The Myths of War

By Babbin, Jed | The American Spectator, February 2006 | Go to article overview

The Myths of War


Babbin, Jed, The American Spectator


The Myths of War Disinformation: 22 Media Myths That Undermine the War on Terror by Richard Miniter (REGNERY, 256 PAGES, $27.95)

THE FIRST WAR OF THE 21ST CENTURY has been going on long enough to have generated its own clichés. Among them is one that is dangerous because it conceals the true nature of the war against terrorists and the nations that support them. In saying, "The war against terror is a new kind of war," we implicitly exclude the fact that it, like most of the existential conflicts before it, is an ideological war. Terrorist groups such as al Qaeda echo the old Brezhnev Doctrine, which held that Communism is inevitable and irreversible. To the bin Ladens of the world, radical Islam must make the same claims because its religiously based ideology demands it. Where radical Islam takes hold, their ideology says, nothing can reverse it. Even in the case of the Taliban, they still do not admit more than a momentary setback. To defeat this enemy, we have to defeat its ideology and demonstrate conclusively, even to the dimmest bulbs among them, that there will be no new Muslim caliphate.

On his first day as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, General Peter Pace published his "16th Chairman's Guidance to the Joint Staff." Pace emphasized that

Our enemies are violent extremists who would deny us, and all mankind, the freedom to choose our own destiny. Finding this distributed, loosely networked enemy is the greatest challenge we face. We must find and defeat them in an environment where information, perception, and how and what we communicate are every bit as critical as the application of traditional kinetic effects.

"Kinetic effects"-bullets and bombs-produce dead terrorists as fast as they can be targeted. But fighting and killing an enemy that welcomes death (or at least convinces its minions to welcome it) is not enough to produce his defeat. To reach that goal, we must attack and defeat his ideology and, as General Pace knows, this has to be done as much with words as with rifles.

One of our most serious mistakes since 9/11 is in failing to take on the ideological battle against radical Islam at home or on the battlefield that is the world's media. One reason we haven't is that the West is more than just confused about who our enemy is, how he works, and what he believes. For fear of offending other Muslims, we and the Europeans haven't taken on the radicals' beliefs, to tell their followers that their ideas are as false as those of the Soviets were, as evil as those of the Nazis were, and as strategically doomed as those of the Boxers in early 20th-century China. We have gone so long without taking on this part of the battle, the myths and legends that have taken hold of the public's understanding of the enemy and the war are a barricade we first have to break down before we can even begin the ideological battle.

Before you read my pal Rich Miniter's new book, Disinformation, remind yourself of this line from Will Rogers. "It's not what he doesn't know that bothers me," he said about some unremembered pol, "it's what he knows for sure that just ain't so." As Miniter shows, at least half of what we "know" about this war is just flat wrong.

Miniter starts with an analysis of how the myths and legends are created by politically motivated leaks and news spin, enemy propaganda, and even honest mistakes. How many times have you heard a vacuum-packed talking head say that the famous presidential daily briefing-the one from August 2001-warned that Osama bin Laden was planning to attack America with hijacked aircraft? Saying so mayonce havebeen an honest mistake, but a mistake it is. …

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