As the war in Iraq turns one week old, I am ashamed to admit that I have absolutely no idea what is going on.
It's not because of a shortage of news coverage. CNN fires out updates as rapidly and with as much enthusiasm as a 16 year old losing his virginity, and the local TV and radio media has more or less given up on any local news in favour of report after mind-numbing report from embedded journalists, military strategists, defence analysts, commanders-in-chief…
This perhaps is part of the problem. Too much information with too little content. Too many towns with names that you didn't know until yesterday. Tanks bursting across the desert in the south, Turks restless in the north, a helicopter down here, a marine wounded there. While the flanking and pincer movements of the various forces are analysed to the nth degree, it's never put in any wider context. I know more about hedge funds for pork belly futures than I do about who's really doing what to whom out there in the deserts of Mesopotamia.
It seems paradoxical that in an era where a plethora of media information is so widely and freely available, both sides of the current conflict are still as busy cranking the handle of the propaganda machine as they have ever been. "News" of the war comes via our friends in the Pentagon, is disseminated via the various eager news agencies, and a split second later the report is denied publicly by the Iraqis. No surprises there, sure, but this must be the first time in the history of such conflicts where we have access to both sides of the story.
Examples to date, (and we're only in the first week, remember), include allies successfully capturing the port city of Umm Qasr, only to mysteriously continue fighting there for several days afterwards; the discovery of a camouflaged chemical weapons factory; the killing of Saddam Hussein; and today, reports of a popular uprising in Basra against the Baath regime.
More worrying than disputes over the blow-by-blow elements of the war is the increasing conjecture and apparent wild speculation coming from Washington. There's been the report that Iraq will likely use chemical weapons against its own population, then blame America for the attack. Then there's the report that stores of gas masks have been found in Iraq, apparently a smoking gun if ever there was one, pointing conclusively to the fact that where there's gas masks, there's gas…
It's odd how claims with the least substantiation are the most widely reported. Amongst claims yesterday was that the Iraqi regime had drawn a red line around Baghdad, and once it was crossed, the Republican Guard would use chemical weapons on the coalition forces. Evidence? Not so much. Still, it took a helluva lot less than six degrees of radio separation (i.e by the time it had gone from the Pentagon to Radio Pacific) before this plan was being declared a certainty, with orders leaked that had been signed by Saddam Hussein himself.
What then proceeded to scare me shitless (ref. footnote 1) – and here I sympathise with Rob O'Neill's girlie – on the basis of this supposition, George W thought it fitting to announce that if they did use chemical weapons, this would provide the right for a 'tactical' nuclear strike by way of reply. Quite how this would work, in terms of collateral damage and the like I don't know, and really would rather not think about.
Did nobody think to inform the President that somebody at the Pentagon had just made it all up?
And while we're asking the medium-sized questions:
Is anyone surprised that the coalition forces invasion is, according to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld "going according to plan", when he admitted right at the start that the plan was completely "fluid", and thus "going accord to plan" could cover any eventuality?
How many civilian casualties were there in the coalition's numerous attempts to bomb Iraq's state TV HQ in Baghad? Will they later claim they were only trying to uphold the Geneva Convention by preventing the broadcast of allied POW's?
Don't expect any straight answers anytime soon.
(1) If you really want to annoy me, use the word 'literally' to mean 'not literally', for example: "What then proceeded to literally scare me shitless…"