Sunday, June 17, 2007

Explaining Iraq

I have made numerous presentations on Iraq since my return. I have a Power Point presentation filled with photographs and I use these photographs to educate the audience on Iraq, Iraqis and what it was like for me to spend a year in a combat zone. In the three years since my return the tone and topics of my presentations have evolved.

Now, when I give my presentations, as I did two weeks ago to a local Lion's Club, the audiences want to know what I think about the war. I know that I am going to get this question, and I have given a lot of thought to my answers. As a veteran of this war I know that my opinion carries extra weight. The number of people who know anything about Iraq, much less have actually visited the country, are extremely small as a percentage of the population. I can tell the audiences are looking to me for some special insight on this very difficult and complex problem.

A lot of how I feel about the war is conveyed in the tone of my presentation. I spend some time talking about the Iraqis, and how impressed I became with their sense of family, faith and work ethic. Most importantly, I talk about the many Iraqis who personally thanked me for coming to Iraq to relieve them of the burden of Saddam Hussein. I honestly bring up the fact that I have made a very large personal investment in this war and thus have a biased opinion about whether we should cut our losses or continue with this project until the end.

To most Americans the Iraq war is a daily, depressing irritant, a constant litany of violence and casualties endured for purposes they don't comprehend on a time line that stretches into the indefinite future. This steady stream of negative news comes with very little historical, political or geographical context. Television news, particularly, is so depressing that I quit watching it.

The news events that are relayed to us are structured in many ways by our enemy. Whether you want to call this enemy Al Qaeda or Islamo-fascists or some other term, they are very skilled in information warfare.

During the 1984 campaign for the presidency, Ronald Reagan ran against Walter Mondale. Michael Deaver, an aide to Reagan, constructed Reagan's campaign appearances so that there were a lot of good television visuals: balloons rising into the air, flags streaming, dancers, etc. Lesley Stahl, the CBS White House correspondent, prepared a hard-hitting and extremely critical piece on Reagan for the evening news. After the piece aired she called a source in the White House, expecting a lambasting. Instead, he thanked her profusely. Shocked, Lesley asked for an explanation. The response: the visuals in the piece were fabulous. The moral: the viewers don't listen to what you say, they take their cue from the visuals.

There are no "good" television visuals on Iraq. The commentary or the text of the story may be good but the visual is: car bomb. Last fall, for example, Anbar province was in the news. Ramadi and Fallujah were inundated in violence. The media leaked a Marine intelligence report that said that the counterinsurgency campaign in Anbar province had no chance of success. The situation in Anbar has changed dramatically since last Fall. The Sunni tribes in the province are now allied with the Iraqi government and the Coalition against Al Qaeda and the influence of foreign terrorists. The text of this remarkable turnaround may have been communicated to the American people, but the visual for the day was: car bomb.

Senator Joe Lieberman, in an editorial on Friday's Wall Street Journal, wrote that during his recent visit to Iraq he was told that 90% of the suicide bombings in that country were generated by Al Qaeda backed groups. The fact that most of the car bombs are now detonating in Diyala province rather than Baghdad is lost on most Americans since it is all "Iraq" to them. All the visuals are still car bombs.

The "center of gravity" is the military term for the source of a nation's or a combatants power. The center of gravity for the United States in the Iraqi war lies in the support of the American public for this conflict. While the immediate target of the car bombs in Iraq are checkpoints, bridges, and police stations, the real target is the cable news cycle and the opportunity to reinforce to American viewers that the war is senseless, endless and un-winnable.

1 comment:

  1. I don't know if I agree with your argument that an American populace more educated about Iraq would support the war. It's certainly draining to attempt to keep up with what is going on there. I try not to invest too much in the coverage of the war or in Iraq itself anymore. I'm so worn down by the difficulties of the situation. Not knowing a winning horse to back because they all seem doomed to lose. It's apathy inducing. But I've felt that almost from the beginning - even in the fall of 2002. I was never convinced to support the war but I didn't feel I knew enough to condemn it.