When it’s over, somebody ought to leave a note in the drawer for the next administration: “Let’s not do it this way again.”
Advertising that you plan to drop 3,000 bombs on Baghdad in an opening salvo designed to produce “Shock and Awe” comes perilously close to the arrogant braggadocio so much of the world associates with Uncle Sam. Changing the mission at the last moment and opting for a more selective attack offered the media the opportunity to chide you for failure to deliver. You are diddled either way.
“Shock and awe” derives from a paper written with a grant from the National Defense University in 1996 by Harlan Ullman and James Wade, who interviewed commanders from the first Gulf War to get a perspective of how it could have been won faster (conceding here that it was “won”). They conceived the shock and awe effect to be the “non-nuclear equivalent of the impact that atomic weapons dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki had on the Japanese.” An unfortunate reference once in the public prints. That “saturation bombing” was employed 60 years ago with dubious psychological effect is of no matter.
Now, the reason for failing to produce the heralded shock and awe? You saw a better target-objective. Somebody said they knew where Saddam Hussein would sleep that first night. So you opted for “decapitation” — pumping 40 cruise Tomahawk missiles and two loads of F-117 heavy ordnance into the place. Decapitation? Your word, publicly trumpeted. It summons other words and phrases: Castro … Fair Play for Cuba … a deadly cigar … Mexico City Embassy…Dallas. And the adjuration to the CIA: No assassinations, now.
Two things. The publicly-stated intent of killing the leader of another country in a specific act should be weighed on a postal scale. I said “publicly stated.” Throw “decapitation” in the same bin along with “shock and awe.” These words have some DNA link to what we used to call Madison Avenue, the world of advertising, selling, persuading. And the world has a finely-tuned antennae to all of it. There is another extremely successful salespitch you might henceforth silently heed: “Just Do It.”
Pour 3,000 smart bombs onto Baghdad some night if you think it helpful, try for Saddam and company with a surgical strike if the odds look good (remembering that more than 200 specific attempts at this were launched in 1991 and all failed). If you gotta have a slogan for this business, “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” is fine, though the networks have their own favorites such as “Strike on Iraq,” “Target Iraq,” and “War With Iraq.” But do you need a slogan? Lucky Strike Green Has Gone to War. Go back and read Max Schulman’s post-World War II delicious satire, where he evoked a Hollywood wartime movie he entitled, “Murder the Bastards.” Forget the labels; events in this enterprise may come up to bite the slogan. Remember the best one of all: “Just Do It.”
It will do no good to tell the networks not to use the footage of American soldiers slain, and captive soldiers interviewed. Footage evidently made by Iraqi TV in the Nasiriyah area and swiftly aired by al-Jazeera. It may well be in contravention of the Geneva Rules. Once next of kin have been informed it should be up to the American broadcasters to decide what is wise and in taste. And somebody, invoking the “public’s right to know,” will surely air it. Additionally, the Internet will surely offer it as a staple. The execution of Daniel Pearl made its way to the Internet within hours after the tape was delivered. Forget the al-Jazeera tape. Bend efforts instead to find out why force protection didn’t protect the captured engineering unit.
There is one thing the Pentagon, the National Association of Broadcasters, and the American Newspaper Editors’ Association in conjunction with the wire services can do. Teach the difference between “wounded” and “injured” and require that the distinction be made.
Just do it.