Saturday, March 18, 2006

War as Photo-Ops

War, as some may have noticed, has lately become a booming entertainment industry, a part of "reality TV".

Here is one example - View the Photo-Essay - and how it failed on the box-office):

When the Operation Swarmer was launched jointly by the US-Iraqi forces on March 16th ("to clear a suspected insurgent operating area northeast of Samarra", Iraq), it was "billed" as the "largest airbourne operation since 2003". The star attraction was the scale: 50 aircrafts, 1,500 troops, 200 tactical vehicles (and hordes of "embedded" journalists and camera crew).

The target population (not of the operation, but of the viewers) was clearly defined. As one observer noted: "It's a boost here at the home front because it shows American forces being proactive and it shows us using high technology - which we like - instead of getting blown up in humvees - which we don't like. It was good television, and it's been a while since we've seen good television coming out of Iraq."

Another said: "The timing may be based on demonstrating to the bad guys in part but also to the Iraqi elected officials - who are having a hard time making a government - that the U.S. is still there, is going to carry out operations and is going to try and create stability."

White House spokesman Scott McClellan described this operation as just one of a series of offensives aimed at defeating the insurgency: "There have been a number of operations that have been undertaken over the course of the last several months to really go after the terrorists, and the Saddam loyalists, who want to return to the past of oppression and tyranny. So this operation is part of our ongoing efforts to move forward on the security front."

No wonder, virtually all media channels were intimated and covered this high-profile event.

However, what actually happened was an anti-climax - a pretty bad script after so much media hype:

"Four Black Hawk helicopters landed in a wheat field and dropped off a television crew, three photographers, three print reporters and three Iraqi government officials right into the middle of Operation Swarmer. Iraqi soldiers in newly painted humvees, green and red Iraqi flags stenciled on the tailgates, had just finished searching the farm populated by a half-dozen skinny cows and a woman kneading freshly risen dough and slapping it to the walls of a mud oven.

The press, flown in from Baghdad to this agricultural gridiron northeast of Samarra, huddled around the Iraqi officials and U.S. Army commanders who explained that the "largest air assault since 2003" in Iraq using over 50 helicopters to put 1500 Iraqi and U.S. troops on the ground had netted 48 suspected insurgents, 17 of which had already been cleared and released. The area, explained the officials, has long been suspected of being used as a base for insurgents operating in and around Samarra, the city north of Baghdad where the bombing of a sacred shrine recently sparked a wave of sectarian violence.

But contrary to what many many television networks erroneously reported...there were no airstrikes and no leading insurgents were nabbed... What’s more, there were no shots fired at all and the units had met no resistance, said the U.S. and Iraqi commanders.

...Before loading up into the helicopters for a return trip to Baghdad, Iraqi and American soldiers and some reporters helped themselves to the woman’s freshly baked bread, tearing bits off and chewing it as they wandered among the cows. For most of them, it was the only thing worthwhile they’d found all day.", if one may add: They also did not find any WMDs!!!

Moral of the Story: Next time you view the promo of an up-coming war (e.g., a speech by some world-leader), be sure who scripted it.

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