Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Steven Den Beste has discussed a possible explanation for the fact that so many have treated our not winning the war in less than a week as a devastating setback.

It's not that these people love Saddam; they don't. It's that they fear America even more. They deeply fear that if the US wins in Iraq, and wins what is perceived to be a fast and easy war there, that Americans will be emboldened and will gain self-confidence and perhaps even become self-righteous, and will eventually plunge the entire world into war. If America is willing to use direct aggressive military power to force a regime change in Iraq, where else will that then happen? And what else can possibly stop the American juggernaut without devastating the entire globe?

I don't agree with this point of view, but I can at least understand it. And that's why when I read some anti-war blogs, those who try to deal with the issues seriously and who do not descend to petty ridicule and fashionable cynicism, that their posts regarding the process of the war seem to be deeply conflicted. On one side they fear for the troops and at the same time there almost seems to be a wish that disaster will overtake the troops. For someone in this position, who hates Saddam but fears America more, among the best outcomes is that America wins, but pays such a high price that Americans will not support any future wars. Thus they find themselves simultaneously dreading and hoping that a lot of our soldiers will be killed and wounded.

To that end, there seem to be some in the world who are willing to overtly or covertly assist the Iraqis so as to make the war as expensive for us as possible.

But remember that the real goal for many is not dead American soldiers, but cowed American voters, and thus they have good reason to try to make things look as bad as they possibly can. For such a person, the absolutely ideal outcome is for America to win, Saddam to be deposed, life in Iraq to improve, overall losses to be low, and for Americans to still think that the cost was too high.

By this theory, the discussion in many quarters of perceived setbacks is explained. 'They' want us to think the war isn't going well, so we'll be humbler in the future.

I think there's a simpler explanation. For very good reasons, the military emphasized the early surrenders in the first few days of the war. Knowing that the American media were seen in Iraq as well, they wanted to encourage troops to surrender rather than be the last men to risk their lives defending a dying regime. For this reason, they emphasized best case scenarios and interpretaions to the press. While I believe this strategy was sound, if the press did wrong in accepting this view at face value and being surprised when it did not occur, the problem is not so much defeatism as allowing themselves to be lead around by the nose by the military. That being said, it still does not speak well for the press that they were genuinely surprised by the fact that the war did not end within a week. In the long run the idea of the press supporting our government in extreme circumstances by not necessarily giving the most complete information they could is much less upsetting than a press so dependent on the military for access that they sincerely believe what they are told uncritically. A state of emergency is temporary, but credulity may well be permanent.

Of course, there were people even in the government thinking in terms of best case scenarios, and the war in Afghanistan was actually faster than expected by some. Perhaps the press swung from one extreme to the other. Perhaps the desire for action when patience is required causes them to talk in terms of either huge gains or grim setbacks. The best we can do is try to create a market for accurate news by following it ourselves.

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