Impressions of the war in Iraq - Week II

Wednesday, April 2, 2003

For those who may have thought this would be a one-week war, it's now clear that removing Saddam Hussein and his top commanders from control will take time, perhaps a considerable amount of time.

As the war enters its third week, here are some thoughts about war:

The American public seems to have an understanding of the war that opponents here and abroad neither expected nor fully understand. Polls continue to show growing support across the country for the military efforts in Iraq, and President Bush's ratings have gone up.

Many Americans are making it clearer and clearer that they don't buy the explanation from protesters who say they support the troops but oppose both the war and those who are directing our military objectives.

Americans are displaying a keen discernment as they watch and read how the news media are covering the war.

TV viewers reacted swiftly after Pulitzer Prize winner Peter Arnett, a veteran war reporter, was interviewed on Iraqi TV and criticized the coalition war effort. Arnett was fired by NBC.

For anyone who wonders about Arnett's leanings, consider his new employer, the Daily Mirror of London, which openly opposes the war and hired Arnett in what appears to be an effort to make sure its news matches its opinion pages.

Meanwhile, Geraldo Rivera created his own firestorm -- a technique he has used his entire career to draw attention to himself rather than the news he purports to cover -- when he broadcast specific information about the 101st Airborne Division.

Another reporter, Phillip Smucker of the Christian Science Monitor, was escorted out of Iraq last week after he gave specific information about unit locations.

For some news organizations -- the largest U.S. networks and newspapers among them -- the ability of Americans to sort through the voluminous reporting and form their own opinions has meant a recalculation in the way news is being presented.

Casualty counting has been given tremendous prominence in this war. It's as if the numbers of dead, wounded and missing will change either the conduct of the war or world opinion.

For seasoned military observers, the most significant casualty statistic in these first two weeks has been how few military personnel and civilians have been affected. It is obvious that coalition military attacks, both by air and on the ground, are being carefully pinpointed to protect civilians.

It is equally obvious that the Iraqi command is doing everything possible to maximize the impact on its own civilians.

Human shields, placing military units near hospitals and schools, faking U.S. attacks by dressing Iraqi soldiers in American uniforms -- all of these and more have become standard operating procedure for Saddam's army.

The true feelings of many Iraqis is being suppresed by outright fear. As a result, coalition troops have a big job ahead of them as they try to convince Iraqi civilians that it's safe to oppose Saddam without fear of being shot on the spot.

Patriotism is evident everywhere, but it was particularly obvious on the opening day of baseball season. Fans who went to the Cardinals game Monday at Busch Stadium in St. Louis were struck by the addition of white and blue to the usual sea of red.

And college basketball players in this year's NCAA tournament head to the Final Four in New Orleans with U.S. flags stitched to their jerseys.

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