a majority of Iraqis, and the support of a majority of Americans, if we allow the Baathist-al Qaeda forces to write their own headlines with bombings, shoulder-fired missiles and assassinations. Frankly, I don’t think we can. High-velocity media cycles build what is in reality a small part of the story in Iraq into a machine gun burst of blood and obituaries. Each attack eats up the portion of the front page or the newscast slotted for Iraq. Until the U.S. retakes control of those headlines - with a military offensive against the holdouts, with high-profile success stories, and with new fronts (not necessarily military) in the War on Terrorism - the daily news stories will serve as a bludgeon on the public. Iraqis don’t want to see their relatives and friends killed and maimed; Americans don’t want to see their relatives and friends in uniform killed and maimed either.

Many are saying we need to keep perspective here - far more were dying in Vietnam, Korea, WW II, etc. If the calculation were simply about lives sacrificed to achieve victory, I’d agree (this is not meant to diminish the importance of each life, but to accept that freedom and security often come at a terrible price). Unfortunately, that’s not the calculation which will determine “success” because people are being led by the media to determine the war’s results EVERY DAY. And a single death is presented as a greater “negative” on the balance than any positive - on the rare occasion the media mentions a positive.

So, while 400 dead to liberate 23 million people and end a threat to national security would seem the epitome of success, that’s not what the media is asking people (indirectly through headlines and stories, directly through polls and quotes) to judge. Instead, people are shown the scene in Iraq (often in biased fashion) right now - struggling to recover, lacking in many services, costing billions, contending with violence - and presented the cost in dead soldiers and civilians that day. No balanced reporting which would explain the numbers Saddam was killing daily; no comparisons of life in Iraq with life in Syria or Saudi Arabia or Iran; and absolutely, positively no mention of 9/11 and the cost Islamic terrorism has imposed on the United States prior to the War on Terrorism in comparison to such attacks since.

Is it right? Is it fair? Is the media serving its constitutionally protected function of informing the American people so they can make good decisions? Heck no! It is, however, reality, and there is no sense expecting the media to change anytime soon - even though trying is well worth the effort. In the meantime, the war’s supporters must come to grips with this dynamic and, even more so, the administration must realize just how tenacious American support may be as the public is asked daily whether a messy Iraq is worth another hometown boy in a body bag.

That means ending those daily “blood-and-guts” headlines. That means killing and capturing the insurgents. That means a major combat operation.

Let’s roll.

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