From Roger Simon’s review of Norman Podhoretz’s new book, World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism (Podhoretz will be my guest today, as will the author of The Looming Tower, Lawrence Wright):
But… and there is almost always a “but” in a book review, as Norman Podhoretz, of all people, would know (and, yes, buy this book-it is one of the musts of our time)… Podhoretz’s analysis contains a serious omission. In his understandable zeal to defend Bush and his doctrine from admittedly disingenuous opponents, he overlooks an inadequacy on the part of the President and his administration that is nearly fatal.
I am not referring to the strategic errors that may or may not have been made-whether there were too few troops, etc. Podhoretz makes it clear such errors were probably even worse in WWII. The “fog of war” is a clich for a reason. Nor am I even referring to the decision to emphasize the pursuit of WMDs over the promotion of democracy as justification for the war. (Podhoretz sees this as an error, as I do, although he soft pedals it.)
I am referring to the extraordinary inability of Bush and those surrounding him to understand and to respond to the paramount importance of public relations in asymmetrical war. Indeed, it can be argued that asymmetrical war is in essence about public relations. You would think, given the recent history of our time, the Tet Offensive, indeed the whole story of Vietnam, the administration would have known that, seen the inevitability that a powerful opposition would coalesce in the media and in the political classes (one that Podhoretz describes so well) and moved to head it off, to co-opt their opponents, but they did the opposite. They told us to go shopping.
What a basic misunderstanding or lack of understanding of human psychology is that! In World War II, all Americans were asked to participate, to come together against a common enemy. No such thing was asked of us. We were told to stand aside and let the military and the government handle things. Result? In World War II, we had Rosie the Riveter; in World War IV, we have Rosie O’Donnell.
And the Bush Administration is at least in part responsible for this.
I have often written on the seeming inability of the Adminsitration from the president down to grasp the new communications environment, but I think Roger neglects to fully share out the blame here, and the line about “They told us to go shopping” nicely underscores this point.
There is a chapter in Podhoretz’s book about the abandonment of the president by some of his past allies as the long nature of the war began to reveal itself. This has made the communications strategy much more difficult, as some of the allies the president ought to have had in media –old and new– have grown tired of the battles, or love the occasional opportunity to throw a brick at the White House. So it has always been since Washington’s day and so it will always be. There isn’t any crying in baseball or presidencies.
But those who support the war should avoid the casual indulgence of the “I could do this better than they could,” especially as they consider what exactly has been thrown the way of this president and his aides, perhaps especially on this day.