The Christian Science Monitor notes that al-Qaeda’s media-based asymmetrical warfare strategy is paying them big dividends:
In the aftermath of the war, fewer US correspondents were embedded with US military units, and the story took a different direction. The focus was on attempts to build a democratic political system and repair an infrastructure both neglected by Hussein and then damaged even more during the fighting. Then came more negative stories of US mistakes and the Pentagon’s unpreparedness for the enormity of problems in the postwar occupation. Finally, Iraq lapsed into violence, with car bombings and assassinations and hostage-taking providing a daily litany of horror. The occupying US soldiers began to take ever more casualties as did US and other foreign civilian workers and journalists, whose fatalities soon numbered more than in any other war.
They included brave Iraqi journalists and cameramen working for the Americans at great peril.
Critics in the Bush administration charged that images of chaos and violence were overshadowing stories of a more positive nature: of schools that were being opened, hospitals that were being rebuilt, and Iraqis who were coming forward to be policemen.
Now some US military officers, too, charge that a clever enemy media campaign is gaining traction and that the US is losing the war in information about battlefield operations.
I don’t think there’s much question that the United States is losing the media war. As independent journalists like Michael Yon have noted the US military has not been friendly to the media which only exacerbates the natural bias the media has against the military. At a time when winning the media war is as crucial as military success on the battlefield, the lack of a coherent military strategy on the part of the United States is one of the greatest weapons that al-Qaeda has.
The military needs to revive the embeds program and ensure that the full story from Iraq is told. The media rarely leaves the Green Zone and relies mainly on terrorist-affiliated stringers to bring them the news from the rest of Iraq. As one officer notes in the article, why build a propaganda outlet when you can subvert the nation’s media to do the work for you?
This situation was largely preventable, had the US taken the initiative after the end of the first phase of combat. Rather than letting the media fend for themselves, the military should have expanded the embed program to ensure that the media got the full story and not just what the enemy wanted them to see.
The American people need to get the full picture so that they can make informed opinions about this war. Right now, they are only getting one side of the story, and that is the side of the story that the enemy wants them to get. The media is not being a “watchdog” when they uncritically report what they’re given — but it doesn’t help that the other story is a lot harder to get than the propaganda of the enemy. Part of winning in Iraq requires our leadership to understand that this war isn’t like the wars we’ve seen previously — it is being fought through the media as much as it is on the battlefield.
If we want to win, and we must, we cannot allow the enemy to shape the media battlefield. We have to fight back, and that means that we have to be far more proactive in getting the full story out there. If we don’t, we will continue to lose at home at the same time our soldiers make great sacrifices trying to win in Iraq.