In this morning’s Washington Post – which I continue to subscribe to more for the Sunday Ads section than for the content of the paper – there’s an article by Jonathon Rauch wherein he opines on the coming pullout of troops from Iraq. How does he know this? Why, because Nixon did it in Vietnam after public opinion shifted and Bush will do the same. In an article where Rauch himself says plainly that Iraq is no Vietnam and Bush is no Nixon, he casually dismisses this concept and says that Bush will act in the same manner anyway whether Bush is currently aware of it or not. And, in true conspiracy fashion, he even implies that Bush already knows he’s going to.
Of course, the lynchpin to all this is the plunging support for the war in the general public, a fact he cites polling numbers to substantiate. It makes me wonder when he wrote this article, however, because the news of the week is that the polling numbers are improving for the President and support of the war, not dropping. Rather than having more and more people saying we should simply withdraw now, the polls are indicating that people think politicians who suggest this are wrong and are hurting our efforts in Iraq and elsewhere. Support for the troops – and I mean real support, both for them and their mission as opposed to hollow supporting words backed by calling the troops Nazis and the like – is on the rise. In spite of the media’s efforts to paint the situation as a quagmire (their favored word until recently) the American people recognize that the situation over there is vastly improved and getting better every day.
Which, of course, brings us back to Rauch’s argument and his equation of this war with Vietnam. What he carefully steps around is the reason for the drop in public support to begin with. The American public gets fed information by a media with their own narrative to tell. That last comment works equally well for both Vietnam and Iraq. The fact that the media engaged in advocacy reporting in Vietnam is historical fact now. Reporters didn’t report what was happening so much as what they wanted people to see. Without the internet or some other method of communicating with soldiers who were actually in the field there was no way to bring the kind of scrutiny to the reporting process as the media was so proud of bringing to the war effort there. They could and did paint the results of any engagement any way they wanted to and it was almost uniformly bad for the military and the administration of the time. The example of the Tet Offensive is just the glaring and ultimate instance of a media more interested in actually shaping the news of the day (and bringing down a President they didn’t like) rather than reporting the facts.
So it is today with Iraq. Never mind the successful battles, the 14 of 18 provinces in Iraq with no violence considered worth reporting by the media, the monstrous improvement in the lives of the citizens there and the fact that these people are truly as engaged in democracy as we are. Five years ago a father such as myself who had a daughter entering womanhood had a genuine, real fear that she was going to get nabbed off the street not by some psycho crook but by the government goons employed by the nation’s leader’s sons. Speaking out against the government in any way almost assured a very violent and messy death not just for the speaker but his family as well. It was really, honestly a fascist totalitarian state. And here we are, a bit over 3 years after the US-led Coalition invaded and literally none of those worries exist. A man can speak his mind and vote his conscience and so can his wife. Polls in Iraq (taken by Iraqis from Iraqis, I might add) show that 2/3rds of them consider themselves much better off today than they were under Hussein and over 80% of them are confident their lives will be even better a year from now. That kind of news doesn’t get reported by the majors at all. Let 1 terrorist fire an RPG round at a US outpost over there – whether it hits or not – and you can’t find a front page in any major city in the US that doesn’t have that in the headlines. When all you report is the terrorist successes and the body count and you leave out any news of US successes and the context of what they’re doing it’s not hard to understand why people don’t support the war. Rauch is all too happy to write about lack of public support forcing the President’s hand but he misses the larger issue of the American peole being basically led to that action by a hostile media.
Fortunately, it would appear President Bush doesn’t base his actions on the media’s reports of polling numbers where national security is concerned. He knows the correct strategy to win against an enemy that doesn’t want to negotiate and he’s not going to leave our new friends in the region in the lurch like America did in Vietnam.