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Iraq Journals

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Thursday, April 3

Analysis: Iraq provides new view of battlefield

By Chuck Raasch | GNS

WASHINGTON - Months before the war in Iraq, White House political adviser Karl Rove gathered a trove of World War II documents to find out what the American government had asked of its citizens.

For the post-Sept. 11 war on terrorism, he found little to replicate in the 60-year-old Office of War Information files.

Americans in World War II, said Rove, ``were asked to participate in the scrap drive or the tin drive or the rubber drive or the paper drive or to grow a vegetable garden.

``Well, guess what?'' Rove told reporters in January. ``We're not fighting the same kind of war that requires the same kind of sacrifices by the American people. We've got enough tin and paper and rubber to equip our military forces.''

So with the notion of shared sacrifice gone, except for the troops and families they left behind, what would hold a nation together in a war on uncertain ground?

What would be the new Victory Gardens, scrap drives and gas ration cards?

Either by design or by happenstance, the White House has found at least three answers.

One focuses on threat. Another translates sacrifice as volunteerism.

And a third capitalizes on the sharing moments of millions of Americans watching real-time images of young Americans in war. By ``embedding'' hundreds of reporters with American troops, the access almost guaranteed the kind of intensive, microcosmic American-centric television coverage of the war that has occurred - at the expense, some say, of a broader view of the war's impact across the globe.

The combination is working for President Bush's administration at home. While anti-war protests have continued in this country and around the globe, support for the war has stayed above 70 percent.

As American leaders learned during Vietnam, nations that fight without citizens behind them are taught history's toughest lessons.

Bush has focused wartime trips on military installations in Florida, Pennsylvania and North Carolina, where he has made sure to focus prominently on sacrifice.

``This is a time of hardship for many military families,'' Bush said in a speech at Camp Lejeune, a Marine installation in North Carolina, Thursday. At least 11 Marines from that base are dead in combat.

``America is grateful for your sacrifice,'' Bush said.

Shared sacrifice

But rarely does Bush give a speech without also connecting Saddam Hussein to the continuing threats of a broader war on terror. Never mind that there has been no solid connection between Saddam's regime and the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

By rhetorically summoning a tragedy that bound a nation in shock and grief, Bush supplants the requisite of shared sacrifice.

``What would be the need for a sense of shared sacrifice in a 30-day war?'' asked Kathleen Hall Jamieson, dean of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. ``They don't need it, not if they are creating a sense of shared threat without it.''

Back in January, Rove ridiculed the idea of Americans sacrificing by driving less or buying smaller cars. But he did have an answer about what average Americans could do for a war effort.

He suggested volunteering. It is no coincidence that two months later, Bush carefully works in that theme as he rallies support for troops in Iraq or homeland security workers.

He did it again at Camp Lejeune on Thursday when, along with lauding the troops, he praised the base's coordinator of volunteers.

``She represents hundreds of thousands of people who volunteer to make other people's lives better,'' Bush said, urging people to turn to ``a neighbor in need.''

By giving access to embedded reporters for real-time reports, millions of Americans see their neighbors fighting a war. But the coverage has been a double-edged sword for the Pentagon.

Vignette war

Americans have gotten a ground's-eye view of young Americans pressing forward and the ``ethical'' way in which Bush said they fight.

But the constant stream of battlefield reports also has made this the Vignette War. American military planners have struggled to provide a whole picture of American aims and accomplishments against a backdrop of dramatic, but episodic, action. A visual image of a single tank being knocked out appears in the context of 1,900 bombing sorties on a single day.

At a briefing during the war's second week, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld complained that the ``massive volume of television'' coverage was ``somewhat disorienting.

``Fortunately,'' he said, ``my sense is that the American people have a very good sense of gravity and can absorb and balance what they see and hear.''

One reason support for the war at home has not flagged might be because Americans have not gotten the steady diet of collateral civilian suffering that has marked coverage in the Arab media.

Hall Jamieson said that from the Pentagon's vantage point, the embedded reporters give ``an immediacy and a credibility'' to U.S. actions in a dangerous part of the world.

She pointed to the ``extraordinary narrative'' about rescued POW Jessica Lynch as an example.

``You build up enough of these narratives and the war has a human face,'' she said. ``Not the one where the person dies and comes home to a grieving community.''

The big challenges in the coming months might be to bind national will during a fragile peace.

``When you move into that region in that part of the world, given our history in that part of the world, the risks are very, very high,'' Hall Jamieson said.

Larger conversation

Some believe that Bush has missed an opportunity for a larger conversation about the future.

Rich Katula, a former Pentagon information officer and now a professor of communications at Northeastern University in Boston, said Bush has been ``embraced for his sincerity'' since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. But he worries about an image of American arrogance that could survive any war, however successful.

``Since 9-11 ... a lot of us have wondered if there are not some other lessons we should be learning,'' said Katula, who was an Army sergeant at the Pentagon during Vietnam. ``Without being sort of anti-American culture, I do wonder whether Bush the president has taken the opportunity to talk about our culture, our behavior patterns, things that we could change in the way we consume and in the way we address the rest of the world.''

Still, Katula said, he is amazed at how much access the Bush administration has given to the battlefield and how it's being received at home. It's a far cry from his days at the Pentagon in 1969, when Katula would sometimes walk outside and be splashed by bags of pig's blood thrown by anti-Vietnam War protesters.