Since I’ve spent a great deal of time on the road and in hotel rooms of late, I’ve been living on a steady diet of 24-hour news channels and their coverage of the just-established “truce” between Israel and Hezbollah. Now that they can’t fill their news cycle with new images of bombings and rocket damage, reporters and anchors are insistently asking some pretty dumb questions, like “Who won?” and “Where will Hezbollah get the money they need to rebuild Lebanon?”
The answers to both questions seem pretty self-evident. Israel won on the battle field and lost at the negotiating table; Hezbollah will get all the money it needs from the same place it got its missiles and logistical support for the incursion that started the latest conflict: its patrons in Iran. While I understand why news channels don’t discuss the obvious for reasons of filling air-time, I also believe that this trend in reportage exemplifies the West’s growing impatience with the process of war.
Here’s what I mean: We’ve gotten used to “wars” lasting days and weeks, not months and years. We’ve come to expect overwhelming victory, with knockout blows that keep casualties to a minimum, using high-tech weaponry delivered from afar. For a society that dwells on Vietnam analogies too much when debating Iraq, we’ve forgotten how long that conflict lasted (1961-1975). Indeed, though we celebrate our “Greatest Generation,” who stormed the beaches in Normandy, we keep forgetting that, at many points in their war, there was serious doubt as to whether the West would actually win.
No, we’ve been spoiled by the Israelis, who kicked the snot out of the Arabs twice in the Six-Day War and the Yom Kippur War. We’ve been spoiled by the First Gulf War, which made progress on the Israeli rapid-victory model by truncating the event down to hours. The One Hundred-Hour War.
Then came Gulf War II, the incursion in Afghanistan, and now, the most recent conflict between the Israelis and Iran’s army-by-proxy, Hezbollah in Lebanon. These don’t fit into neat time frames imposed by the 21st century’s news media. Though they are more like most wars in history — long, bloody and maddeningly slow in their progress — the news media wants to know “What’s wrong?” “Why is it taking so long?” and “When will the dying stop?”
The obvious answer, “When victory is achieved” is not satisfactory for the media because it’s not a sexy answer. It’s too far out in time, too indefinite, and it implies uncertainty. Unable to fit the war’s beginning and end into a neat package, it is not surprising that our media has increasingly termed the Iraqi conflict a “quagmire,” a “war without end,” when in historical terms it’s still pretty short, pretty bloodless and pretty isolated from the daily lives of most Americans.
This trend in reporting also lends itself to analogies that, as with the Vietnam conflict, America can simply “get out” of Iraq with no long-term consequence. The justification for going into Vietnam was, of course, the Domino Theory: If we “lost” South Vietnam to the Communists, the rest of South East Asia would “fall” as well, just like dominoes. After we “lost” in Vietnam, however, nothing bad happened. Liberal interpretations of the war, then and now, emphasized a military loss without consequence — at least for America.
Folks like the new Democratic senatorial nominee, Ned Lamont, are using this line of logic to justify their position that America can disengage from Iraq at no cost to either our prestige or our long-term goal of regional security. What’s irresponsible about this is that Ned Lamont and his friends know better, and that “Uncle” Ahmenijad is no “Uncle Ho”: he means us harm and says so frequently.
During the Cold War, we took what the Soviets said about destroying our society seriously because our collective leadership understood that the Russians had long-term plans and they played for keeps. That’s something we seem to have forgotten about our very vocal enemies in the Middle East. Somehow, we’ve forgotten that most struggles worth winning don’t end in weeks or hours, but take years to play out.