Posts Tagged ‘Iraq’

From a friend of mine who publishes a popular political blog in D.C. comes proof positive of a badly kept secret: the operations in Iraq are being rebranded. Operation Iraqi Freedom will, as of September 2010, be known as “New Dawn.” 

This is not the first time the activities in Iraq have undergone a name change. The original title for the war (or, if you prefer, “incursion” or “invasion”) was Operation Iraqi Liberation. No sooner did the White House issue a press release  in 2003 than an astute observer noted the acronym spelled “OIL.”  Everyone quickly moved on to “OIF”.

Rebranding a war effort, particularly when the mission changes, is certainly one way to recalibrate public perception. Incidentally, the term “perception management” originated with the Department of Defense; the original meaning was to be a synonym for persuasion. However, as noted military author and military affairs specialist Emily Goldman has written, “falsehood and deception [are] important ingredients of perception management; the purpose is to get the other side to believe what one wishes it to believe, whatever the truth may be.”

The truth is that military operations in Iraq are entering a new phase, one in which the American military presence is fading (or rather is moving over to Afghanistan). Perhaps a new title for this group of actions is needed.  But if I were asked, I might suggest a less poetic-sounding name, at least until we are truly certain a new dawn is coming to that part of the world.

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I’ve gotten increasingly interested lately in how people are getting their news: where they’re looking, what they’re reading, and who they’re listening to, sharing with, and commenting on.

012309NewMediaMonitorThe Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) tracks weekly the most and least-discussed topics by citizen bloggers as well as by mainstream media. Its “New Media Index” for June 29th to July 5th  revealed a schism between mainstream media and the blogosphere. Few of the online commentators were talking about Michael Jackson’s death Michael-Jackson-9_580189awithin a few days of that event (this was before the service), but instead had focused on the death of ubiquitous pitchman Billy Mays, billy-maysalong with marking the thirtieth birthday of the Sony Walkman. Meanwhile, mainstream press devoted 17% (17 percent!) of its content  to the Jackson story over the course of the week. Events in Iraq and Afghanistan (the pullout in Iraq and the launch of a major new offensive in Afghanistan) accounted for about 5-6% of mainstream content and didn’t show up significantly on the blogosphere, although bloggers were discussing Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor that week.


I don’t have PEJ’s figures for the past week yet, but I’ve made some anecdotal observations about stories that dominated and those with staying power. I’d guess the numbers will reflect activity on the pre-Independence resignation by Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, sarah-palin-fishalthough interest waned as it became apparent there are only so many ways to keep speculating as to what she’s going to do next. 

Of course, as anyone within spitting distance of a switched-on television knows, Tuesday, July 7th was all about Michael Jackson’s all-day memorial service, what with anchors installed in LA as if it were a state funeral and reporters (including the Wall Street Journal, for chrissakes!) blogging in real time about what was going on every single minute.

Meanwhile, other underemployed reporters rushed to Nashville in order to figure out how many details they could wring out of the sad story of NFL quarterback Steve McNair’s shooting death by his unhappy McNairgirlfriend, who then killed herself.  I did notice, on several news aggregates  a few scattered stories on the economy, focused on the reluctance of bailed-out banks to lend money, although they have no problem raising bank fees. GM caused a little flurry of blog excitement over its plans to release a plug-in SUV

Comcast, my current Internet provider, redid its home page. Now, in keeping with many other major server home pages, you can catch up on this week’s important stories and assume it’s all about whether Lindsay Lohan’s career is over. Good luck locating anything about President Obama’s African trip. It’s there, but not exactly prominently placed.President_Barack_Ob_588023a

Why do particular stories seem to rate endless coverage? Mainstream media curates the news; the editors and producers presumably try to give readers/viewers what they thinks that audience wants. Are these outlets off-base? On-target? Did we ask for or indicate we wanted so much attention paid to celebrity and so little paid to, say, international news or even the economy? Online, we have access to more information.  And yes, we consumers presumably do the selecting. But is the blogosphere an improvement? If you look at consumer news aggregates – Digitt  and Reddit and Topix and such – you see stories categorized as to what’s controversial and what’s hot, which may involve a story about renewed violence in Iraq or Britney Spears’ supposed disappearance. It’s not really  equivalent – or is it to most news consumers? What makes the front pages of these news aggregates is what the readers say they like and the more they say they like or are interested in a story, the more they’ll see it featured. The favorites become more favorite; the other news may languish. 

A close friend is concerned that access to information falsely gives us the sense of being informed; that is, we’re not making distinctions between what’s important for us to know and what’s just distracting. True enough: The only way we’ll get exposed to a variety of stories if we make the effort to cast our gaze wide and deep.  It’s our responsibility to stay informed; in fact, it’s on us to understand why it’s critical.

20090707_mjmemorial_190x190On the other hand, Michael Jackson’s memorial service was a once-in-a-lifetime event, whereas certain stories, like plans to overhaul the health care system or try to resolve Mid-East problems, seem to be ongoing and without end.

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20ambusha6002 The photo on the front page of Monday’s New York Times of a soldier caught in a firefight in a remote region of Afghanistan came in the midst of a news cycle filled with depressing stories out of the region: Taliban takeovers of towns and villages close to Pakistan’s capitol city, new bombings in Baghdad and the story out of Afghanistan.

The day after the story about the ambush, the paper ran an op-ed piece by two young Afghan women who begged America not to turn its back on give up on the brave women who took to the streets to protest the latest government law caving in to fundamentalist demands. “[Westerners assume] Afghans are a ‘tribal people’ who probably do not want a say in choosing their leaders,” they wrote. “Others claim that because Afghanistan is a traditional Islamic society, any promotion of democracy and women’s rights will be resented as an imposition of Western values… These assumptions are wrong.”15afghan2-600

That’s good to know. There are people in Afghanistan and in Pakistan who fervently support women’s rights, human rights and democracy. Possibly even more of the population simply wants to live in peace under whatever form of government is presented to them. In any event, we should support their efforts to live a life free from terror and intimidation.

And it’s not quite fair to say we’ve turned our backs on Afghan human rights, regardless of which country our politicians may discuss from one day to the next. We’ve got boots on the ground there who will soon be joined by new troops our experts are moving from what we and they hope is a more stabilized Iraq.  Although we have no troops in nuclear neighbor Pakistan, we have planes overhead and an Executive Branch proposal for nearly 3 billion in investments to support a military I worry seems far more focused on India than the Taliban militants. Decisions have to be made about how and where to place finite resources – our resources. Maybe that’s why it seems as if Uncle Sam is playing in  high-stakes chess game all by himself.

It’s no fun to be a superpower soloist.

The authors of the piece about Afghan’s marching women note that “Democracy and progress are not products to be packaged and exported to Afghanistan. Afghans have to fight for them.” Absolutely true, as I think our government is beginning to figure out.  Democracy promotion isn’t something that can be done strictly from the outside in. We should assist, support, speak out in no uncertain terms  concerning anything relating to human rights. But as far as translating words into actions, we can always use a little inside help.


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I’m writing a book on moral authority. It’s a heavy subject and as much as I’m enjoying the research, I’m looking forward to finishing the manuscript, shipping it off to be ripped apart by some editor somewhere and turning my attention to other important subjects, like the relationship between crabbiness and aging and how chocolate can help.

In the meantime, while I’m thinking about good and bad and good and evil and good and unbelievably stupid, I thought I’d make note of two news items I tracked this morning. One of them – breaking news! – relates to New York Governor Elliot Spitzer‘s alleged involvement in a prostitution ring. Spitzer, who earned a reputation for tracking down corruption in the private sector and prosecuting (or persecuting, depending on your point of view) the perpetrators, has had a rough year. His take-no-prisoners style hasn’t exactly gone over well among the State Senate Republicans (or some Democrats) and his surrogates have been caught in schemes to discredit opponents which, if not illegal, qualified as excessive. Now this. We could ask what was he thinking but why bother?

Meanwhile, an article in the Times reported to the return to Iraq of a little girl who was sent to the States by a Marine company that raised money mostly from the company leader’s hometown for life-saving surgery to correct a congenital heart defect. The girl’s father had been earlier arrested as a possible insurrectionist but was later freed. This action not only saved the child’s life but created a bond between the girl’s father, once suspected as being involved in the insurgency and the American major, who said, “Perhaps he was involved in the insurgency, perhaps he wasn’t…but as far as I’m concerned, he’s my friend.”

Lives made worse and lives made better and in the end, perhaps, it depends on which little voice inside your head you listen to – if you’re listening at all.

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Come ye now and let us dwell not upon angry disagreements about the meaning of Christmas; nor spend undue amounts of time thinking of the pain of traveling cross-country to see family we scarcely know (though we may spend undue amounts of time in the airports or on the roads). Let us turn our minds and hearts away from the desperate lengths to which we will go to find a perfect gift for a loved one nor the many for whom we forgot to shop and break free of the endless cycle of Christmas specials that clutter our televisions. Instead, let us acknowledge the spirit of kindness, charity and general benevolence as exemplified by a few lovely stories I happened to spot.

  • A rumpled Chistopher Lloyd-type professor has captured the attention of Internet denizens with his endearing and zany lectures on physics.
  • In drought-stricken Africa, a creative entrepreneur has introduced a merry-go-round attached to a water pump, storage unit and tap; when the kids jump on and spin, the water flows.
  • An American soldier deployed to Iraq adopted a young boy with cerebral palsy and, against all odds, brought him to the United States to live.
  • HRM, the Queen is on YouTube!

Best of all, we have a few days (probably only two, although one can always hope) in which we won’t hear from or see the candidates tramping through the ice or snow in Iowa and New Hampshire, trailed by hordes of pollsters, pundits and whatnot.  January promises to be all-primary all the time but for now we can be grateful for the respite. Pace.

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No Exit

This has been another depressing news week. I’m starting to understand why people put aside the front pages of their papers, turn off their radios, tune out cable news and spend copious amounts of time blogging over whether Britney is fat or malfunctioned in her choice of costume (well no, I don’t understand that last bit). The long-awaited report from General David Petraeus, our military man in Iraq, held no surprises. Maybe it all depends on how you define “progress” but all I could think about was that “Grey’s Anatomy” episode where Meredith has her hand inside a patient with a live munition inside him. She can’t pull out because it might explode; then again, it might explode anyway. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

Some members of Congress at the hearing – those few who weren’t enamored with the sound of their own voices – expressed a high degree of frustration with the General and his report. What did they expect? He’s a military guy offering a military perspective. And didn’t a majority of Americans say in a recent poll that they trusted the military over the President to know best how to end the war in Iraq? Of course, that’s assuming there are no other solutions but military ones. As it stands, the report feeds right into our partisan mood. You’re either a “cut and run” coward or you’re a “stay and pray” idiot. Damned either way.

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