October 30, 2003

Dying For The Cameras

There is something of a roll call of shame for the US that Osama Bin Laden likes to roll out in his messages. Lebanon, where we had troops, were bombed, and withdrew, Somalia, where one nasty incident caused us to turn tail and run, and on and on. If we are to win the war on terrorism, this is a legacy that has to be overcome. It won't be easy. One of the reasons that staying the course in Iraq is so important is that the US needs to provide real proof that it can exercise its considerable power and stay the course until the job is done.

There is another legacy that's out there, the legacy of Tet. Militarily, everyone understands that Tet was a disaster for the N. Vietnamese side. It decimated the Viet Cong's strength and they never quite recovered from it militarily. But the chaos raised during Tet was sufficient that it spooked the media into turning against the war and that psychological consequence turned a military defeat into a strategic victory. Every weak power that confronts the US since then tries to replicate the feat.

On the ground, this translates to killing lots of people in as spectacular and showy a way possible to try to impress the press. The bombing of the ICRC in Baghdad is a case in point. The US military isn't going to be impressed by it. The Iraqi people certainly will resent it. But the press is talking quagmire again so this is a net win for the Baathists.

Essentially, the press is being played for a fool, and not for the first time. The Palestinians have been doing this for years. It's gotten to the point where rock throwers won't start until the press arrives and won't continue after the press leaves. So does the media share culpability if a rock that wouldn't have been thrown without their presence injures someone?

In Iraq, nobody seems to have come up with a scenario for Saddam Hussein or Osama Bin Laden to win militarily. All their victory plans depend on the western press covering them and convincing the american people to pull out. In essence, they're writing press releases in the blood of their victims.

But it would not be hard to counter this trend. If the press, for their own reasons and in their own way, devised a strategy that denied militarily doomed movements the forward momentum they desperately need. If the strategy were explicitly analyzed. If it was made clear that these were the tactics of desperation and that without us helping the bad guys, they just can't win, at that point the cost of mounting such operations would start to exceed their utility.

The media isn't filled with idiots. They've got to know that these movements do this stuff on purpose in an attempt to recreate past US humiliations. So why does it seem that all the mainstream outlets think more seriously how they can maintain editorial independence from their advertisers than independence from terrorist manipulation?

Posted by TMLutas at October 30, 2003 01:54 AM