A year after the victory in the second Iraq War, the third Iraq War isn’t going so well. Or if it is, the American public isn’t hearing about it. Which is why Secretary Rumsfeld needs to send one of his famed “snowflake” memos (because they come in flurries) to the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The subject: Keeping the American people in the loop.
There is a solid majority of American public opinion behind the war effort, despite the best efforts of the Left and the elite media to diminish public support for the ongoing contest for this crucial battleground in the larger War on Terror. There is no evidence of malaise among the ordinary Americans who understand the stakes and provide the political support for the war.
But there are questions – questions which are not being asked and answered as they were during the course of last year’s major combat operations.
It is difficult to figure out what the strategy in Fallujah is, to name the biggest source of confusion, or to assign a name to the decision to empower one of Saddam’s old generals to assist in the pacification of the city. Have the Marines withdrawn? If not, what was all the muttering about? Are there insurgents inside Fallujah or not?
In the south, where is al Sadr and how big is his force? Which elements of the Army are engaged with those militias? Are there other militias of equal or greater threat?
How many troops are presently in Iraq, and how many of those are front-line vs. support troops? What’s the rotation schedule, and what’s the expectation for one year and two years from now?
In the campaign to convert a totalitarian state to a functioning democracy, who’s got the lead oar on building the new Iraqi security services and Army? Who is training the police? Which Iraqi leaders have charisma, talent and a hope of standing up to the Saddam remnants and the Iranian-backed extremists? Is Syria still importing gunmen to shoot at our troops?
My guess is that most of these questions have been answered in one way or another by one spokesman or another, but the delivery of the information has become fractured, and the news – good as well as bad – isn’t getting through as it was last year. Maintaining public support for the war means maintaining the information flow to the public.
Begin each week with an overview briefing of 10 minutes or less – delivered by Gen. Pace or any of the Pentagon’s experienced and trusted voices – on the state of the effort in Iraq. Such a scheduled brief becomes easy to rebroadcast on shows such as mine or to transcribe and post on any number of websites.
Then take questions at the same time on Monday and every day of the week. Supplement the daily brief with statements by Secretary Rumsfeld and other senior officials as appropriate, but do so with plenty of advance notice and easy to access rebroadcasts over the Web. Get Central Command on a similar schedule.
The public information operation run by Ambassador Bremer’s team appears to be non-existent, perhaps owing to the press of business, but that’s not what the public cares about anyway. They want to know how the war is going, and are much less concerned with the structure of the peace. Do-gooders can wring their hands over this, but it is the situation the troops find themselves in that holds the interest of the public. The administration should stop trying to downplay the combat and instead respect the desire of the public to be fully informed of all the details of the fighting.
Put the embedded reporters back with the units and thus remove the filter that is obstructing the news. There is a reason why the Belmont Club and Command Post and other blogs are seeing their traffic skyrocket: They are providing overviews and analysis of the fighting. The Pentagon needs to match the public’s interest with the information it has available to it.