Monday, March 20, 2006

Suppose They Held an Anti-War Protest...

...and no one showed up. That was apparently the case in NYC Sunday, when a paltry 200 anti-war protestors took part in a march down 5th Avenue. It was even worse in Salt Lake City; Drudge found this article in the Salt Lake Tribune; according to one local activist, the cops there actually outnumbered the protestors.

The left was quicky to claim that protest efforts in the U.S. were "poorly organized," resulting in a dismal turnout. Some excuse. If the anti-WTO loons can turn out thousands in Seattle and other U.S. cities, you'd think the anti-war crowd could do better than 200 protestors on a sunny Sunday in New York--particularly with the war becoming a lightning-rod issue, and a political albatross for George W. Bush.

The Financial Times has offered another, unique explanation for poor showing, saying the American public views the Iraq War with "quiet disapproval." In other words, the American people are solidly against the war, they just don't have the time or energy to carry a sign down main street, or join Martin Sheen at some sit-in. Anger is building, we're led to believe, it just hasn't reached critical mass yet.

Let me offer another perspective. I still think the majority of Americans would like to see our military mission succeed in Iraq. "Opposition" to the war is based largely on a steady diet of "bad" news offered up by the MSM and the Democratic Party, with little to counter-balance it. In that information environment, most Amercians tend the believe the war is going badly, and we need to bring the troops home as soon as possible.

With the exception of the hard left, I don't think this "opposition" to the war has calcified to the point where most Americans are totally opposed to our efforts in Iraq, with no room for compromise, or changing their minds. If we had actually reached that point, then the number of protestors in New York, Salt Lake City (and elsewhere) would be much higher, and demonstrations would be a near-daily event, as they were during Vietnam. There may be widespread "opposition" to the war, but there isn't as much depth as the MSM and the Democrats would have you believe. More "good news" from Iraq--such as the death or capture of Zarqawi--could start driving the poll numbers in the other direction, before the fall congressional elections.

But of course, the Bush Administration can't count on that. What they should be doing is mounting a constant offensive to remind the public of what's being accomplished in Iraq, both on the military and political fronts. As we've noted before, administration efforts in that department have often been lacking. A string of presidential speeches and statements by other officials is often followed by periods of silence. Apparently, the administration (and to a lesser extent, the military) have yet to learn the first lesson of today's media environment: an information vaccum will always be filled, even if the information is inaccurate or misleading. In other words, the media is a battlespace that must be constantly contested, even domestically. And while the media environment is changing rapidly, the administration and the Pentagon sometimes seem tone deaf, even archaic, in their efforts to get the word out.

Case in point: last week's reaffirmation of President Bush's preemptive strike doctrine. Advance copies of the strategy document were given to three newspapers, including the Washington Post. Ho-hum. It's the equivalent of giving your enemy the first shot in a gunfight. If nothing else, it gave the WaPo a chance to get an early spin on the document--hardly a shining example of using the media effectively.

Here's a better idea: instead of giving advance copies to liberal, media dinosaurs, why not place them with the new media, such as NRO online, the Weekly Standard's website, some of the major blogs (Powerline would be an excellent choice) and talk radio. All are decidedly more fair to the Bush Administration, and they would put a far less negative spin on the policy document. But the administration elected to give the document to the Post, with predictable results.

Poll numbers from Iraq can still be reversed, with the right mix of military, political and information policies. Militarily and politically, we're doing the right thing, but the Administration still has difficulty getting its message out on a consistent basis. Fortunately, the solutions are obvious--if only the White House would embrace them.

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