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May 28, 2004

Warfare's Changing Landscape

Belmont Club has a very interesting post arguing that urbanization, the media, and other factors have broken down the wall between military affairs and civilian governance:

But the really frightening aspect of Col. Leonhard's argument is not that the military and political aspects of warfare have fused, but his realization that foreign battlefields and home front have merged into one integrated area of operations. There is now no real distinction between winning the "media war" and cleaning out a sniper's nest in Ramadi; between Abu Ghraib the prison and Abu Ghraib the media event. Many readers have criticized the Belmont Club's An Intelligence Failure as being too "soft" on the liberal press, arguing that the media's distortions are not simply the effect of incompetence but the result of a deliberate campaign of partisan information. Doubtless many in the liberal press harbor symmetrical resentments. Yet I have held back from framing the argument in these terms until I could place it in the framework of Col. Leonhard's concept of a global battlefield: one in which the WTC towers and the New York Times newsroom are front line positions no less than any corner in Baghdad; and where victory is measured not simply by the surrender of arms but the capitulation of ideas. We have begun the 21st century just as we inaugurated the 20th: at the edge of old familiar places and on the brink of the unknown.

One thing seems clear to me -- the adminstration has mishandled the media war both overseas and, most disturbingly, here at home. While it is certainly difficult to get positive information through the media's negative filter, I can't help but conclude that the administration has done an incredibly poor job on this front.

In the latter part of 2003, for example, the administration was silent as Howard Dean, the other candidates in the Democratic primary, and the media tore apart the justifications for the war in Iraq. The administration did not meaningfully challenge them or correct their misinformation. Indeed, the anti-war types were so successful that otherwise intelligent people I know actually believe that we went into Iraq because the president wanted to settle the score with Saddam over the attempted assassination of Bush I -- it was a personal vendetta. Likewise, the lied-about-WMD meme is now conventional wisdom among many -- and the administration did little to counter the misinformation that caused this.

Naturally, some are predisposed to believe such wild theories, but when otherwise intelligent people start to believe them, you've got to conclude that the administration has done a very bad job in the media. And that's not to even mention the adminstration's handling in the media of Abu Ghraib, Fallujah, and Najaf.

Posted by Old Benjamin at 09:47 AM | Permalink


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