A university is just a group of buildings gathered around a library. ~Shelby Foote

Friday, June 17, 2005

Some Thoughts on Iraq

Austin Bay is in Iraq, traveling with our troops there. Interesting stuff on his blog about it. What struck me, though, is the concluding few sentences:
This is the Bush Administration’s biggest strategic mistake– a failure to tap the reservoir of American willingness 9/11 produced. One afternoon in December 2001 my mother –after reading a column of mine in her local paper– called me long-distance. She told me she remembered being a teenager in 1942 and tossing a tin can on a wagon that rolled past the train station in her small Texas hometown. (Plainview– one reason I know Lanc-Corporal Solis’ hometown– it’s my parents birthplace.) Mom said she knew that the can she tossed didn’t add much to the war effort, but she felt that in some, small, token perhaps but very real way, that she was contributing to the battle being waged by our soldiers. “The Bush Administration is going to make a terrible mistake if it does not let the American people get involved in this war. Austin, we need a war bond drive. This matters, because this is what it will take.”
This is dead on balls accurate (It's an industry term). We don't feel connected to this war. It's something happening way over there, and isn't it a shame, and boy won't it be nice when all our soldiers can come home? It's almost like it's a movie or documentary to us-- nothing is asked of most of us, with the exception of those families who have people actually risking their lives in Afghanistan and Iraq.

As much as Orson Scott Card has been getting pretty screedy lately, he was writing this same thing back in January of 2004 (scroll down about half way). I totally agreed with him then, and I still do. Bush made a tactical error in listening to Rumsfeld's anti-army rhetoric which is what lead to too few troops in Iraq from the get-go, but his biggest strategic error has been trying to isolate the public from the war. Here's the key bit, in my opinion, and where Card gets it exactly right:
It's time for President Bush to do what should have been done starting on 9/11: Ask the American people to make real sacrifices to win this war.

Right now President Bush is doing a better job than Lyndon Johnson did on the military side, but he's making the same crucial mistake on the civilian side.

When you tell Americans to go about their business, we can't believe in the war and support it the way we did in World War II, where the entire country was mobilized in a life-or-death struggle.

We're trying to fight this war as if we could do it in our spare time. Record's accurate message is that it's a very dangerous way to fight and the risk of inviting adventurism from our other enemies is too high to bear.

What we needed on 9/11 was a President who did not tell us to go back to business as usual -- spending money to keep the economy going.
Emphasis added by me. Going back to business as usual was a monumental mistake. Doing so completely ignored the fact that the world as we believed it existed pre-9/11 was a fantasy. Doing so encouraged us all to wrap ourselves back in the security blankets of our comfortably worn ruts and to pretend 9/11 was just an abberation, not likely to be repeated. Which is what a large percentage, well over half, of our country has done. To the detriment of both the war effort and the country.

One other thing that I think Card got right a year and a half ago:
Here's the fundamental miscalculation that Lyndon Johnson, Bill Clinton, and now George W. Bush have made about the American people.

They all believed that asking people to sacrifice would turn them against the war.

The opposite is true. Asking them to sacrifice commits them to the war. Keeping them from sacrificing -- from feeling the pinch every day -- makes the war seem distant and unreal. People who are not sacrificing for a war do not feel or insist on solidarity.
The other problem with the approach Bush has chosen is that when people do have to sacrifice, by having loved ones sent overseas or, worse, having those loved ones hurt or killed overseas, it seems to come out of nowhere. Because we aren't expecting to have to sacrifice. Every death, every set back, every time there is proof, or even an allegation, of mistreatment of prisoners of war by our troops, it's a shock. Because they feel like isolated, separate, or spontaneous events rather than part and parcel of a larger, group effort.

Communication is not George W. Bush's strong point, unfortunately. But he can make a strong and stirring speech if properly prepared. It's time for him to do that again, and to re-emphasize what he stated shortly after 9/11. This war will not be short. It will not be easily won. It will not be without cost.

He also needs to call for greater sacrifice and support from the American people. The doomsayers will crow, and many Democrats will seek to use such a call for their own political advantage. So be it-- it's Bush's second term, and no other issue is as vital as winning this war, so now is the time.

Now must be the time before this whole thing slips away from us and it takes an even more ghastly attack than those on 9/11 to fully awaken us to our peril.

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I like the concept of Americans becoming or feeling more connected to the war effort, but I don't think that it is going to happen. I think that the biggest obstacle to that connectedness is that this is a different America today.

Recycling drives for metals, nylon, rubber, and other products for the war effort wouldn't be perceived as really needed. We already had recycling programs in place well before 9/11, so I think that any such drive would just be seen as a media stunt by the administration. Other sacrifices that were requested of Americans during WWII, such as saving spare fats for explosives, car pooling, or waste conservation efforts, have either lost their relevance or already exist.

A war bond drive would be interesting, but who would buy? The Series EE savings bonds were designated as Patriot Bonds three months after 9/11, but people lost interest and/or forgot. The Series EE just became a fixed rate product and paperless, so who knows if there will be anything saying that they are war bonds (indicated with the words "Patriot Bond" on the Series EE since 12/11/01). Also, people are most likely going to put their money in a 401k or other investments with a greater return instead of bonds.

We could put up the posters like we did during WWII to encourage Americans to help to support the troops by purchasing bonds, or there could be some television, radio, and internet ads for a war bond drive, but (once again) this is a different America. Now, the administration would probably be chastised for spending too much on advertising for the war bond drive, and I'm sure that if posters went up those would be berated as war-mongering propaganda (maybe even likened by some in Congress to propaganda posters in totalitarian regimes).

During WWII, women going to work at factories was a necessary gap filler because of the number of men who had gone off to war. We haven't needed to send troops off on a similar scale today, and even if we did, the women of today have already integrated into many fields that were only for men (except during the war) sixty years ago. The same thing can be said regarding women in the military.

We are dealing with the image of our enemy differently today than we did in WWII. Caricatures of Japanese and Germans identified an archetype of each of the enemies to Americans. Americans of Japanese, German, and Italian descent were interred. Such caricatures would be construed as bigoted and xenophobic today, and we haven't be attacked to the level where a majority of Americans would be for (or, at least, not against) the interring of Arab and Muslim Americans. I also think that people like Ward Churchill would have been treated differently during WWII than they are today.

This conflict is different as well. We aren't fighting other nations with large armies. We are fighting an enemy who does not wear a uniform, who hides among the civilian population, and who will attack soft targets in order to increase carnage and damage with only a small outlay of personnel and material. In short, our current enemy does not follow the previously established rules of war.

All-in-all, we can't do what we did prior to LBJ in order to connect Americans to the war effort. That being said, is there anything that we can do now that would make Americans feel connected to the war effort?

There are support-the-troops and support-the-families-of-the-troops organizations out there which people could assist with. The administration could mention these in press conferences and press releases to help increase awareness. The media could do human interest stories on these groups and their members to make the public aware of them and to provide contact information. Individuals could ask their bosses or human resource departments if a fund drive (or something similar) could be organized at work for these groups.

The administration could hold regular press conferences to provide a weekly or bi-weekly update as to what is happening on the war front, highlighting successes and pointing out areas where public support could be useful. Television media could start doing short segments during their newscasts to show some of the good things that are happening on the war front so that Americans receive a better overall image of the war. Newspapers and internet media could do similar special sections or columns.

Basically, we should provide more well rounded coverage of everything happening so that more people realize that it isn’t just "doom and gloom" overseas. There are actually good things happening. From there, letting people know how they can help the troops, or who they can contact to find out more information, would probably get more Americans involved in efforts which directly support the troops. That could go a long way to feeling like we're all doing something to chip in. I'm not sure what else could or should be done, but those would be a decent start. I just don't think it'll happen anytime soon.
We are long past the point of the President calling for the American people to make a greater sacrifice. He sold the war on a premise that may not have been true and right now, most Americans would prefer all the troops to be pulled out. What the President can (and should) do is to talk the American people and explain the situation (truthfully) and explain why he thinks troops still need to be in Iraq (to help set up a stable government, et al.).
But while we talk about sacrifice, I should mention that a conservative co-worker of mine (he listens to Rush for Pete's sake) gripes every time he sees a story about 1 soldier dying, because he thinks the media is focusing on each death to undermine the President. If we are going to really sacrifice for this war, we have to acknowledge every death, even if the total numbers will pail in respect to Vietnam.

I agree with Mojo, we do live is a much different world than WWII, but the part that is the same is that we need leadership to be honest with us to make us feel that we (as a country) are doing the right thing. (Although I must admit that honest leadership may not have existed as much as we would all like to hope.)
We didn't need the "He [President Bush] sold the war on a premise that may not have been true..." line. Again, for the third time on this blog, please read the speech that Bush gave to the U.N. on 09/12/02 (http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2002/09/20020912-1.html). One month before CONGRESS AUTHORIZED THE USE OF FORCE AGAINST IRAQ, the President gave these reasons to the general assembly in the following order:

1. Repression of the people of Iraq and human rights abuses.
2. Failure of Iraq to release and return over 600 foreign prisoners.
3. The Iraqi regime's failure to renounce all involvement with terrorism, and permit no terrorist organizations to operate in Iraq.
4. Finally, weapons programs and weapons of mass destruction.

Congress passed the bill which authorized the use of force shortly after that speech, and that bill became Public Law 107–243. Were the members of Congress unable to read the same intelligence and the same facts that were before the president before making their decision? Maybe Congress is too easily swayed by passionate speakers, even those with sub-par oratory skills such as George W. Bush; so much so that they didn't read what they were voting on or the intelligence and facts surrounding it.

It amazes me that a president, who is often derided as a moron or simpleton, was able to trick not only the U.S. Congress, but the entire world into believing his "lies." More astonishing is that those "lies," upon which he based his entire dastardly scheme, were from intelligence that caused UN inspectors to question whether Saddam had weaponized VX gas in 1998 just before their expulsion from Iraq, which made regime change the official policy of the U.S. in 1998, and which had John Kerry amongst signatories asking President Clinton for war with Iraq in 1998. You know you're good if everyone thinks you're an idiot and you can fake the intelligence before you even take office.

And, no, we didn't find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. We did, however, secure multi-use facilities which could have been transitioned into WMD manufacturing locations relatively quickly, missile parts and technology, and other basic infrastructure necessary to create those mean and nasty weapons in a country run by a ruler who had used over 100,000 chemical munitions against the Iranians and who had used chemical weapons to smash internal resistance, not only in the 1980s, but also shortly after the first gulf war. The Duelfer report (http://www.cia.gov/cia/reports/iraq_wmd_2004/), which is used by too many detractors of the war in Iraq as alleged proof that the reasons behind the war were false, only confirms that belief for them if you read the "no WMDs found" sentence (and if you believe that WMDs were the only reason we went to war). Read the rest of the report and you will see not only how nasty Saddam was, but how quickly he could have restarted a WMD program.

I do understand how Troy's conservative friend feels, though. I don't have a problem with reporting the deaths of U.S. forces, but it would be nice if the media would provide equal time to also show the schools we have rebuilt, the economic infrastructure that we are helping to restore, the water and sewage systems that we are building or repairing, the electric plants which are being constructed or brought back online, the training programs so that the Iraqis can be self-sufficient, and all the other good things happening in Iraq.

Regarding the numbers in relation to Vietnam, right now the total war on terror KIA count is about 3% of the total of the Vietnam KIA count. There would need to be over 56,000 more U.S. servicemen and women killed to match the total deaths from Vietnam (I hope that never happens), and at the current KIA rate that would take over 116 years. So, in order for the current war's death tolls to pale in comparison to Vietnam, either the war on terror will need to continue for generations, or the terrorists will need to get their hands on some really nasty weapons (which, maybe, would justify further conflict).

Troy is right that the government needs to be honest with us and, for the most part, they are. We just don't hear it because it isn't part of the thirty or sixty minute news cycles we have come to rely upon for information. The government doesn't control the media (unlike some totalitarian regimes), so we will need to complain to the media to start telling us the whole story, or we will need to start going to the official government websites to get the information which they provide for everyone.

In WWII, the government often didn't tell us everything and sometimes censored news to keep public support for the war alive. We no longer have that situation. Now, the media looks for anything that the government didn't tell us or tries to get the scoop on the censored information. Unfortunately, in the process, the media doesn't tell us everything and often skips over the good stories in order to bring us the latest conspiracy which they have uncovered.
So what you are saying, Mojo, is that the perception of the American people (many of them anyway) is wrong. We never went to war of WMDs and the President made that completely clear to all of us.
Sounds like that communication problem that Nick mentioned. Perception is reality and if the President isn't going to correct the country's perception, he has to live with it.
I am saying that the perception of those Americans who believe that we went to war in Iraq solely over WMDs, or that Bush lied in order to take us to war, is wrong; I am not saying that WMDs was not ONE of the reasons, but that it wasn't the ONLY reason; and I am saying that the President made the reasons quite clear in the speech that he gave to the UN just before Congress approved the use of force.

You're right that the President isn't doing a good job of using the bully-pulpit to correct that misperception, but it doesn't help to dissuade the misperception when the "Bush lied" mantra is repeated by elected officials, journalists, pundits, and people in chat rooms and blogs. The White House can put out all the information it wants, but if the American people don't tune into it and the media only latches onto the pieces that provoke conflict between the parties regarding those facts because it makes for "gripping, hard-hitting journalism," then you can't just blame the President for the misperceptions of this nation's citizens.

Hell, most Americans probably don't even remember that speech (or most speeches given by the President). I wouldn't be surprised if, while the President was giving that speech on September 12th, 2002, over half of Americans who were watching TV were tuned into MTV, Comedy Central, HBO, or anything else other than their President addressing the world body. Of those who didn't hear the speech or were unable to hear the speech, I'd bet that most of those who wanted to know what was said got the synopsis from one of the networks or some talking-heads on the cable news channels. I don’t have a problem with checking the news for what is happening in the world, but sound-bites don’t define an inventory of reasons against a dictator.

Let's not forget that Bush didn't just jump up, grab the reins, and take the country kicking and screaming into a war. Congress voted to authorize the use of force. In the Senate, which was held by the Democrats at the time, the vote was 77-23. Senators Breaux, Daschle, Feinstein, Kerry, and Lieberman were just some of the Democrats who voted for the use of force in October of 2002. And, also, it wasn't the first time they were behind the use of force against Iraq. These five were also some of the signatories to a letter four years earlier, authored by Senator Levin, urging President Clinton, "after consulting with Congress, and consistent with the U.S. Constitution and laws, to take necessary actions (including, if appropriate, air and missile strikes on suspect Iraq sites) to respond effectively to the threat posed by Iraq's refusal to end its weapons of mass destruction programs."

These aren't Senators who have been timid or who could be accused of being led around by the nose by the administration. These are Senators who are smart enough to read the intelligence reports and form a well thought-out argument on the subject. In fact, Senator Kerry did just that on the Senate floor prior to the vote in 2002, in which he noted Saddam's human rights violations, previous use of WMDs, diversion of Oil for Food funds, and support and harboring of terrorists and terror groups.

All that information is out there and yet the mantra of the anti-war people is, "Bush lied; people died," and not "The Senators voted for the war; the deaths are 85 score."

Fine. The perception of the American people is that Bush lied to get us into war, and it is Bush's fault that this misperception exists. If perception is reality, and misperception on the part of others is the fault of the misperceived, then let the politics of personal destruction continue in earnest and unabated. The White House doesn't need to get its message out; it just needs to change the focus to a larger attack on its opponents.

The Democrats better watch out, too, though. Last I checked there was some big fury over who a certain Democratic Senator compared our troops to, and many Americans think that his historical comparison was out of line, anti-American, or even (gasp) traitorous. If perception is reality, the Senator from Illinois (you know, the one whose name kind of rhymes with Turban) may be the next victim of America's misperception.
I am in no way saying the Democrats have any right to criticize. Most of them didn't say a word about the war until the criticism started in the media.
Troy, I'm not trying to imply that you believe that the Democrats have a right to criticize anyone about the war.

My point is basically this: The "Bush lied" mantra is perpetuated (or, at least, not dispelled) by the President's political opposition, the media, and the American people. If this creates a misperception about the reasons for war, and if a misperception is the fault or responsibility of the misperceived, and if perception is reality; then we won't have a leadership that is honest with us because it won't be necessary.

Any group or leader, in order to advance their goals, will need to do nothing more than create a good perception of themselves or their ideas, and/or a negative perception of their opposition or their opposition's goals. There doesn't need to be any truth or veracity to any statements or other means which they use to create those perceptions, because perception is what defines reality. And, if all of this is the case, then everyone (Democrat, Republican, Independent, and all others) may be in for a very rough ride because, regardless of the facts that are out there for all to see, a snake-oil salesman type can trump anything, no matter how honest, if he can just get a lie rolling that is believed and perpetuated by his allies and the masses.
Regarding your last comment, about groups just creating perception instead of reality (a bad sum up of the argument, I must say), the Republicans have been living for decades on the "we're for less government" perception when the reality is far from it. I even heard Jim griping about that last time I saw him.
Not the they aren't for less government than the Democrats, just not for less than we have now.
True, and the Republicans deserve a swift kick in the pants for their pork spending.

Earlier, however, regarding the perception of many Americans about Bush, you had said that, "Perception is reality and if the President isn't going to correct the country's perception, he has to live with it." I don't think that perception is reality and, since the President doesn't control the media or its coverage of him and his opponets, I believe that there is only so much that he can do to change the misperceptions that many Americans have due to his lack of control over their source of information. Again, if perception is reality as you stated, then it doesn't matter if our leadership is honest or not; they just need to be able to mold perception.
Perception really is reality and I stand by that. The President didn't do a thorough enough job of laying out the reasons for the war before invading and has done a lousy job of referring back to that as the war has continued.
Plus, he (and all of his advisors) had to know that this war would be fought in the media, as well as Iraq, and to blame the media now just seems like a cop-out when you knew the scrutiny was coming.
Now, I will agree that the media has made up their minds and there is no going back, but the President (and his party) could have done things along the way to make sure it never got to this point. They were smart enough to get him elected twice, you can't tell me that all of a sudden, they don't understand the media.
I've harped on the media long before this. I still want to know why the media stopped showing the pictures of 9/11 and why they wouldn't show the execution of Daniel Pearl and other atrocities committed by the terrorists, but they seem to have no problem showing images that play into our enemy's propaganda in the interest of "full disclosure" and "transparency."

I still say that reality is reality, but I'll grant that an individual's perception may change the way in which he views or reacts to reality. A mirage is not reality; it is perception.

Regardless of all of that, the President set out the case for war quite clearly on September 12, 2002. Congress approved the use of force in Iraq based upon those same grounds in October of 2002.

Since all of this is irrelevant because it is perceived differently, then the only recourse to correct the misperceptions appears to be to donate funds to those groups which will take out ads to set the record straight. The media won't do it, public funds can't be used to do it, and the people won't tune into their leadership's boring speeches, so private organizations will need to toss a few ads in between music videos and Oprah's latest book review.
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