Winning: Reporting What You Want, Not What You See


December 16, 2005: A story slowly creeping into the news is the disconnect between what American troops experience in Iraq, and what is reported back in the United States, and the rest of the world. For U.S. troops, who are reenlisting in record numbers, even after multiple tours in Iraq, they are fighting a war they are winning, and they see the evidence of this all around them. You'd think that this would make a good story, but it doesn't. The war on terror, and especially the war in Iraq, have got caught in the middle of other political conflicts. In the United States, the Democrat Party, out of power after nearly half a century, are eager to get control of the government once more, and agreeing about victory in Iraq is not seen as helping their cause. The American mainstream media, needing bad news to keep their ratings up, opt for the Democratic Party view of things.

The hostility from the rest of the world is easier to understand. With the end of the Cold War, everyone will naturally gang up on the lone superpower. Add to the mix all those disappointed Soviet Union fans looking to relive the good old days, and you have a mass of hostility looking for an outlet. America makes the perfect villain, because it's one that isn't really a threat. The U.S. will not only take the heat, but continue to be a good trading partner and be quick with a helping hand if anyone gets in trouble.

What the troops think, and experience, is something that can be ignored for the moment. If it becomes too obvious that reporting victory in Iraq cannot be avoided, then the media depends on the fact that the media reports the present, not the past. The media works on the assumption that its readers have no long term memory. Thus there would be a flurry of stories on how all is well in Iraq, and then on to the next headline grabbing disaster. This happened right after the 1991 Gulf War, and right after the three week invasion of Iraq in 2003. History and punditry do not mix.

What the troops see is the majority of Iraqis glad to have them there, and Saddam gone. But the troops also see that Saddams thousands of thugs, and the Sunni Arabs in general, are still free, and fighting to regain the power that Saddam lost for them. While the American media and the rest of the world rabbit on about "the Iraqi resistance," the troops note that the Iraqis who are still killing, are the same ones who did so for decades while working for Saddam. American troops are killing bad people, not Iraqi "freedom fighters." Future histories will wonder at how the media was able to carry off their charade for so long. But so far they have, although it's becoming more difficult as more people get their news from the Internet, where the troops have more of a voice. Not just with blogs and email, but with the different attitudes of web based news organizations. Less burdened with old habits (the only good news is bad news), they also have demographic advantages. Younger people are more often getting their news from the web, rather than TV or paper. At least people the same age as the soldiers know what's really going on.

As a practical matter, the military can't do much to get the true story out. Actually, the mass media is already backing off from their Iraq coverage, because of a combination of too much good news, and too much alternative coverage from the troops, and Iraqis themselves. Good news is no news. Moreover, the large number of people who have bought into the idea that Iraq was a mistake, evil, and a defeat, that there will long be an audience for revisionist historians, who will invent alternate realities of what really happened in Iraq.

What the history books will report will be how the battle for Iraq brought democracy (which al Qaeda outright condemns) to the Middle East, and forced Islamic terrorists to show their true colors (fanatic butchers, who don't much care who they kill.) This led to a sharp decline in al Qaeda's popularity, and a renewed enthusiasm for democracy throughout what al Qaeda considered their home base. Militarily, it's known as "taking the war to the enemy." It's an ancient strategy that still works. But that was rarely reported, for now. You'll just have to wait.


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