Military theoretician Clausewitz once said that war is merely politics, but waged by another means. War is politics and politics is war. In the modern context it is inescapable due to a number of reasons; public expectations, political accountability, the politicization of violence and the rapid flow of information via globalised mass media and communications.
There are a multitude of actors involved, either directly or indirectly, when a nation or a people wages war. Among the stakeholders are; politicians, the military, audience(s) – the public and the mass media. None of these groups, collectively or individually are a homogenous group. This creates room for lack of understanding and the inability to communicate within and between these various groups.
Mass media are an important element in how the public obtain their information about remote events, and it may serve as the basis as to how they form their opinion and influence actions based upon that understanding or perception. Due to this property, the mass media are placed in a difficult position as they can play a number of roles in a conflict. Mass media are a conduit through which society obtains their images that they will derive their sense of reality. In this sense media have three important properties, the importance of which is even further elevated in times of difficulty and/or stress; a mirror, a witness and a transmitter.
• Mirror – reality is amplified through the images that the media transmit. This gives a certain definition of reality.
• Witness – the survival of democracy is ensured as the media see and hear events and act in the capacity as a watchdog. They can also add credibility or otherwise, to an event.
• Transmitter – media act as an intermediary for all groups that are able to express themselves and transmit their image to the public (the so-called ‘CNN Effect’).
This also places journalists and media outlets in the position where state and military actors try to pressure and influence media into conveying their message to the public. A number of different pressures are used to bring this about, which places the impartiality and objectivity of journalists in jeopardy and makes them a target. Can this dilemma ever be resolved?
The dilemma posed above can potentially be overcome, in a theoretical sense at least. However, current trends and developments in modern society seem to condemn such hope as being naive and fanciful. Politics in modern society, the world over, is being waged more and more on the level of perception at the expense of reality. So, in a sense the perception of reality is becoming more important than reality itself. This can be seen in the vast PR apparatus attached to governments. The only way that this can be potentially overcome is to weaken or break the vested political interests that want to maintain an illusion for political capital.
Media as an Instrument of War
BBC news producer, Kenneth Payne wrote of the role and significance of mass media during the modern era of warfare. The importance of the mass media has heightened, especially in light of the changing nature of warfare where success is not necessarily measured in military, but political terms.
“The media, in the modern era, are indisputably an instrument of war. This is because winning modern wars is as much dependent on carrying domestic and international public opinion as it is on defeating the enemy on the battlefield. And it remains true regardless of the aspirations of many journalists to give an impartial and balanced assessment of conflict.
The experience of the US military in the post-Cold War world demonstrates that victory on the battlefield is seldom as simple as defeating the enemy by force of arms. From Somalia and Haiti through Kosovo and Afghanistan, success has been defined in political, rather than military, terms.
Today’s military commanders stand to gain more than ever before from controlling the media and shaping their output. The laws and conventions of war, however, do not adequately reflect the critical role that the media play in shaping the political outcome of conflicts. International humanitarian law requires that media members are afforded the rights of civilians; the question is whether this is sustainable when the exigencies of war fighting suggest that controlling the media is essential.”
The waging of armed combat and together with this an information war is inextricably entangled in modern society. News has become a 24 hour a day, seven day a week business, political and military leaders realise the significance and importance of this non-stop information stream reaching the public. This dictates to an extent the way that those military and political leaders (on both sides) would demonstrate how warfare is prosecuted. Implicit in the manner in which modern warfare ‘should’ be waged and is covered in the mass media is the sanctity of human life (including ‘enemy’ civilians, who can be portrayed as being unwilling participants or bystanders in the conflict and at odds with their country’s leadership).
Media coverage of the modern military conflict between the West and another state or entity, centres on sending the image of a ‘clean’ war being fought with the use of modern technology that minimises civilian casualties (referred to as collateral damage). Very little is shown of the effects of modern weaponry upon human flesh, rather inanimate objects are shown; a ‘smart’ bomb striking what is identified as being a military installation for example. Thus the ‘ugliness’ of war is removed (and the elements that may weaken public support for a war), partly through the process of minimising ‘familiarity’ with the enemy, which may lead to empathy or sympathy for them. In the end it seems like a war waged between machines rather than by men.
Wars and other forms of conflict impose an extra-ordinary form of stress upon society, even those that are considered to be democratic. A lot is at stake for both politicians (reputation, legacy and their office for instance) and the public (who may lose certain freedoms and be asked or exposed to risking their lives). There is often a tendency to rally around the leader and to create a united front to face to named threat. The nature of the current war on terrorism means that at times there is no clear war front and at times no clearly defined enemy. Mass media can easily get drawn into the frame of mind of supporting the government rather than acting as a watchdog.
“The finding that misinformation and impressionistic clues were closely tied to American support for the war in Iraq suggests broad governmental power to shape public opinion, given news routines, and the expressed desirability of self-censorship among a significant segment of the press.”
“Them” and “Us”
The sides of the conflict in Iraq are painted in an overly simplistic manner. It is billed as being a grand struggle between tyranny and freedom. Bush’s rhetoric tends to paint this struggle as a ‘clash of civilisations’ whereas other European leaders try to play down this notion in favour of a theme more closely related to combating the rise of extremism. This current war is in the process of being framed as being a ‘natural’ successor to the ideological wars/struggles in the past, such as World War Two and the Cold War, which is crucial in defining the position of the United States in the world.
“Our nation has endured trials, and we face a difficult road ahead. We must put aside our differences and work together to meet the test that history has given us.”
On 12 September, 2006 Bush stated that the words of Osama bin Laden should be treated as seriously as those of Vladimir Lenin or Adolf Hitler. Here Bush tries to use value loaded characters from history in an attempt to discredit bin Laden. The historical figures chosen also represent two adversaries, which the Americans believed they have defeated (the end of the Cold War has been celebrated by the issue of a victory medal recently). Bush creates a form of ‘siege mentality’ here, where the image of an American people under attack must unite to ward of the threat and to safeguard their ‘destiny’. It uses a patriotic call of uniting in front of the mentioned threat, in doing so discussion about the merits or the lack of merit in continuing the American led ‘war on terrorism’ is brushed aside in favour of doing one’s duty.
In order to try and derive some measure of legitimacy for their mission in Iraq, the Bush administration has sought to use history, to try and ‘transfer’ some legitimacy from more favourable periods in history. Various speeches made by Bush, Rumsfeld and Cheney have been try to rhetorically link fascism and Nazism with terrorism and Islam. American involvement has been severely tarnished by a string of atrocities committed by the American military such as the Abu Ghraib prison and the killing of unarmed civilians. A number of references have been made to the Second World War and British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain’s policy of “Appeasement”. Speaking to the American Legion, in an effort to gather support for an increasingly unpopular war, Rumsfeld stated:
“I recount this history (of Appeasement) because once again we face similar challenges in efforts to confront the rising threat of a new type of fascism. […] Can we truly afford to believe that somehow, some way, vicious extremists can be appeased? Can we truly afford to return to the destructive view that America – not the enemy – is the real source of the world’s troubles? But some have not learned history’s lessons. […] You know from experience that in every war – personally – there have been mistakes and setbacks and casualties. War is, as Clemenceau said, ‘a series of catastrophes that results in victory.’”
Rumsfeld is trying to utilise loaded historical meaning as a toll with which to push aside opposition. Many attacks on the critics of the American intervention revolve around the use of terms or concepts such as patriotism and treason or events/ideas that were historically threatening or are in the process of becoming so in a contemporary sense. British Prime Minister Tony Blair has entered into this form of trying to discredit or belittle opposition to the war as well. The comments that he made on ‘mad anti-Americanism’ are a case in point. “The strain of, frankly, anti-American feeling in parts of European politics is madness when set against the long-term interests of the world we believe in.” Blair is confusing the issues of disagreeing with American policy in the Middle East, by labelling those who oppose the US as being ‘mad’. Cheney attacked his critics during the September 11 anniversary, on NBC’s Meet the Press programme he stated the opposing the war in Iraq was tantamount to abetting the terrorists.
Presenting an image of the proverbial ‘bogeyman’ is another method that has been used to justify and encourage continued engagement in Iraq. In addition to the use of Nazi metaphors, such as the new term ‘Islamic Fascists’, the spectre of what is presented as being Islamic extremism is used. Bush spoke of the establishment of a caliphate in Iraq and warned of an eventual forced conversion of Americans to Islam if the US did not ‘act’ now. He stated that al-Qaeda was looking for bases around the world “from which they can plan new attacks and advance their vision of a unified totalitarian Islamic state that can confront and eventually the free world.”
The war is presented as being part of a bigger picture, a clash of ideologies/cultures. Bush has used these terms on a number of occasions. “It is the decisive ideological struggle of the 21st century and the calling of our generation” and “it is a struggle for civilisation. We are fighting to maintain a way of life enjoyed by free nations.” The concept of the war is built upon and justified via the notion of opposing another civilisation/culture and ideology. The foundations of which are quite shaky, on the grounds that it divides civilisations between ‘them’ and ‘us’, when the rhetoric and debate is simplistic (for the purposes of getting a message across to the public – support the war) then the conflict runs the risk of becoming divided along cultural lines.
A “Just War”
Prussian soldier and writer, Carl Von Clausewitz wrote that “War is nothing but a continuation of political intercourse, with a mixture of other means.” The concept of a Just War in the context given here is not based upon the notion of justification within the framework of international, but rather as a ‘plausible’ and ‘defendable’ act of ‘humanitarianism’ in the name of righteousness. It can be placed within various contexts – political, social, economic … etc. This provides the party that wishes to intervene a measure of ‘legitimacy’ for their actions in what may otherwise be considered to be unjustifiable. Initially, the justification of American intervention in Iraq was primarily the alleged presence of WMDs, which was never able to be substantiated. The justification for continued US involvement has evolved, with the implausibility of the WMD theory to matters more related to restoring social justice to the Iraqi people.
Author and academic Peter Temes stated the manner in which the above is achieved by the state. “The moral substance of the state is also an actor-and-creator-of war, often waged in the name of the collective interests of the individual.” In the wake of September 11, 2001 the Bush administration made the argument of collective security of individual citizens on US soil by waging war abroad before it gets to (returns to) the United States. It is based upon an inevitability of a said threat, which needs to be pre-empted. Therefore this is fundamentally concerning the protection of a way of life, thereby implying an element of ‘clash of civilisations’ through protecting one’s own way of life against an ‘other’ who is determined to disrupt or destroy it.
On the path to laying foundations for a ‘Just war’, in addition to building one’s own image of legitimacy and moral righteousness is the erosion of the opponent’s sense of legitimacy. This is often done in a simplistic sense and through the use of imagery and memory; good versus evil, the battle of the enlightened against the dogmatic, and of the individual versus the masses. But, why frame a contest of ‘good’ versus ‘evil’ in this way, where good is represented as an individual and the bad as a mass or collective body? An apparent answer to this question lies in cultural framing and historical memory. An individual in a ‘Western’ sense at least, is a thinking and self-aware entity, not to mention the notion that it is a lot easier to empathise with one individual and get to know them on a ‘personal’ level. The mass/collective on the other hand has an association of mob mentality, blindly following a leader (for better or worse) and there is little chance of personalising a mass (and therefore empathising or relating to their cause).
In 1992 the Roman Catholic Church entered the debate of the morality and justification of war in modern times via Pope John Paul II’s formal issuance of the new catechism on Just War principles. Five main points/considerations were made in jus ad bellum (the choice to make war).
1) A Just war must be limited to an action of self-defence. This differs from Augustine and Aquinas who allowed for the cause of coming to the aid of a third party.
2) “[…] the damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must not be lasting, grave, and certain.” President G. W. Bush’s attack on Iraq was based on neutralising weapons of mass destruction – WMDs – and the accusation that the Saddam Hussein regime aided terrorism for instance.
3) “All other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical and ineffective.” The very public way in which negotiations between Iraq and the weapons inspections appeared to fail give the impression that all necessary measures were taken and the invasion was the last resort.
4) “There must be serious prospects of success.” In the period before the attack on Iraq and in the immediate aftermath, the war was portrayed as being short term and successful.
5) “The use of arms must not produce evils and disorders graver than the evil eliminated. The power of the modern means of destruction weighs very heavily in evaluating this condition.”
The catechism also covers jus in bello (the prosecution of war), and states; “the Church and human reason both assert the permanent validity of the moral law during armed conflict.” It specifically covers “non-combatants, wounded soldiers, and prisoners must be respected and treated humanely.”
Bush justifies the continuation of American involvement in Iraq by framing it in terms that it is the lesser of the two evils for the American people. “Whatever mistakes have been made in Iraq, the worst mistake would be to think if we pulled out, the terrorists would leave us alone. They will not leave us alone.” In this fragment of his address, Bush overly simplifies the matter to the point where it would appear that the American’s continued engagement is a matter of self-defence. Although the point that mistakes have possibly been made is briefly mentioned, it is very much glossed over in the call to arms.
Spiral of Violence
Dr Hans Born from the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces stated that a problem with the violence is the association of failure (or failing) of the mission in Iraq, which the Bush administration is not keen to admit. “They have tried to sell the Iraq intervention as a success. Somewhere at the end of last year they hired a public opinion civil-military expert in the White House, who wrote a speech for Bush in this fashion. This turned out to be a big fiasco.”
Iraq is a country of some 27 million people; approximately 60% of the population are Shiite. In an interview with an American reporter the Iraqi Interior Minister estimated that some 50-60 Iraqis were being killed per day. The number of civilian casualties in the war has escalated significantly, with an estimated:
• 20 per day in year 1
• 31 per day in year 2
• 36 per day in year 3.
The total number of civilian casualties vary, it has been estimated to be somewhere in the region of 33710-37832 according to the website Iraq Body Count. However, in terms of potential impact upon domestic public opinion the more worrying statistics are those of American loses in Iraq, which has been put at 2359 dead since the war began in 2003.
The issue of violence is a sensitive one, and something that the Bush administration is aware of as a possible source of undermining public support for the continued involvement of US personnel in Iraq. Accusations, such as media not being allowed or given access to taking images of coffins arriving back in the US with the bodies of soldiers killed in Iraq demonstrate this sensitivity. On the 20th of March, 2006 President Bush asked the American people not to be disheartened and “to look beyond the bloodshed and see signs of progress.”
Civil War and Consequences
Although at face value, evidence would seem to indicate that a civil war has already broken out in Iraq, very few key actors actually refer to the violence using this term. Violence is not only spiralling, but it is also based along ethnic, political and religious lines (to name some examples). So, why is there such reluctance to use the term ‘Civil War’ to describe the current state of violence in Iraq? The answer seems to lie in the realm of framing and legitimacy. Namely, a civil war can be framed as being an ‘internal’ matter and only in exceptional circumstances do foreign forces become involved, to prevent genocide and other forms of mass atrocities for example. This would imply that the American intervention in Iraq has failed and that they have not been able to keep the peace and promote stability. It would make it harder for the Bush administration to ‘sell’ their involvement in the conflict.
Iulian Chifu, the Director of the Centre for Conflict Prevention and Early Warning in Bucharest, Romania sees the issue over the definition of civil war or not in terms of negotiation and bargaining power. It is being used by the various rebel factions as a means of; 1) demonstrating the government’s weakness and damaging their credibility and 2) as a means of entering the negotiation process and/or gaining a better position in that process. He contends that this is more a matter of a political expression than a true reflection of reality.
Statements by Bush on the fifth anniversary of the September 11 attacks on the American mainland have also raised the stakes in this matter. During his 17 minute long speech he stated that; “The safety of America depends on the outcome of the battle in the streets of Bagdad. […] if we do not defeat these enemies now […] we will leave our children to face a Middle East overrun by terrorist states and radical dictators armed with nuclear weapons. […] determined to bring death and suffering to our homes.” By framing the issue in this manner, psychologically at least, the Americans cannot afford to fail in Iraq, because if they do it means the American people are no longer safe in their homes.
Lack of Accountability and Credibility
This section shall cover the issues of the problems faced by the American troops and politicians who are involved in and/or are supporting continued engagement in Iraq, namely the issues of credibility and accountability. These factors affect the legitimacy, sustainability and effectiveness of the Iraq operation. A number of incidents have emerged during the course of the Iraq campaign, from before the beginning of hostilities through to the present, which undermine American authority and legitimacy.
One of the incidents that has come back to ‘haunt’ the Bush administration is the alleged misuse of intelligence, which played a key role in the decision to invade Iraq and overthrow the regime of Saddam Hussein. The Senate Intelligence Committee issued a 400 page report that was two years in the making. Democrats serving on the committee were adamant that the report would prove, among other things, the overestimation of the threat posed by Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). Senator Jay Rockefeller (the top ranking Democrat on the committee) stated that:
“Ultimately, I think you will find that administration officials made repeated pre-war statements that were not supported by underlying intelligence. [The reports reveals that] the administration pursued a deceptive strategy abusing intelligence reporting that the intelligence community had already warned was uncorroborated, unreliable and in some critical circumstances fabricated.”
Another one of the given reasons for promoting the idea for military intervention in Iraq were the alleged links between the regime of Saddam Hussein and terrorism. Although this was later refuted in Bush’s September 11 anniversary speech; “I’m often asked why we’re in Iraq when Saddam Hussein was not responsible for the 9/11 attacks […].” However, President G. W. Bush, in a speech that was aimed at justifying a US attack on Iraq was clear in the alleged links between the regime of Saddam Hussein and terrorists.
“It [Iraq] has a deep hatred of America and our friends and it has aided, trained and harboured terrorists, including operatives of al Qaeda. The danger is clear: using chemical, biological or, one day, nuclear weapons obtained with the help of Iraq, the terrorists could fulfil their stated ambitions and kill thousands or hundreds of thousands of innocent people in our country or any other.”
Drawing on Bush’s words, which leave no doubt to the audience, there is a link between Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and terrorists. Yet, his speech some three years later Bush discounts that same link. Such blearing inconsistencies would seem to support the comments made by Senator Rockefeller summation of the (in some cases) fabrication of information concerning the alleged possession of WMDs, which is utilised as a means of manufacturing consent on a potentially contentious issue.
A number of articles appeared in leading American mass media outlets, which were critical of the alleged terrorist links with Iraq that proved to be non-existent. This not only damaged the credibility of the Bush administration further but has allowed the domestic political opposition a chance to attack them. Senator Rockefeller saw the alleged links as a conspiracy in a CBS News interview.
“The absolute cynical manipulation, deliberately cynical manipulation, to shape American public opinion and 69 per cent of the people, at that time, it worked, they said ‘we want to go to war’. Including me. The difference is after I began to learn about some of that intelligence I went down to the Senate floor and I said ‘my vote was wrong.’”
The Senate Intelligence panel’s conclusion that there was no pre-war Iraq-al Qaeda link was widely reported. Senator Rockefeller’s comments and criticism of the Bush administration was widely covered. Reuters quoted him as saying: “Today’s reports show that the administration’s repeated allegations of a past, present and future relationship between al Qaeda and Iraq were wrong and intended to exploit a deep sense of insecurity among Americans in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks.” The Republicans tried to hit back at the Democrat’s attacks by labelling them as “nothing new” or that it was an attempt to fool the public.
In an apparent retreat from previous statements, Bush stated that “never have I said that Saddam Hussein gave orders to attack 9/11. What I did say was, after 9/11, when you see a threat, you have go to take it seriously. And I saw a threat in Saddam Hussein, as did Congress, as did the United Nations.”
However, recent polls seem to indicate that the Iraq – Terror connection is no longer made by the American public. A poll conducted by Associated Press – Ipsos of 1501 adults during 11-13 September, 2006 revealed that most had not made their mind up on the matter, in face of a concerted effort to sway public opinion. CNN conducted a poll of approximately 1000 adults was conducted from 30 August – 2 September, 2006 in which 53 per cent of respondents said that there was no connection (45 per cent yes there was a connection). Some poll respondents stated that the US was less respected and more likely to be subjected to attack as a result of involvement in Iraq.
1.Raboy, M. & Dagenais, B., op. cit., p. 123.
2.Payne, K., The Media as an Instrument of War, Parameters, Spring 2005, pp. 81-93. Downloaded from http://carlisle-www.army.mil/usawc/Parameters/05spring/payne.htm, 1 September, 2005
3.Norris, P., Kern, M. & Just, M., editors, Framing Terrorism: The News Media, The Government, and the Public, London, Routledge, 2003, p. 297.
4.Rutenberg, J. & Stolberg, S. G., In Prime-Time Address, Bush says Safety of US Hinges on Iraq, The New York Times, 12 September, 2006
5.Tyndall Weekly, Tyndall Report, www.tyndallreport.com, 9 September, 2006
6.Rumsfeld: World Faces New ‘Fascism’, CBS News, Salt Lake City, www.cbs.com, 29 August, 2006.
7.Blair Condemns anti-US ’Madness’, BBC News, http://newsvote.bbc.co.uk, 14 September, 2006
8.Blair Attacks Europe’s ‘Mad Anti-Americans’, Fairfax New Zealand Limited, www.stuff.co.nz, 14 September, 2006
9.Blair Jabs ‘Mad Anti-Americanism’, CNN, www.cnn.com, 14 September, 2006
10.Abramowitz, M., War’s Critics Abetting Terrorists, Cheney Says, Washington Post, www.washingtonpost.com, 11 September, 2006, p. A12
11.Bush Warns of Iraqi Caliphate, Reuters, Washington, www.stuff.co.nz, 6 September, 2006
12.Bush Urges Americans Back to War, BBC News, www.bbc.co.uk, 14 September, 2006
13.Bush: Iraq Part of Struggle of Century, CBS News, www.cbsnews.com, 6 September, 2006
14.Von Clausewitz, C., On War, London, Penguin Books, 1982, p. 402.
15.This is my own definition of the concept, which is a modification of the theory proposed by Carl von Clausewitz in his work On War.
16.Temes, P. S., The Just War: An American reflection on the Morality of War in our Time, Chicago, Ivan R. Dee, 2003, p. 28.
17.Temes, P. S., The Just War: An American reflection on the Morality of War in our Time, Chicago, Ivan R. Dee, 2003, pp. 77-79.
18.Temes, P. S., The Just War: An American reflection on the Morality of War in our Time, Chicago, Ivan R. Dee, 2003, p. 79.
19.Rutenberg, J. & Stolberg, S. G., In Prime-Time Address, Bush says Safety of US Hinges on Iraq, The New York Times, 12 September, 2006
20.E-mail correspondence between the author and Dr Hans Born. Message was received on 12 September, 2006.
21.Reid, R. H., US Reports 5 More Troops Killed in Iraq, Associated Press, http://news.yahoo.com, 12 April, 2006
22.Iraq Body Count: Press Release 13, Iraq Body Count, www.iraqbodycount.org/press/pr13.php, 9 March 2006 (accessed 21 March 2006).
23.Iraq Body Count, www.iraqbodycount.org, 21 March 2006
24.Reid, R. H., US Reports 5 More Troops Killed in Iraq, Associated Press, http://news.yahoo.com, 12 April, 2006
25.Raum, T., Bush Asks US to Look Past Iraq Bloodshed, Associated Press, http://news.yahoo.com, 21 March 2006
26.Private e-mail correspondence between the author and Iulian Chifu, reply received on 29 August, 2006.
27.Rutenberg, J. & Stolberg, S. G., In Prime-Time Address, Bush says Safety of US Hinges on Iraq, The New York Times, 12 September, 2006
28.Abrams, J., Senate to Issue Iraq Intelligence Report, Associated Press, http://news.yahoo.com,
7 September, 2006
29.The Senate Intelligence Committee website can be found at http://intelligence.senate.gov/.
30.Rutenberg, J. & Stolberg, S. G., In Prime-Time Address, Bush says Safety of US Hinges on Iraq, The New York Times, 12 September, 2006
31.Norris, P., Kern, M. & Just, M., editors, Framing Terrorism: The News Media, The Government, and the Public, London, Routledge, 2003, p. 299.
32.Rockefeller: Bush Duped Public on Iraq, CBS News, www.cbsnews.com, 9 September, 2006.
33.Morgan, D., Senate Panel Finds no Pre-war Iraq-Qaeda Links, Reuters, http://news.yahoo.com, 8 September, 2006
34.Mazzetti, M., CIA Said to Find no Hussein Link to Terror Chief, The New York Times, www.nytimes.com, 9 September, 2006
35.Weisman, J., Iraq’s Alleged Al-Qaeda Links Were Disputed Before War, Washington Post, www.washingtonpost.com, 9 September, 2006
36.Miller, G., Report Rebuts Bush on Iraq, Philadelphia Inquirer, www.philly.com, 10 September, 2006