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Live from Iraq
Friday, January 17, 2003
The above link is to the transcript of a meeting between the DoD's public affairs officers and news bureau chiefs, discussing how reporters will gain access to troops during the increasingly likely war with Iraq. Interestingly, it didn't appear on the defenselink.mil home page, although it does appear inside the site. I don't think there's anything insidious about that, since this is more of an organizational meeting than breaking news, but I do think it's worthy of comment.
For the past few months, the military has been training reporters to operate with combat troops. (This was parodied in a series of Doonesbury strips from last November.) What seems to be new in this briefing is the discussion of the way that these somewhat combat trained reporters will be embedded into front line units. The description of embedding given in the briefing is:
This seems to be a much higher level of access than was given in Afghanistan. I don't believe that the military has any great love for the civilian press, so I think a question to ask about this news is what is the benefit of press coverage that outweighs the risks and hassles of providing it.
The first benefit I see is in the area of PSYOPS against Iraq. I think that the DoD wants to show images of the well-trained, well-equipped US military to any Iraqi tuning in to any of the news networks. I'd imagine that the hope is that seeing this array of equipment (and perhaps what it can do to training targets or border outposts) will convince the bulk of Iraqi troops to not fight.
A second benefit is that it will serve to insulate US forces from the obligatory cries of war crimes. Media documentation of what US forces are and are not attacking will be a powerful tool in answering charges of civilian casualties.
The final benefit is similar to the first, but one that will be accrued in the larger war on terror, rather than simply the battle for Iraq. In the article above, Den Beste claims that the only way to bring about a change in the cultures that support terror is that "they've got to accept their own failure, personally and nationally and culturally."
This point, while perhaps controversial, seems sound. It was the stunning defeats of Germany and Japan in WWII that shocked German and Japanese culture enough to allow societal reform to take place. In both cases, the change was large, and both countries abandoned warlike ways in favor of economic prosperity.
If the military is true to form, the defeat of Iraq will be swift and final. Hopefully, this will lead to cultural change in Iraq. However, this will not be enough for the war on terror. Terrorist financing comes from many states, not just Iraq.
While the US could wage war against any country that harbors terrorists, that process would be very expensive, in terms of lives, hardware, and goodwill. I believe that the third benefit of allowing media to embed with troops is to try to minimize that cost, by showing the (arab) world the extent of US power. I believe that the hope is that a graphic demonstration of US force, coupled with a reasonably prosperous Iraq, will lead to reforms throughout the middle east, without the US needing to fire a shot.
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