Fat Steve's Blatherings

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

More From Strategypage

        Austin Bay says that the article I referenced in my last post was by James Dunnigan, as is this second one.  I'll take his word, though I didn't notice any signatures.

        In any case, the second post I just mentioned has some interesting things in it.  The title is: "There's More Going On in Iraq Than a Media Event."  It begins:
        If it weren't for Internet access to troops, expatriates and Iraqis in Iraq, you would think that coalition military operations in Iraq were a major disaster, and that prompt withdrawal was the only reasonable course of action.  But the mass media view of the situation is largely fiction, conjured up in editorial offices outside Iraq, with foreign reporters in Iraq (most of them rarely leaving their heavily guarded hotels) providing color commentary, and not much else.  So what do the troops and Iraqis say?

        I rather like that remark about reporters in hotels, because it provides a nice counter-point to the stuff about brave reporters from all over the world risking their lives to report the truth.  Even the usually sensible Jay Rosen peddled this to me in an e-mail.

        And just what do the troops say?

        First, there is definitely a terrorism problem. Not an insurgency, not a guerilla war, not a resistance.

        What would happen if we left?

        Remember, this is where the legal concept of "eye-for-an-eye" was invented thousands of years ago. The children of Hammurabi want their measure of vengeance, and if they get it, the current violence in Iraq will look pallid by comparison. All the prevents a wholesale descent into mutual slaughter is the presence of coalition troops.

        A very important development, which the press mostly ignores:
        Second, there is a cultural crisis, in the Arab world in particular, and the Moslem world in general.  The crisis is expressed by a lack of economic, educational and political performance.  By whatever measure you wish to use, Nobel prizes, patents awarded, GDP growth, the Arabs have fallen behind the rest of the world.. . . That is changing, and the war in Iraq has become the center of this cultural battle. . . .This triggered a debate in the Arab world, one that got little coverage in the West.  It began when some Arab journalists openly pointed out, in the Arab media, that Arab reporters had not only been writing fantastical stories that had no relationship to reality, but that this sort of thing had been going on for a long time and, gosh, maybe it had something to do with the sorry state of affairs in the Arab world.  That particular debate is still going on, largely unnoticed in the West.  This is the real war against terrorism, because the terrorists represent the forces of repression and backwardness in the Arab world.

        I guess, when the Arabs were preserving so much of Greek culture for us, they forgot to read Aesop.  Hare, tortoise.

        Terrorists and their fans:
        Third, the bad guys are really, really bad, but they have many prominent allies around the world.  Most Iraqis cannot understand how so many media outlets in the West can keep giving favorable coverage to the Sunni Arab terrorists. . . . The Europeans are much more risk averse than Americans.  We all remember the 1930s, where most of Europe left Hitler alone, hoping that they could talk sense into him, or that he would go away.  Eventually, the good people of Europe (at least those that had not been conquered by the Germans) had to fight the nazis. . . . Europeans have a thing about tyranny.  While not wanting it for themselves, they are more willing than most to tolerate it for others.  Thus the disagreement over going after Saddam.

        Reading that, I am reminded of Hannah Arendt's The Origins of Totalitarianism.  One of Arendt's point was that totalitarianism was the application to the home country of the way European empires behaved towards those it colonized.  From the time mass migration to the New World began, one of the effects has been to draw overseas the troublemakers who don't know their place.  As I've said before, blood tells, and we got the troublemaker "don't tread on me" blood.

        Dunnigan's final point:
        And, lastly, we have the major differences between the media version of what's going on, and the military one. The media are looking for newsworthy events (bad news preferred, good news does not sell, and news is a business). The military sees it as a process, a campaign, a series of battles that will lead to a desired conclusion.  The event driven media have a hard time comprehending this process stuff, but it doesn't really matter to them, since the media lives from headline to headline.

        There I partially dissent.  While stories are usually self-contained, the MSM regularly does 'analysis' pieces, columns about trends, and mentions of what's been happening.  I say they report bad news because they're hoping to discourage the voters.

        The finale:
        But in the end, process usually wins.  News events are often turned into obstacles. Journalists understand that their audience generally has no memory for past reporting that was inaccurate. . . . This time, it isn't quite working that way.  The troops can email back their experiences promptly, and this causes a disconnect in many people, between what they see in the news, and what they are hearing from people who are in the middle of it all.  How all this will play out is as yet unknown, which is what makes it so interesting.  There's more going on in Iraq than a war.

        Read it all if you want, but that's the high spots.

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