DURING ONE RECENT press briefing, a Defense official observed that what America is seeing of the war is a series of scenes, but that they aren't seeing the whole picture.
How true. The coverage of the war from embedded reporters is unprecedented in its detail and immediacy. Yet in a way, the intense detail is misleading: The views we see on television are at such close focus that, even when we stitch together scores of front-line reports, it's difficult to get a sense of what's happening on a macro level. Instead, we see a series of snapshots during a newscycle and a conventional wisdom gradually forms among the commentators who extrapolate from there.
On Thursday and Friday allied forces advanced rapidly into Iraq, and many Iraqis in occupied territory celebrated the impending fall of Saddam. By Friday night, the conventional wisdom suspected that the war could be over by Monday or Tuesday.
Then, starting late last night, things changed. First, reports came in about a turn-coat soldier in the 101st Airborne who fragged his mates. By Saturday morning some allied units were meeting resistance and correspondents on television were showing firefights. Some non-embedded journalists were reported killed. A British plane was shot down by a Patriot missile battery. And the Iraqi Vice President was announcing that Iraq had captured an American POW and would be parading him in public within a few hours. On "Meet the Press," Donald Rumsfeld allowed the possibility that some American soldiers might be missing and Jim Miklaszewski reported that pictures of what appeared to be executed American soldiers were coming out of Iraq.
Suddenly, the war was no longer being regarded as a cakewalk. The problem with this conclusion--as with the opposite conclusion on Friday--is that they're both based on a sense of gestalt. In this war we can see hundreds of trees in great detail, but the forest remains unclear. Forty-eight hours from now we could be fighting pitched battles with the Republican Guard or walking unopposed into Baghdad.
AMIDST ALL THE BIG NEWS, some small, interesting tidbits have surfaced:
Iraq's foreign minister, Naji Sabri (who was made famous in the HBO movie "Live from Baghdad"), slipped out of Iraq and went to Syria, where he said, "We hope that our Arab brethren will defend themselves and stand against the Zionist-American-British aggression which is targeted at all Arab countries to turn them into weak statelets ruled by Sharon." It's instructive to note that even with all of our efforts in the region, individuals can get out of pocket. It's tough work.
Much talk has centered around the surrender of Iraqi soldiers, with Gen. Tommy Franks estimating that the allies have captured between 1,000 and 2,000 Iraqis already. That sounds like a lot--and it is--but to put it in some perspective, there were 80,000 Iraqi POWs in the first Gulf War in 1991.
Peace protests are becoming de rigueur, both in America and abroad. Many of these protesters are merely stupid and misguided peaceniks. Many of them are merely anti-Bush partisans. And many of them are merely anti-Americans. Some of them are dangerous. The Jerusalem Post reports that at a rally in France peace protesters stabbed two young Jewish boys who were passing through the neighborhood.
On Friday afternoon, just as most people were getting ready to leave work, the House voted on a resolution entitled "Expressing the Support and Appreciation of the Nation for the President and the Members of the Armed Forces Who are Participating in Operation Iraqi Freedom." This is standard procedure for Congress whenever the country goes to war. It's a simple, non-ideological expression of support for the troops designed to make congressmen feel good about themselves and appear patriotic. These resolutions almost always pass unanimously.
Not this time. Thirty-three House members voted either "No" or "Present, " including Democrats John Conyers, Jim McDermott, Maxine Waters, and Dennis Kucinich. You can read the roll of shame here. To do this, just hours after four Marines died doing their duty to protect America, is truly beyond belief.
The Academy Awards are tonight and it could be a defining night for liberalism. Some stars are boycotting the ceremony, others plan to protest during the show. Many will be wearing peace pins. Michael Moore has an excellent chance of winning Best Documentary for "Bowling for Columbine," and if he wins he'll have as much time as he dares to lecture the second-largest TV audience of the year on the evils of George W. Bush, and he'll have a sympathetic crowd in front of him. It could be a defining moment on the order of magnitude of the Paul Wellstone memorial/pep rally. Stay tuned.
Jonathan V. Last is online editor of The Weekly Standard.