Jewish World Review April 8, 2003 / 6 Nisan, 5763
The latest in reality TV is …
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Media reporting of the war--notably that of the round-the-clock cable networks--has been rather like the Republican Guard, occupying positions rapidly rendered untenable by the envelopments of our armed forces. Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, dealt very well with the incoming second-guessing. It was, he said, "bogus" and unhelpful to troops on the ground.
It is the troops on the ground who have routed the Monday-morning quarterbacks and armchair generals by their spectacular performance, reaching the outskirts of Baghdad in only 14 days. The average of 75 miles a day for the first four days surpassed the advance of the Germans in Russia in 1941 and in North Africa in 1942, the Soviets in the Ukraine in 1944, Israel in the Sinai in 1967, and the United States during Desert Storm in 1991. Our personnel losses averaged about four a day versus 40 during the four-day campaign at the end of Operation Desert Storm.
The media misapprehensions are not malicious. They are the result of the TV equivalent of jet lag. The print media are less susceptible since they can more readily assess the flow and calibrate the significance of items in a certain hierarchy of importance. Television's opportunities--and problems--are more acute in this war than in any other because we have an entirely new system of communication. We have more than 500 embedded reporters, videophones, and 24-hour news channels that simply don't have 24 hours of news to report.
Perspective is elusive. There has never been a more vivid dramatization of the real-time reality of war. The public is transfixed by live pictures of explosions in Baghdad, a daring rescue in night-vision green, helicopters rocketing Fedayeen outposts, hand-held cameras bouncing around the battlefield, masked soldiers in chemical kits. It is like a large-scale reality-TV show, but it is hard to get perspective from the unfiltered torrent of information and images. A skirmish is presented with the same intensity as a major battle. A news story one day seems to disappear into the swirling Iraqi sands the next. A line of camels is confused with a line of vehicles. It is not so much misinformation or disinformation as excess information, as day-to-day events are magnified by the illusion that each hour of the news adds up to a total insight and understanding of how the overall war is going. Electronically, we simply can't see the desert for the sand.
The result of all this is that the public mood has been whipsawed from highs to lows in a way that has very little to do with how the war is really going. The judgment at this magazine is that it is going well.
Indeed, the absence of certain television images is what has counted. American forces made a major move that crushed several of the Iraqi divisions in the oil fields. It didn't get the attention it deserved because tranquillity and normality don't make for good TV pictures. As one outstanding British military analyst, Lawrence Freedman, wrote: "The drama of war lies in combat, but the source of victory lies in logistics." But logistics, the resupplying of our forces and the inability of Saddam Hussein to replace his, are not the stuff of electronic drama. Then, too, other operational successes of the war have taken place off camera--for good reason.
The criticism that has accompanied this war isn't unusual. We saw it shortly after the bombing campaign started in Kosovo. We saw it when the war in Afghanistan, only just begun, was labeled a "quagmire." A few days later, the Taliban was in full rout.
It is true that in this war too much easy talk raised expectations. The pre-war hype aggravated disappointment when the coalition kicked in the front door and the building did not collapse on cue. It is true that the unhappily labeled "shock and awe" did not produce instant surrender. It is true, too, that we were surprised by the resiliency of the regime, the tenacity of local resistance, and the role of paramilitary forces. But this must be seen in the context of the very different moral and political standards by which America is fighting. We are going through an awful lot of trouble not to kill Iraqis. We have suffered by our restraint since the cruel use of civilians as shields for gunmen and bombers has cost us lives--and cost the lives of innocent civilians.
We have not pounded Baghdad into rubble; we avoided some targets for fear of collateral damage. We bombed only a limited set of regime centers, enabling life in the city to go on more or less as usual. Our forbearance allowed the Iraqi regime to portray a resilient population, standing behind its government, without its having to worry that the morale of the people would crash because of overwhelming attacks on services vital to everyday life.
Now, as victory nears, we must do our best to avoid a slow and ugly finale.
We will "win" in the end; it will be a matter for pride but not for celebration.
Too many lives have been sacrificed. Too much remains to be done.
Like this writer's work? Why not sign-up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.