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November 28, 2005
The Missing Element Of Blame For Ignorance On Iraq

The Washington Post carries an interesting argument from Michael O'Hanlon from the Brookings Institute on the divergence of military and civilian opinion on the war in Iraq, a separation that he calls dangerous in the long run for American political discourse. O'Hanlon acknowledges that the support for the war in Iraq among military personnel goes far beyond the normal top-level cheeriness down to at least the mid-level officer corps, and wonders why that doesn't translate to better civilian support:

In recent months a civil-military divide has emerged in the United States over the war in Iraq. Unlike much of the Iraq debate between Democrats and Republicans, it is over the present and the future rather than the past. Increasingly, civilians worry that the war is being lost, or at least not won. But the military appears as confident as ever of ultimate victory. This difference of opinion does not amount to a crisis in national resolve, and it will not radically affect our Iraq policy in the short term. But it is insidious and dangerous nonetheless. To the extent possible, the gap should be closed. ...

The military's enthusiasm about the course of the war may be natural among those four-star officers in leadership positions, for it has largely become their war. Their careers have become so intertwined with the campaign in Iraq that truly independent analysis may be difficult. But it is striking that most lower-ranking officers seem to share the irrepressible optimism of their superiors. In talking with at least 50 officers this year, I have met no more than a handful expressing any real doubt about the basic course of the war.

Contrast that with the rest of the country. The polls are clear; the American public is deeply worried and increasingly pessimistic. The numbers are not (yet) abysmal; 30 to 40 percent still seem bullish on trends in Iraq. But even among those who strongly support the Bush administration, doubts are emerging. Among defense and Middle East analysts, my own informal survey suggests at least as negative an overall outlook, with decidedly more pessimism than optimism. Even among centrists who supported the war or saw the case for it, optimism is now hard to find. Many expect things to get worse, even much worse, in the coming months and years.

O'Hanlon only barely mentions the root cause of this problem -- a national media addicted to a narrative that embues every story with fatalism. The media has become addicted to body counts even though, historically speaking, they have remained low for a conflict of this scope and size. The national media continues to avoid reporting any positive developments from Iraq except those which cannot be ignored, like the national elections. In fact, the reason the successful elections seemed like such a big story was because they were seen as such an anomaly, not because they represented a conscious effort resulting from American plans to establish democracy in stages throughout the country.

When journalists embedded themselves in American units during the initial invasion in March - May 2003, the reports gave a much more balanced look at the military efforts in Iraq. However, the national media derided the efforts of "embeds" as out of context and government-controlled propaganda. Now the reporters choose to write their reports from the Green Zone in Baghdad, far away from the actual fighting going on and reporting instead on nothing more than the number of IEDs and body counts. Only a handful of embeds still exist, and they do not get the kind of national exposure that the 2003 invasion embeds received.

Until the media starts reporting honestly from Iraq, the divergence will continue to grow as civilians continue to operate from ignorance, while the military operates from a position not only of intelligence but from experience. The real danger presented will be the self-fulfillment of the Starship Troopers (movie, not book) paradigm, where the only people qualified to control the military are the military themselves -- and the press will have created that atmosphere based on their short-sighted adherence to their anti-military and anti-Bush biases.

Short answer for O'Hanlon: Press, heal thyself.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at November 28, 2005 6:34 AM

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Tracked on November 29, 2005 12:39 PM


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