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War and Terror: This Time Around, The Generals Are The Real Reporters|
Posted on Tuesday, April 01 @ 12:29:08 UTC
Topic: World News
Produced by Sharon Basco, www.tompaine.com|
March 31, 2003
"Our beginnings never know our ends," T.S. Eliot warned. This has never proven so true as it has in the behavior of the "military analysts" whom networks, wire services and even local radio and television stations have hired to chatter about the events in this ill-timed and ill-conceived war.
As the war grinds on, a strange transformation has occurred: Many of the generals have become more objective and reality-based than the journalists "embedded" with the troops. Garry Trudeau summed up the problem with [embedded] journalists perfectly in Doonesbury, when his fictional reporter Roland Burton Hedley turned to a company commander and said, "Captain, would you describe our outfit as 'magnificent' or 'mythic?'" "Report it as you see it, sir," the officer replied.
The retired officers who work for the media range from former four-star generals at the [major] networks to mere lieutenant colonels at places like WBUR, a Boston public radio station, and KABC-TV in Los Angeles. They average $5,000 a month just to stand by and be available in case a war breaks out. That doesn't include on-air fees. Presumably, marquee names like NBC's Generals Norman Schwarzkopf and Barry McCaffrey can command much more.
In the early days of the war, the chatter of the analysts was predictable. McCaffrey stood in front of a map with Katie Couric and pointed to major targets, sounding for all the world as if he were still the commander who helped execute the famous "pincer" movement on Kuwait; the adrenaline fairly oozed from his pores. (One of the general's colleagues once told me that McCaffrey had to be threatened with military discipline to keep him from rolling into Baghdad in the last war.) The avuncular, emotional Schwarzkopf analyzed the action for Tom Brokaw like a military John Madden.
The former NATO commander (and likely presidential candidate) Wes Clark performed the same duties for CNN, where retired Major General Donald Shepperd was soon on a "Don" and "Miles" basis with anchor Miles O'Brien.
But it became an open secret that the commander of this expedition, General Tommy Franks, had recommended a force twice as large as the cost-conscious Bushies would give him. With supply lines paralyzed and body counts rising, guerrilla war breaking out and resistance digging in, the analysts began to show their true colors: loyalty to the young men and women in the field, not to the commander-in-chief.
"Our primary loyalty is to the armed forces," McCaffrey said in an interview, warning that the Bush regime is risking "a political and military disaster."
"We're fighting the first Gulf War," said Colonel David Hackworth, the most decorated soldier in Vietnam, about this U.S. campaign in a CNN appearance. The Iraqis, he said, had a different war in mind: "They're fighting Vietnam."
In a more measured, but equally damning, statement, the Associated Press's analyst, former General John Abrams, said of the administration, "There's a concern that's growing about how optimistic their assumptions were."
Increasingly dyspeptic, Hackworth treated CNN's audience to the recollection that General Franks had served under him in Vietnam; he couldn't understand how his former lieutenant had got into this mess.
The stunning news, at the end of week one, that an extra 120,000 troops would be deployed, proved the analysts right. Ironically, it was the professional "embedded" journalists who started seeming more like cheerleaders. CNN's Bob Franken greeted the arrival of few A-10 warplanes like the Second Coming; Ryan Chilcote scrambled to explain that the crash landings of two Apache helicopters from the 101st Airborne was just to be expected in war.
Meanwhile, many of the former top brass continued to probe, question and criticize. "It's possible to be objective and still be loyal to the people and organizations that you love," Clark told the Associated Press.
"If I've lost Walter Cronkite," Lyndon Johnson once said after the CBS anchor editorialized against the Vietnam debacle, "I've lost the war."
It's too early to know what will happen in Iraq, but George W. Bush has lost a heck of a lot of generals.
Old soldiers never die. In this conflict, many of them don't lie, either.
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