Thursday, December 8


"Yes of course it's complicated; it's a war."
-- John Batchelor

This post continues my discussion with US War College professor James Ellsworth. He agreed to allow publication of his end of the exchange 'as is,' without the polishing that would transform a letter into an essay. I note that Jim is expressing his own opinion but as a military person and thus, his use of "we" and "our" where he's clearly referring to the US military.
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Saddam is not seeing the trial as a trial; he's seeing it as a part of the war -- isn't he? At the time the Iraqis called for the trial they had no idea that the insurgency would drag on so long, and neither did we. I just wonder if, from the purely military tactical view, this kind of trial is a mistake?

In one sense, you're spot on: Saddam clearly does see this as part of the war. In another, though -- and this may illustrate a broader point about our inability to get our perspective out -- you're seeing this through the prism of the media coverage. Because from where I sit, everybody on both sides fully expected the insurgency to go on this long, from the very beginning.

Do you remember when Bush and Rumsfeld told us this was going to be a long, hard fight? I'm sure I could find the press releases if I had a little more time--just like I found the President's speech to the UN Security Council on 12 Sep 2002 laying out our justification for the war, which had nothing to do with whether or not Saddam actually had WMD.

Of course we're going to accentuate the positive. This is a war we expect to win, and expected to win from the beginning; you simply do not get out in front of your own citizens and place all the emphasis on the risks and dangers: the enemy is going to do a plenty good job of that for you -- and your job is to return the favor!

Meanwhile, we were preparing our troops to expect that Saddam had ordered thousands of his best soldiers to decline combat, to fade into the countryside and the population, and to fight the "real war" as an insurgency. We were preparing our troops to be ready for it and to defeat it. When I was finishing up as a War College student, in March of 2003, we already had significant time in the curriculum where we were wrestling with how we were going to do that, and rebuild Iraq. And yet somehow everybody "knows" we went in without a clue and without a plan. It's frustrating.

Yes, we made mistakes. So did our enemy. Clausewitz called that "fog and friction" (see Heinze 2003 for a good, concise discussion), and they're at least as severe in counterinsurgency as they are in force-on-force combat (see Moore 2000 p. 4). This is what war looks like, up close and personal.

It's even what victory looks like. A week or two ago Marc Schulman at American Future ... featured a couple of great parodies of what the reporting on Midway and Normandy would have looked like today.

But it's not really about media bias (IMHO), not most critically. It's about the fact that every man, woman, and child in the world watches modern war unfold in messy tactical detail without seeing the plan, and without the breadth of professional knowledge and depth of perspective that come from studying it and fighting it and leading it for twenty or thirty years. And in general, they only see our mistakes because our enemy doesn't believe in letting the people see theirs.

So what the professional looks at and sees as measurable progress through a plan he knows and understands -- interspersed with the fog and friction of war, which he knows affect friend and foe alike -- the citizen sees as this one-sided parade of our mistakes, interspersed with disjointed tactical "stuff" that he simply can't assemble into a picture of victory and therefore assumes we must be losing.

Where the media come in, in my assessment, is in (wittingly or otherwise, I do not judge) reinforcing that assumption because the footage that they can get to put on the air to keep people watching presents that same, "messy tactical," one sided picture.

(As I've pointed out in my blog, as much as they like to portray themselves as a "fourth branch of government," they're really a for-profit enterprise that has to sell programming and ad space to stay in business.)

It doesn't have to be their fault; it's just the nature of the business: if they could get footage of al-Qa'ida screwing up, they'd show it just as readily -- just look at the reporting on al-Zarqawi's folks blowing up a Muslim wedding party. If they could get stunning insider exposes of corruption and human rights abuses among our enemy, they'd show them.

Although here I'd say there is at least some unintentional complicity: when they do get such footage of the enemy -- like them beheading a relief worker -- it's a defeat for us, and evidence of "just how badly the war is going;" when they get such things on us -- like Abu Ghraib -- it's an exposé of American atrocities.

Welcome to Information War. We have got to figure this stuff out, and fast.

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