Jewish World Review August 29, 2002 / 21 Elul 5762

Thomas Sowell

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The media and the military | Vice President Dick Cheney's speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars on the need to end Saddam Hussein's terrorist regime in Iraq was a much-needed dose of cold, hard reality.

Those who are wringing their hands over the possibility of a pre-emptive strike against Iraq seem not to remember that there has already been a pre-emptive strike against Iraq -- two decades ago. The Israelis bombed a nuclear facility that Saddam Hussein was building at that time -- much to the consternation and condemnation of so-called world opinion. But many an American soldier may have come back alive from the Gulf War of 1991 because of that Israeli strike.

When we are talking about weapons of mass destruction, we are talking about the possibility of waking up some morning and finding half of Chicago in ruins or millions of Americans across the country dying in agony from some biological agent. Make no mistake about it, there are dangers in going into Iraq. But there are huge dangers in just waiting and hoping that nothing bad will happen.

The vice president hit the nail on the head when he called that "wishful thinking or willful blindness."

Not only do we have to worry about what Saddam Hussein will do, we have to keep in mind that other terrorists and other terrorist-sponsoring nations around the world will be watching to see whether we are all talk and no action. Make it safe for other countries to keep harboring terrorist networks, subsidizing suicide bombers, or developing weapons of mass destruction, and nothing else will be safe.

This is one of those situations where caution may be the most dangerous policy. For an individual politician, letting things drift may serve his purpose, even when it is a disservice to the nation. That was certainly Bill Clinton's strategy, which allowed him to pass along the dangers to his successor, instead of confronting them himself.

The biggest difference between Clinton and George W. Bush is that the latter has decided to face the dangers now and seize the initiative. As Ronald Reagan used to say, "If not us, who? And if not now, when?"

One of the things that makes any military action even more dangerous than it needs to be is the irresponsibility of too many print and broadcast journalists. The publishing of leaked military plans is clearly intended to make a pre-emptive strike against Iraq less likely. It also makes success in such a strike less likely -- and higher American casualties more likely.

Irresponsibility and indifference to the American lives put in jeopardy has too often been characteristic of the media in recent wars. During the Gulf War of 1991, a TV reporter announced to the world that the missiles fired by the Iraqis had missed and "landed about five miles north of here." This is the kind of information that allows an enemy to adjust his range and zero in on the target next time.

During the amphibious landing of American troops at night in Somalia, the media met them on the beach with floodlights. Why did the journalists think the troops were landing at night, except to reduce the high risks associated with amphibious landings?

The troops would have been safer landing in broad daylight, when they could at least see any enemy, than landing with media floodlights shining in their eyes. Any enemy could see them without their being able to see back.

During the recent standoff between the Israelis and Palestinian terrorists inside a church in Bethlehem, Geraldo Rivera pointed out Israeli snipers for all the world to see. If those snipers wanted to be seen, they could have worn red uniforms with bull's eyes on their backs.

Maybe this is just naivete about military matters in an era when few people have served in the military. But maybe it represents the "me" generation, when getting the story broadcast overrides any concern about the American lives put at risk.

Either way, in any future military operations, those in charge would do well to keep the media at a distance, where they can do the least harm, and let more young Americans come back home alive.

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JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author of several books, including his latest, The Einstein Syndrome: Bright Children Who Talk Late.


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© 2002, Creators Syndicate