“One of the first things you learn in the military,” my father was saying during the monthly call I put through to his home in South Africa, “is to stay mum about impending operations. Soldiers’ lives depend on it.” Dad, who had served in the Israeli Defense Force reserves, was baffled by the American military’s habit of planning and conducting missions on television, in full view of all and sundry, including the enemy.
Indeed, “Operation Phantom Fury” (the American euphemism for flattening Fallujah, soon to be replaced by the Orwellian “Operation New Dawn”) saw our embedded journalists surface like rattlesnakes after winter hibernation. Well in advance of the Fallujah offensive, these embeds could be heard broadcasting details about the number of troops (about 10,000), their method of training, their approximate position, their plan of attack, the specific challenges confronting them, as well as the tactics they would employ, once in the city, as they navigated through “a warren of dangerous alleyways.”
In anticipation of the assault, Fox News posted on its Web site a photo essay entitled “Preparing for Fallujah Assault.” Interested jihadists around the world could view photographs of U.S. soldiers sealing off roads to the city, checking ammunition, and preparing their vehicles “at a base outside Fallujah.” A CNN photomontage treated mujahedin spoiling to join the fight for the “City of Mosques,” as Fallujah is known, to pathos–drenched pictures of U.S. Marines as they primed for war, inscribing name, rank, and blood type (“zap number”) on body armor. When another network reported, unabashed, that the “Marines hope to surprise insurgents,” I finally switched to comedic news served straight up: Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show.
It certainly seemed peculiar for Fox News’ Geraldo Rivera to worry as he did that a deserting Iraqi captain would pose a security threat to the forces poised to “flush Fallujah.” The defector had nothing on Fox embed Greg Palkot. Or, to be more precise, on the military loose lips that whispered in his ear. As Palkot’s military informers told him, and he reported, our Marines and GIs would be equipped with gas masks and anti-tank missile tubes strapped to their packs. As if the soldiers were not vulnerable enough, one battalion commander (from the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, I think he said he was) volunteered that many of his charges had never seen combat before.
The incessant bombardment of such sensitive information can’t but compromise American lives. This disregard for the safety of our soldiers, moreover, has obviously been graced with an imprimatur from on high. The top brass is determined to sell this war to the civilians. And who better to entrust with this mission than the ratings-craving (and craven) television networks. Behold the military-media complex. Or to be more accurate, the military-media-industrial-congressional-complex.
The task force of journalists I watched groveling before “Big Dog” Donald Rumsfeld, barking in agreement after every wisecrack, consisted of the same characters who went AWOL last year, failing to perform their elementary duty to question the administration’s case for invasion. What good little pack animals they are.
It remained for Kofi Annan, of all people, to pick up the American media’s slack. Annan, if you catch my drift, is not working with much. Even so, he still managed to raise some good questions about what is bound to become the Fallujah Fiasco. In a letter to Whitehall, the White House, and to the Baghdad bunker where Iyad Allawi is embedded, Annan anticipated some of the unfortunate effects flattening Fallujah would have on the January elections and on Iraq in general.
But for our media canines, escalating the violence in Iraq and further alienating the Sunni segment of the population were of no consequence. Eager to return to their vomit, as fools return to their folly, they were in no mood to be unnecessarily probative about Iraqi civilian casualties. And the Iraqi dispossessed – at least 200,000 people have been forced to flee Fallujah – are destined to be forgotten footnotes in this fight.
Fallujah may not have inspired the little dogs to conjure up such bon mots as “Breaking Baghdad,” “Decapitation,” and “Shock and Awe,” but Greg Palkot bared his teeth and growled up a storm at those Iraqis foolish enough to defend their own country, delivering reports festooned with promises to “whack ’em,” unleash “cans of whoop-butt” on them, and “send them to Allah.”
To paraphrase Tacitus, these things we misname empire; and where we make a wilderness, we call it a “New Dawn.”