President Who?

In a post titled "Resistance is futile: You will be (mis)informed," Michael Yon laments the awful cognitive disconnect "between what most Americans seem to think is happening in Iraq versus what is really happening in Iraq": wasn't until I spent that week back in the States that I realized how bad things have gotten. I believe we are witnessing a conspiracy of coincidences conflating to exert an incomprehensibly destructive force on the free press system that we largely take for granted. The fact that the week in question also happened to be when General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker were delivering their reports to Congress makes me wonder if things are actually worse than I've assessed, and I returned to Iraq sadly convinced that General Petraeus now has to deal from a deck clearly stacked against him in both America and Iraq.
Read it all (and as Glenn suggests, please hit Michael Yon's tip jar). The post is an eye opener, and it makes me very angry, because I think that the general public is fatigued to the point of being burned out. While this is often thought of as war fatigue, unfortunately it takes the form of information fatigue. People just don't want to hear any more. Part of the reason is because they have already heard too much, and they are tired of being scolded in a partisan manner if they so much as utter a war related thought.

A good friend recently told me that he supports the war in silence, and he absolutely refuses to talk about it any more.

Bloggers, I am sorry to say, cannot fix this problem. Most people do not get their information from blogs, and those who do are usually on one side or the other, so their minds are not likely to change.

Take me, for example. I can write this blog post, but I am not in Iraq, and I am relying on what I have read in Michael Yon's blog and a few others. However, I do watch mainstream media reports pretty closely, and what I have noticed is that at the same time the situation in Iraq improved, mainstream news reports seemed to dwindle in a direct relationship to the improvement. To me, that's a clue. But to others (especially the more "normal" people who rely on news accounts) no news is not seen as evidence of good news, but just a relief from news. Unfortunately, all they remember is the steady drip drip drip of bad news from Iraq. Without any news, they're probably just hoping that the channel has been changed.

As I've argued before, this behavior reminds me of changing the channel on the remote. And if you're blogging about the war, what you're doing is basically like trying to get people to go back to what they've been tired of watching for a long time. Add this to the fact that the overwhelming majority of blog readers already know what they think, and my remark that bloggers cannot fix the problem becomes understatement.

It makes me very angry, and it's one of the reasons I don't write about the war very much despite my strong support for it. And let's face it, anger is generally non-productive -- especially anger over being unable to do anything productive.

I mean, really, what the hell can I add? Should I repeat for the umpteenth time that I am sick and tired of seeing all these seemingly irrelevant bloggers doing what's supposed to be part of President Bush's job?

But even there, there's a problem. If bloggers who are doing President Bush's job by defending the war are being ignored as irrelevant, then what good does it do to get mad at Bush?

Especially if President Bush is irrelevant.

Glenn Reynolds discussed the relevance issue yesterday (after a Google "Bush" search turned up nothing) and after the Washington Post reported -- barely -- a recent claim by Bush that he was in fact "relevant":

Bush said his veto pen was "one way to ensure that I am relevant; that's one way to ensure that I am in the process. And I intend to use the veto."

Bush said Congress, under Democratic control for nine months, has not "managed to pass many important bills. Now the clock is winding down and in some key areas Congress is just getting started." Congress should act on mortgage relief for homeowners hit by the housing crisis, trade deals that would strengthen allies, legislation expanding U.S. markets and aid to military veterans, Bush said.

"I'm looking forward to getting some things done for the American people," Bush said. "And if it doesn't get done, I'm looking forward to reminding people as to why it's not getting done."

Can I look forward to the same thing? The problem is, Bush barely mentioned Iraq (the foreign policy questions involved Putin, Iran, and Iraq was only mentioned in the context of Turkey), but there Bush was, with the press in front of him, insisting he was relevant, all the while saying nothing about success in Iraq.

Has the president become content to support the war in silence like my friend?

owlBush1.JPGWhile Bush's rather plaintive cry of relevance seems to have made it into the Inquirer, it didn't quite stand out at me the way another story did, which pictured Bush with a screech owl:

First came some bird-watching at the Patuxent Research Refuge outside Washington, where he peered through a scope at waterfowl and had a closer encounter with a brown-and-white screech owl.

"Cute little fellow," the president said, looking slightly askance at the jittery bird perched on his hand.

Bush, noting that migrating bird populations were threatened by increasing development along their routes, said his administration would award private landowners "credits" they could sell, mainly to federal agencies, to encourage them to set aside "stopover habitats" for more than 800 species of migratory birds.

He said his administration also would give extra tax breaks, if Congress consented, to landowners who donated conservation easements to help migratory birds.

I was quite taken with the picture, because I like screech owls. The Democratic Underground really liked the owl pictures (even more than the Inquirer), and they've got some really good images of the "cute little fellow" who probably thinks my screeching about the war infringes on his species' name.

But if he thought that, he'd be wrong, because the name "Screech Owl" is a bit of a misnomer. The Screech Owl does not screech, but makes an unforgettably haunting sound like the whinny of a horse. And more:

The screech owls produce a number of different noises. The call that gives them their name is less a screech and more a spooky horse whinny. Another call they make is a quick melodic puttering that is very hard to locate. When angered, mildly threatened or otherwise offended they growl, like a miniature bulldog. Annoyed or quite upset, they will snap their bill making a little clapping noise. Some argue this clapping is actually tongue-clicking.
Well, I may not be what President Bush would consider a "cute little fellow." But even though I'm not much of a war blogger, I do make a number of different noises. Maybe if I growl like a bulldog and make sure my tongue-clicking isn't minsinterpretated as clapping I can get the increasingly irrelevant president to listen.

Not that I'd tell him how to run the war, of course, but I wish he could do a better job of defending the war instead of worrying about whether he's "relevant" while war bloggers like Michael Yon do his job for him.

Hey, it's not as if I'm asking Bush to point out that owls are associated with Athena, and that Athena is the goddess of war and technology or anything like that....

Just defend the war!

UPDATE: Thank you Glenn Reynolds for the link, especially for the quote!

A warm welcome to all.

posted by Eric on 10.22.07 at 01:17 PM


"A good friend recently told me that he supports the war in silence."

I'm among that set, and I try to hold my tongue on most other issues of the day, outside of blog comments.

When I was visiting the Soviet Union in 1974, I noticed the same sense of self-preservation. Everyone was very nice; no one said anything controversial outside of criticizing capitalism and the United States.

This is a real congenial society the progs are building.

Brett   ·  October 22, 2007 1:21 PM

"Part of the reason is because they have already heard too much, and they are tired of being scolded in a partisan manner if they so much as utter a war related thought."

* * *

A good friend recently told me that he supports the war in silence."

I can relate to this.

I support the war. Adamantly. Vocally. That doesn't mean I don't have reservations about its prosecution, or how we are now involved in it in the first place - I do.

But, that, right there, is a statement that is guaranteed to receive flak. Not because of the specifics (who has time to pay attention to those?), but because its not the partisan rhetoric coming out of either side.

What's a guy to do?

Jared G   ·  October 22, 2007 8:26 PM


I find myself having to just stay silent. Most of my friends have swallowed the Kool-Aid about the war.

So, I simply read the 'net, absorb the news of the day, and understand that it's going to take the media incontrovertible evidence to bring it kicking and screaming for an update, and honestly report what is going on. We have already seen the beginnings of this.

I think they will have to, in the end. However much it will give them ulcers and piles, there are simply too many sources of news for them to ignore. Mr. Yon and Mr. Trotten, Mr. Roggio, among others, are reaching a more critical mass of readers, and their stories simply cannot be ignored.

FYI: Michael Yon has proposed an invitation for the majority of newspaper publishers to run his commentaries and photographs in Iraq. Go to his site and support his initiative.

This could be something really valuable, but it will take you to help him make it become a reality.

Curt Matern   ·  October 22, 2007 8:35 PM

At dinner a year or so ago, I had some friends that were complaining about the President no allowing federal money to be used for fetal stem cell research. I could be convinced either way on this, but understand both sides.

I explained to them the President's position and how the ban was limited to new cell cultures and how state money and private money could still be used.

They both were surprised and although disagreeing with his position could understand why he felt that way. The biggest emotion was that felt let down by the media for not doing their job.

Before Iraqi Campaign started, I read _The Threatening Storm_. I was more informed than anyone else I knew. They seem to think that in a 15 minute speech, that the President can lay out the subtle arguments for a complex issue that took Pollack an entire book.

I haven't given up the fight. I'll be quiet when better men and women than me are done overseas keeping me safe.

John Davies   ·  October 22, 2007 8:54 PM

I just do not believe you'd ever hear it in the "mainstream" media if GWB tried to tell us how things are going in Iraq. He could talk until he was blue and it wouldn't get past the conservative blogs unless they believed they could mock him or make him look dishonest. I become more certain of that with each day.

You're hearing about the "relevant" comment only because they mock.

Beej   ·  October 22, 2007 9:02 PM

I get really irritated when I hear the term "war weary". What the hell have we to be weart fir? What have we given up or sacrificed? The only people who have given up anything have been the soldiers, their families, and friends and loved ones. Otherwise, we have sat here and been content to listen as the trials and tribulations of Brittany and OJ take over the airwaves for a few days. Watch "The War" and then tell me again about how tired you are of hearing about this stuff in Iraq. You gave up sugar, gas, tires; saved fat from cooking. There isn't a single thing that any of us have given up that should make us "war weary!"

NDGirl   ·  October 22, 2007 11:34 PM

Just to add to NDGirl's points, if you are feeling war weary, regardless of your position on the war, one way to fight it is to support the troops by giving to charities such as soldier's angels. You will be pleasantly surprised how good it makes you feel.

Joel Mackey   ·  October 23, 2007 9:17 AM

"What have we given up or sacrificed?"

Actually, there are some sacrifices we could make:

1. Stop bitching about high oil prices, you selfish twits!

2. Contribute to America's success in the war by keeping one's dissent measured and fair, and vocally and clearly criticizing the enemy when he tries to glom onto your position.

3. Cease questioning the legitimacy of close elections.

4. Prove we really are about individual liberty by eschewing new laws to punish your fellow citizens.

That's for starters. Too onerous? Shame on you.

Brett   ·  October 23, 2007 9:21 AM

I worry that Beej is right: it's true Bush hasn't done enough to explain his policies and defend them, but then he may have concluded that it's not going to help even if he does, so why waste the energy and time? (Given the prevalence of BDS, it's not unreasonable to suspect that if he articulated a case, it would actually hurt the war effort. I'll leave aside the larger implications of that, but it is plausible.)

Bush has given three major speeches in which he outlined both the overall strategy of the war and the specific reasons for invading Iraq and treating it as a major theater: the 2002 speech at West Point, the February 2003 speech at AEI, and the 2003 SotU. I do not think I've ever seen these referenced in mainstream media analysis and commentary. During the period a couple of years ago when the pravda was "Democratization is a brand-new justification for the invasion, and originally it was all about WMDs!", I kept waiting for someone to point out that democratization had been identified as the major strategic means of winning the war - not just the Iraqi theater, but the war itself - back in 2002. Nothing. Crickets chirping. You wouldn't think it would be easy to throw a State of the Union down the memory hole, but our press managed it.

So I have a hard time believing it would make a difference to these self-same people if Bush were out there every day explaining anew. La-la-la-la-la I can't HEAR you!

jaed   ·  October 23, 2007 10:11 AM

Back in the days of the Vietnam War we at home received gobs of information from the front about firefights, firebases, casualties suffered,
helicopters shot down, the dollar cost, and various other aspects of the war. These were interspersed with comments from experts supporting or opposing (usually, opposing) the war, and (in the later years) comments from war veterans supporting or opposing (usually, opposing) the war. There was plenty of information presented (a lot of it untrue) and absolutely no way for people here to make sense of that information; i.e. there was no way for people to judge, on their own, whether the war was being won or lost.
Iraq is a different war than Vietnam, but I agree that a similar kind of "information fatigue" is taking place today. There are military bloggers from Iraq insisting that progress is being made, while other soldiers show up in the N.Y. Times and insist that no progress is being made; this difference of opinion is echoed by hundreds of scholars, politicoes, and pundits throughout the media and the internet.
As in Vietnam, there is no way for we, the people, to form a realistic opinion about the war; the only thing certain is that our casualty figures continue to go up. In the Mexican War, Civil War, Spanish War, World Wars I and II, a person could follow the events on a map and have some way of knowing if the war was going well or not. This was not true in Vietnam and it is not true now.
Neither the President nor any of his advisers has yet come out with a realistic description of how a counterinsurgency war is fought and how it can be won (or lost). This is obviously far more difficult than describing the conventional wars I cited above, but it can be done he can recuit some of the milbloggers for this), and it would give us some realistic way to judge the war's progress (the President could also describe, in a grownup way, the political situation in Iraq). Until we have some realistic war goals (i.e. that would justify a declaration of war), the information we receive from Iraq will do nothing but cloud the issue.

johnbrown   ·  October 23, 2007 1:36 PM

"In the Mexican War, Civil War, Spanish War, World Wars I and II, a person could follow the events on a map and have some way of knowing if the war was going well or not. This was not true in Vietnam and it is not true now."

Actually, there is--just not the same sort of maps relied upon during past wars of maneuver. His name escapes me at the moment, but a French officer during the Algerian War developed a "counterinsurgency" map involving red, white and pink zones, depending upon the enemy's influence in a given area at a given time.

This model significantly informed and influenced the counterinsurgency strategy employed by General Petraus, and it's producing results--Google "Anbar Awakening". All over Iraq red real estate is going pink to white as Al Qaeda and the Mahdi Army lose popular support. This is not as easy to follow as Sherman's March, but it could well be just as inexorable.

I'd hazard a guess that the campaign (there is no "Iraq War"--that's a fiction of a press pining for Vietnam)in Iraq has primarily been won. What we may be seeing is "battlefield shaping" for a pending conflict with Iran and/or Syria, both of whom must eventually be dealt with....

ipw533   ·  October 29, 2007 12:21 PM

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