The ancient wisdom of lawyers: When the facts are on your side, argue the facts. When the law is on your side, argue the law. When you have neither, bang the table.
The political version? When the facts are on your side, argue the facts. When they aren’t, blame the media.
The push is on to blame the media for Iraq.
Was it the media that muzzled the Army Chief of Staff when he said that occupation would require several hundred thousand troops? No.
Was it the media that wanted to cut US forces drastically within days of reaching Baghdad? No.
Was it the media that announced mission accomplished three years ago? No.
Was it the media that failed to guard massive weapons caches in Iraq? No.
Was it the media that failed to close the borders with Iran and Syria? No.
Was it the media that laughed at looters who ended up costing Iraq billions of dollars and setting reconstruction efforts back to a fatal degree? No.
Was it the media that dismissed the insurgency as a handful of dead-enders? No.
Was it the media predicting the imminent defeat of those dead-enders again and again and again? No.
Was it the media that ignored the US Army’s own hard-won knowledge of how to fight a guerilla war? No.
Was it the media that ensured the burden would fall almost entirely on US forces? No.
Was it the media that failed to establish a strong chain of command at Abu Ghraib? No.
Was it the media that refused to up-armor Humvees or rush armored vehicles to Iraq? No.
Was it the media that told us we had a viable Iraqi military force? And then that we didn’t. And then that we did. And then not so much. And then maybe. No.
Was it the media that caused Iraqi soldiers to melt away in combat? No.
Was it the media that failed to protect Iraqi oil production? No.
Was it the media that failed to turn the lights back on in much of Iraq? No.
No. Here’s what the media did that so infuriates the media-bashers: they reported the above. And they failed to report on Marines handing out lollipops. The media, having swallowed uncritically the WMD claims, having been lied to again and again and again, by L. Paul Bremer and Donald Rumsfeld and by gutless four stars who care more about their careers than they care about their men, became rather skeptical of further claims that everything was coming along nicely.
Is the media blameless? God no. They are often lazy. They have a pack mentality. They have a hard time, sometimes, remembering who they’re rooting for. Are they the reason Iraq doesn’t have a functioning government, including no prime minister, months after the election? No. Did the media cause Iraqi voters to reject every pro-American moderate outside of Kurdistan? No.
Media bashers point to two historical parallels: World War 2 and Vietnam. Was the media coverage in WW2 far less critical than it is today? Yes. Was there a 24 hour news cycle in 1944? No. Live TV coverage? No. Did everyone with a computer have access to an endless array of newspapers from all over the world? No. There was a monopoly of news, effectively a handful of newspaper and wire service reporters. We keep hearing, when it suits, that the Mainstream Media has lost influence. And now, when it suits, we hear that the MSM is all-powerful, capable of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
Fox News, the nation’s highest-rated cable news channel by far, and The Wall Street Journal, the nation’s most widely circulated newspaper, are famously pro-war. The talk radio airwaves are a wholly-owned subsidiary of the White House. This White House is well-respected for its ability to communicate, and the president retains the bully pulpit. And there are thousands of high-rated websites that support this war uncritically, echoing every administration claim. And there are military bloggers. And yet, despite all this, it seems the CBS Evening News, with an audience composed entirely of people in nursing homes, and low-rated CNN, and the New York Times, (whose Judy Miller actively participated in promoting this war,) have, all by themselves, hoodwinked a public which just a year ago voted for Mr. Bush.
Vietnam Syndrome is the name of the mental disorder we’re seeing at work here. Just as the Left drew absurd pacifist, hair-shirt, anti-American conclusions from that war, so the Right drew its own wacky conclusions. Chief among these is that the media lost Vietnam. Almost nine years of war, the longest war in American history, and it’s the media’s fault for somehow . . . what? Foreshortening it? Cutting it off prematurely? Because nine years and 55,000 dead in a cause we didn’t really care enough to win wasn’t quite enough?
The media raged during the War of 1812, which we fought to a draw against the superpower of its time, Britain. The media was divided along partisan lines during the Mexican-American War, which we won handily. The media howled during the Civil War, which we won. Mr. Lincoln was called a baboon. General Grant wascalled a butcher, an incompetent drunk. By northern papers. The media does not win or lose wars. Wars are won or lost by strategy and tactics, by the balance of forces, and by the national will.
Ahah! the media bashers will say: national will, exactly. And that is what the media is sapping here.
Sorry, no. In Vietnam, national will was lost before the media had found Vietnam on the map. We lost in Vietnam before we ever committed a man to battle. We lost when we took invasion of the north off the table. And we lost when we refused the sorts of savage, determined actions that won World War 2. The government in North Vietnam had decades of experiencee in fighting the Japanese and the French. They had a direct pipeline to China and the USSR, both of which loved nothing better than supplying them with weapons to kill Americans. They had refuges in Laos and Cambodia. If we weren’t going to invade, and we weren’t going to start burning entire cities full of civilians down, we were going to lose. The failure of will preceded the actual war.
We didn’t win World War 2 because reporters were more patriotic. We won World War 2 because we produced more tanks, planes and ships. And because we backed Joseph Stalin, a man only marginally preferable to Adolph Hitler, whose forces killed the overwhelming majority of Germans who died in that war. And we won by strategy, by making the intellectual leap that allowed us to island hop around Japanese strong points. And we won because we delayed entry into the war and let others, including our British friends, do most of the killing. And we won because Albert Einstein moved to Princeton in 1937. And because we were ruthless and brutal and determined.
We weren’t rutless and brutal and determined in Vietnam. We were even less so in Iraq. We weren’t smart, and we didn’t play to our strengths, and we weren’t determined to pay any price, bear any burden, commit any horror. If Vietnam was lost before we ever put a man on a jungle path, the key moment for Iraq was when Rumsfeld et al dismissed the considered judgment of generals Shinseki and Colin Powell. We opted to do this war on the cheap, with one hand tied behind our back, making a half-assed, confused effort, and that’s why we are where we are today.
Add a thousand stories of soldiers helping Iraqi orphans, and we’d still be right where we are today.