Thanks to the Internet and the global democratization of communication, our enemies in Iraq can read our press and polls with greater ease than any adversaries in history. The insurgents aren’t just casual observers of American information. As groups like the SITE – Search for International Terrorist Entities – Institute, www.siteinstitute.org, demonstrate, they are media-savvy consumers and producers.
As such, they realize the importance of Sept. 15. That’s the date when Gen. David Petraeus gives his report to Congress – a report that will determine the future of U.S. involvement in Iraq. And even if our enemies in Iraq were to exhaust their ranks over the next four weeks in suicide attacks, just as the Viet Cong did during the Tet Offensive, they know that the spectacle of bombs going off as Petraeus speaks on Capitol Hill will be enough to render the general’s words moot – just as the Viet Cong did during the Tet Offensive.
As I discussed with Austin Bay yesterday (audio here), the attack in Kurdistan last week was one example of the attempt to distort the news from Iraq in the run-up to the receipt of the Petraeus Report. Today’s suicide bombings are likely part of an all out effort to stem the tide of good news coming out of Iraq, and combined with terrible news like the helicopter crash and the loss of 14 more Americans today, these attacks will try and impede and distort the message that General Petraeus gives next month, even as the sorrow every American feels when he or she learns of another American casualty erodes resolve to defeat the enemy.
Which makes the challenge facing General Petraeus even more daunting. As Col. Bay and I discussed, no other American general has ever been tasked with such an assignment in our history –to both win the war and persuade the public that the American forces are doing just that. The deep political division in America has made it almost impossible to conduct the argument much less persuade a war opponent of the need to win not just in Iraq but across the many fronts in the war. The Petraeus Report is not just a summary of the success of the surge, but also an opening to a return to serious conversation about the stakes. This is why I am hoping the Adminstration is working long and hard to figure out how to maximize the audience for the general. The interest in what he will have to say will be intense and sustained, far greater than accompanies a State of the Union address and equal or greater to the audience for an Inaugural Address, and there won’t be a second chance to leverage that interest into audience. Only the hysterical anti-war extremists are doubting the general’s credibility and willingness to bluntly state the facts on the ground, but they are noisy far beyond their numbers, and the enemy is committed to the propaganda effort that allows defeatism to flourish. Let’s hope Tony Snow, Ed Gillespie, and the rest of the communication team are spending lots of time with the president, the vice president and Secretary Gates in thinking through the optics of the Petraeus Report.
Austin Bay has been writing on the sort of metrics that matter in assessing the campaign for Iraq, and getting those metrics into the form the public will grasp will be up to General Petraeus. Making sure he has the biggest audience is the Adminstration job.