Wednesday, April 19, 2006

# Posted 6:35 AM by Patrick Porter  

MANAGING WAR EXPECTATIONS: There has been much criticism recently of the Bush administration's failure to anticipate the protracted violence of the period after the defeat of Saddam's conventional forces. In particular, Bush's 'Mission Accomplished' declarations of victory on 1 May 2003 and Rumsfeld's refusal to tolerate the word 'insurgency' have been mocked repeatedly.

I don't want to buy into the debate about what exactly Bush and Rumsfeld did or didn't promise. But an example from history suggests that instead of promising short bloodless victories, there are alternative and more durable strategies to bolstering the nations' commitment.

In the first year of World War Two, Winston Churchill apparently believed that he could attune Britons psychologically to accept the burdens of war by preparing them with his forecasts that the conflict would be long and demanding. Hitler's government, however, profoundly distrusted the home-front:
The regime, which so fervently believed in the myth that civilians had stabbed the army in the back in 1918, felt it had to dissemble to the population whose moral resilience it did not trust. While Churchill was promising the British people 'blood, toil, sweat and tears,' the German people were being encouraged to think of easy victories over coffee and cake.
(Nick Stargardt, 'Witnesses of War: Childrens Lives under the Nazis', 2005, p.52)
(7) opinions -- Add your opinion

IIRC, Bush's "Mission accomplished!" declaration was made to soldiers on a ship steaming away from Iraq, because their mission had been accomplished.

Perhaps it's too much to ask the media to understand the difference between a mission being accomplished, and victory in war, but I do think the mockery is misplaced, a result of (perhaps deliberate) missunderstandings.
Brett, the event was clearly staged so as to give an impression of victory in war. I believe it's disingenuous to parse it otherwise and blame the media for "misunderstanding".

Everyone here who saw that speech and believed at that time that "mission accomplished" referred specifically to the people on that ship raise your hand...

I beleived it. The ship had been on an extended tour much longer than normal. Some in the MSM indicated this at the time.

Additionally, it is my understanding that the Mission Accomplished banner is not unusual when a carrier returns home.
The "Mission Accomplished" boast was accurate. The war was over and won. Nobody thought it meant rebuilding was completed and all the troops were ready to come home.

It was a bad move from a PR standpoint, but it was factually correct and those who later used it as a Bush-bashing point were (are) being dishonest.
My point is that I believe "mission accomplished" was intended to convey a sense that the hard part was over. It seems obvious now that the administration greatly underestimated the difficulty of the rebuilding phase - I think Bush, Rumsfeld et. al. genuinely saw the mission as being accomplished in a larger sense than Tim and Brett are acknowledging, and that this miscalculation contributed significantly to subsequent difficulties. I think it was a dumb think to do both substantively and from a PR perspective, and thus I think it's perfectly honest to cite it in critiquing the president.
I agree that the president has done an awful job of managing expectations, but a lot of war critics seem to have expected Iraq to turn into small town Nebraska 30 minuted after SH was deposed, which is just idiotic.

Anonymous 919, as brett says, the carrier group's mission was, in fact, accomplished. The trouble is many reporters have a staggering level of ignorance about the military and routinely misunderstand what they're seeing, from that embedded ABC reporter who didn't understand the danger he was in and claimed the Marine who might have saved his life was unjustified in shooting a terrorist, to the report a few weeks ago accusing the pentagon of lying about a "massive air assault" because it didn't involve aircraft dropping bombs on the area being assaulted. And now they're trying to claim there's some sort of military revolt because a few (I think six is the latest count) retired generals - out of several thousand - are criticizing the secretary of defense.

Unless you're a journalist yourself, I'll bet you've noticed that when reporters report on things you have some expertise in, they frequently get things wrong or grossly misunderstand what they've been told. That's true when they report on things you know nothing about too.
There is also the modern concept of battlefield expectations to consider. For example:

Few were critical of the May 8th declaration of an allied victory despite the subsequent long and drawn out (almost 11 year long) occupation of Germany.

Times sure have changed! We no longer think of the military defeat of our adversary - in this case Saddam's Baathist Iraq - as a legitimate victory, like we did in Europe. If we did, than the "Mission Accomplished" banner would have been appropriate.
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