The Perfect Soldier: Special Operations, Commandos, and the Future of Us Warfare by James F. Dunnigan
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Dirty Little Secrets
Turning Saddam's Thugs Into Victims
by James Dunnigan
July 24, 2003
What is really happening in Iraq? The media make it sound like another Vietnam, with the Iraqi population sliding towards mass resistance as Iraqi society collapses in violent anarchy. But the reality is a lot different. Attacks on coalition troops are declining, the availability of public services is increasing and public opinion towards the coalition becomes more favorable each day. The gunmen who are attacking coalition troops are being hunted down and arrested, and huge arms caches found and destroyed.
Actually, all of those trends ARE reported, but are buried in the far more numerous gloom and doom reports. This unsavory situation has developed for the usual reasons; bad news attracts more eyeballs than good news. And the news business is all about being a better eyeball magnet. Mass media has operated on this principle for over a century, or about as long as there has been mass media. Along they way, mass media moguls have invented the phantom crime wave (by simply reporting all the normal crime and dubbing it a crime wave), started wars (the Spanish-American War) and stopped them (Vietnam). The mass media have also given us vapid celebrities, sensational (but meaningless) trials and great success at combining "how low can you go" with "can you top this." From a marketing point of view, it works. But as a means of delivering timely, accurate news, it doesn't.
Much of the current reporting on Iraq warps the public perception of the past, as well as the present. The media plays down the fact that resistance from Sunni Arabs was widely discussed in the Pentagon before the war. But that wasn't a sexy story then, even though it is now. The coalition policing efforts have taken nearly a quarter million AK-47s off the streets, as well as huge quantities of RPGs, explosives and other weapons. Again, not interesting enough for prime time. Hundreds of Baath Party members have been arrested, including many senior people. Again, this is considered minor stuff. Every day, more neighborhoods get police and other services. But the reporting still tends to distort in favor of potential disasters that never seem to arrive. For example, power outages in Baghdad are an easy story on a slow news day. Rarely is it pointed out that Baghdad never had enough locally generated power to keep the lights on all the time. But as long as Saddam was in power, other parts of the country had their juice diverted to keep Baghdad lit. This meant Shiites and Kurds were left in the darkness so that Baghdad could sparkle. No more. Each part of Iraq is expected to take care of its own electrical needs now. Imagine the firestorm of protest if the old policies were continued in order to deprive the media of "Baghdad is dark" stories.
A lot of the "combat" is now taking place in the shadows. Special Forces, Delta Force and SEALs are doing what they've been doing since before the war began; sorting out the Iraqi underground. This mélange of criminals, Saddam's secret police and various Baath Party big shots (including Saddam and his sons) terrorized and plundered Iraq and are trying to get back to the good old days now that the war's over. While it was widely reported that the Baath Party stalwarts and secret police were fleeing from the south and north to Baghdad during the war, few journalists asked the question; "where are these guys doing now." Technically, the ones who were on the government payroll are now unemployed. But this is where reporting, real investigative reporting, gets tough. The Special Forces are a notoriously tight mouthed bunch. Same with Delta and the SEALs. These troops have been chasing the bad guys, but aren't talking. And for good reason, as these fellows rely on surprise and superior information to obtain a lifesaving edge in combat. They don't talk because they want to survive their next encounter with the bad guys. However, it's no secret that few of the many intelligence units were sent home. The intel troops are now working on tracking down Saddam's unemployed thugs. The Iraqi opposition has no doubt learned that it is very risky to use any form of electronic communication. Meanwhile, the Special Forces and military intelligence troops have been creating a growing network of informers and anti-Saddam Iraqis. This has forced most of Saddam's supporters in the north and south to either flee or keep their heads down. But in Baghdad, the center of support for the Baath Party's dictatorship, there are still many true believers who want to get back on the gravy train, or at least draw government paycheck again.
An intrepid reporter could have discovered that the Pentagon knew all about the political, ethnic and religious complexities of Iraq. Numerous PowerPoint briefings on the subject have circulated in Washington for over a decade. SOCOM (Special Operations Command) has more Civil Affairs troops than it does Special Forces. And that's no accident. Special Forces has been practicing, for over half a century, to deal with what is happening in Iraq today. If you could get one to talk, they would tell you that they knew what was going to happen and they are on top of it.
The Special Forces doesn't allow embedded reporters and usually operates at night. These practices do not encourage journalists to go after the story. Indeed, the story of Special Forces in Afghanistan two years ago has yet to be told. There, less than 200 Special Forces troops, working with the Northern Alliance, were all that it took to run the Taliban out of power. Iraq is not Afghanistan, but the Special Forces have studied both countries for decades and have a good idea of who is who, what is what and how it's all going to turn out. And then there's the tendency of Special Forces troops to halt journalists at gunpoint when the reporters get too close to an underway operation. Still, there are more accurate and newsworthy stories out there than those that try to turn Saddam's thugs into victims.