Jewish World Review March 28, 2003 / 24 Adar II, 5763

David Warren

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The triple war | There are three "fronts" in the Iraq war, but they do not present themselves geographically.

1. The extremely visible, mostly American, allied main columns, steel strands extending from a base in Kuwait to loops joining around Baghdad and Tikrit.

2. The almost invisible airborne and special forces campaigns, in which British, Australians, Poles and others, including local forces, not yet acknowledged, have been playing very important roles, seizing and destroying or disabling the Iraqi regime's most lethal military and terror assets, and hunting for the "leadership targets".

3. The propaganda front, in which America and her allies struggle against Saddam Hussein's attempts to maintain the fear through which he has held the Iraqi people in subjection. In this last, Saddam is benefiting tremendously from the help of the international anti-Bush and anti-American media.

Even the first of these "fronts" is not quite what meets the eye. For instance, a great deal of technical invention and human training has gone into preparing for the urban battles that may lie ahead, from outfitting tanks and armoured vehicles for close-order fighting; to new gadgetry for the discovery and elimination of snipers; to new methods of ground-air coordination in and over confined urban spaces. Journalists have been embedded only in this visible force; yet even travelling with it, they remain as much in the dark as the rest of us about the U.S. forces' new capabilities.

The Pentagon planners have, thus, enlisted the media without their full knowledge in exhaustively covering what I suspect may be a series of feints. And Saddam's remaining loyalists, cut off from most of their own sources of information in the field, are obliged to focus their attention only on what they can see -- more and more exclusively through the eyes of the media. They launch essentially suicidal attacks against this now multi-tentacled, visible invader, which attrits both their conventional (e.g. Republican Guard) and unconventional (e.g. Fedayeen) fighters -- from both ground and air. Meanwhile, special and airborne forces drop in and out behind their backs, setting up for them some unwelcome, and not always small, surprises.

Even senior Israeli officers, who make it their business to know about these things, have professed puzzlement about the American plans when interviewed in the Israeli papers. The most knowing remark I've read, from one of them, is the observation that one cannot, in principle, know -- since the plans (plural) include multiple options at every stage. What they can say with confidence is that people watching on television are missing the real show. And as Donald Rumsfeld has repeated, those who talk don't know; those who know don't talk. I myself have no intention of talking about the very little I know: it is enough to guess at the shapes in the dark, and to expect surprise.

What can be said from plain observation is that the second "front" is using tactics much like those which were so successful in Afghanistan. Indeed, the overall strategy in Iraq is beginning to resemble the Afghan one, superimposed on the more conventional column of steel (which replaces the indigenous Afghan Northern Front with a snaking, high-tech hammer). And the reason for this is not far to seek: for the enemy in the field is fighting with methods very similar to those of the Taliban and Al Qaeda -- an especially barbaric form of retreat, hit and run that makes no concessions to Western rules of decency.

But the Pentagon anticipated this, too, hence the Afghan-like invisible deployments, and radical makeshift adaptations to local terrain -- probably including camels and horses. They take out the struts upon which the regime is supported, and seem to make no dramatic progress until the moment when suddenly the whole thing comes down, almost simultaneously in many different cities. I expect the collapse, when it comes -- in a few weeks or sooner if there is more luck than expected -- will catch almost everyone by surprise, especially the journalists.

There will of course be much to clean up after, as international terror organizations try to link up with whatever of Saddam's assets have survived.

But while the allies move from victory to victory on the first two "fronts", they are suffering serious and mostly unavoidable setbacks on the third, propaganda, one. I am tempted to stop and argue with the barrage of media reports -- the "24/7 battery of lies" to which I referred in a former article; a remark which filled my inbox with hate mail from my fellow journalists. But there is too much of it for one writer to deal with.

It begins on the small scale with remarks made in sheer ignorance. For instance, an Abrams tank with its treads blown off has not been "destroyed"; its crew is alive, and the tank can be fixed. Or, Apache helicopters grounded by a sandstorm have not been "turned back by Iraqi defenders". A frequent misunderstanding is about sandstorms themselves, which present a net advantage to U.S. forces. At the battle of Najaf, Monday into Tuesday, they were annihilating Iraqi fighters by the hundred. The U.S. soldiers could see them clearly as heat signatures on their equipment; whereas the Saddamites could not see the Americans.

But it gets much worse than this. To present civilian deaths, such as those in a Baghdad market, even as a U.S. "mistake", on the basis of Iraqi sources only, is to disseminate Saddamite propaganda. In this case alternative possibilities include an Iraqi inside job, to create a much-needed atrocity story (something they have repeatedly tried elsewhere); a misguided Iraqi surface-to-air missile; or an American cruise missile or bomb deflected from a nearby target by Iraq's recently-acquired Russian GPS-jamming equipment. And even if it were an American mistake, Western journalists participating in the subsequent Iraqi media tour of the site are directly assisting in a propaganda stunt, designed to inflame anti-American opinion throughout the Arab world, and beyond it.

On the large scale, we have the persistent display of doubts about tactics and strategy from journalists without any qualifications to judge them: who know no military history, indeed hardly any history at all; nor are they in possession of many current facts. Their motives are, moreover, clear enough: for many are people whose anti-Bush and anti-American attitudes were on display long before the war.

We also have, in vast doses, a somewhat less political morbid sentimentality that should have no place in war reporting, for it clouds all judgement on matters of life and death.

As Andrew Sullivan has pointed out, the shamefully inaccurate broadcasting of the BBC has a direct military consequence. "One of the key elements ... in this battle is the willingness of the Iraqi people to stand up to the Saddamite remnants. That willingness depends, in part, on their confidence that the allies are making progress. What the BBC is able to do, by broadcasting directly to these people, is to keep the Iraqi people's morale as far down as possible, thereby helping to make the war more bloody, thereby helping discredit it in retrospect."

The BBC is hardly the only source of disinformation on the war; it is everywhere in the "liberal" media, filling the front pages of papers such as the New York Times: pure editorializing founded on half-ignorant, half-intentional misinterpretations of facts and non-facts. The attitudes of these journalists are exposed in the tone of the questions they ask at e.g. Pentagon and CENTCOM press conferences. In the BBC's case, an internal memo from the network's own defence correspondent has come to light, in which he assails his colleagues for persistently leading newscasts with reports that are, in his own capitalized words, "NOT TRUE".

I want to tell my readers directly: do not be discouraged by, and avoid wallowing in, this rich stew of malice. The media front may look grim; but the war itself is going very well.

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JWR contributor David Warren is a Columnist for the Ottawa Citizen. Comment by clicking here.

03/26/02: Shields & lances
03/24/02: Shock & awe
03/21/02: To Baghdad!
03/19/02: Hostage crisis
03/17/02: Bush, the "UN's cowboy," is really the "un cowboy" --- a softie
03/17/02: United? Nations?
03/12/02: Blair goes wobbly
03/10/02: Ready aye ready
03/06/02: Logic of war
02/10/02: Play up, play up
01/30/02: No ambiguity
12/05/02: A farce
11/13/02: A game of chess
10/30/02: Material breach
10/21/02: Armed & dangerous
09/11/02: The enemy within
08/21/02: Bush v. world
08/06/02: Has Sharon gone 'wobbly'?
07/24/02: Evil Sharon
06/19/02: The end is nigh
06/17/02: Those darn American imperialists!

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