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Of Bloggers, Hollywood, and Unpopular Wars

Conservative bloggers are buzzing over the news that Bruce Willis is set to make a pro-war film about the conflict in Iraq based on the dramatic reportage of blogger Michael Yon.

Says blogger and screenwriter Roger L. Simon (who gave a fascinating interview for my book):

Finally a pro-democracy, pro-US involvement feature film about Iraq. I'm placing a bet right now this movie will go through the roof, to the consternation of many of Willis' peeers.

Now, I respect Roger, both as a blogger and as a novelist/screenwriter. But I think he's letting his frustration with the public's declining support for our Iraq mis-adventure get in the way of his better judgement here. For as Roger ought to know better than any of us, the last time Hollywood tried to pump up support for an unpopular war, the result was a disaster.

Remember The Green Berets, the 1968 pro-war epic starring John Wayne? Critics at the time called it "unspeakably stupid," and not just because it substituted white men in blackface for the dreaded Vietcong, Georgia pine forests for the tropical jungles of Vietnam, and a sun setting to the east off a beach in Da Nang for the usual place where the sun sets for the rest us in the real world (i.e., the west). The script was godawful, the characters aburd, and as a piece of political propaganda it was about as effective in generating public support for the war as General Westmoreland's "light at the end of the tunnel" speech -- which is to say, not effective at all.

Plus, it was a box-office yawner which, despite its big-budget special effects, generated only $21.7 million domestic compared to such 1968 hits as Funny Girl ($58 million), 2001: A Space Odyssey ($56.7 million), The Odd Couple ($44.5 million), and Bullitt ($42.3 million).

To be fair, Simon hedges his bet a bit by noting that his faith in the success of the forthcoming Bruce Willis flick is "a risky prediction in the movie and political worlds." But he says that given a new poll of public opinion showing that 70 percent of people surveyed say criticism of the war by Democrats hurts troop morale, he "feels pretty secure" about the film's ability to tap what he feels is a deep vein of latent popular support for U.S. involvement in Iraq.

Simon, however, is mis-reading the meaning of those poll numbers. Of course most Americans -- including that majority of Americans who oppose the war and believe that the Bush administration misled us into it -- recognize that lack of public support for the war is bound to hurt troop morale. How could it be otherwise? If you're a soldier on the ground in Iraq and you realize that you're risking your life for a cause that the majority of your countrymen no longer believe in, how could this not affect your morale to some degree?

But the alternative is to allow this futile war to continue without question or criticism, and thereby sacrifice many more troops than would otherwise be lost if only the current war policy were changed to reflect the reality of conditions on the ground in Iraq -- including the reality that it's the presence of U.S. troops itself that is fueling much of the insurgency and chaos in that country.

At bottom, I think what's driving Simon's enthusiasm for Hollywood's latest attempt at war propaganda is the mistaken belief that it's the media's unflattering portrayal of the situation in Iraq that is responsible for the declining public support for the war.

The same was said about the media's role in the loss of public support for the Vietnam War, of course, but in neither case was this true. In fact, a slew of studies -- most especially this one -- have demonstrated conclusively that while media coverage can have some modest, short-term effect on public support for a war, its impact pales before what Clausewitz, in his seminal work On War, viewed as the only two truly decisive determinants of public support for a war -- 1) whether or not the government has a clear and decisive war policy, and 2) whether the objective situation on the ground is getting better or worse.

If either or both of these are going against you, then no amount of gung-ho media coverage or pro-war cinema is going to maintain public support. And the real-world proof of that lies in the distance we have traveled since May of 2003, when it seemed (for a short while after Saddam was toppled) that Bush and his neocon planners really knew what they were doing in Iraq -- and when, as a result, 76 percent of the public supported the war effort.

Now -- post-failed WMD intelligence, post-Abu Ghraib torture, post-daily suicide bombings, post-political gridlock in Baghdad, and post-an insurgency that never really is on its "last legs" like the war apologists keep assuring us -- we know that the White House's war policy was really no policy at all. It was all just hubris, combined with the neocons' willingness to sacrifice the lives of working-class men and women to their ideologically-driven and negligently-planned campaign to remake Iraq and the Middle East into a pro-American bastion.

All they've accomplished -- apart from the deaths of 2,100 Americans and about 50,000 Iraqis -- is to transform Iraq into a factory for the mass production of Jihadists and the Middle East into a cauldron of anti-Americanism.

And because those are the facts on the ground, all of Hollywood's action stars together can't put this humpty-dumpty war policy back together again or reverse the majority view in America that this war is a lost cause.


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thoughtful take on this. thanks.

it's hard to predict public sentiment by the time the movie premieres. if support for the administration and the war itself continue to disintegrate, willis could find himself humming the green berets to an empty room.

"All they've accomplished -- apart from the deaths of 2,100 Americans and about 50,000 Iraqis -- is to transform Iraq into a factory for the mass production of Jihadists and the Middle East into a cauldron of anti-Americanism."

That's funny. The MidEast was a factory for jihadism long before Bush took office, and if you look at the history of Islam you'll find it's been going on for over 1000 years. It's also ludicrous to argue it wasn't a cauldron of anti-Americanism before Iraq and Bush.

Well, of course there was always anti-American sentiment in the Middle East. But the war basically doubled the percentage of the population who hate America and believe Jihad against it is warranted.

Even the State Dept. concedes the situation has dramatically worsened in that regard.

And while Iraq had a few Jihadists before the invasion, its population was largely either secular or at least anti-Jihadist Shi'ite.

Again, even the CIA concedes that since the invasiuon, Iraq has become a magnet for Jihadists worldwide and Al Queda recruitment has skyrocketed.

How could you not see how the situation has worsened in this respect. Perhaps you think it's worth it -- i.e., that the invasion produced other, more important gains -- but I don't see how you could deny that the war has had very bad political effects in terms of winning the herat6s and minds of the Muslim masses.

And it's the Muslim masses -- and only them -- who can ultimately isolate and defeat the Jihadist extremists politically. And if you don'tr isolate them politically, then there's always 4 or 5 new recruits to take the place of every Jihadist you kill.

mariana falls into the disinformation trap that many do about who the terrorists were before the war and who they are now.

Also, lumping everyone into a "MidEast" category is like lumping Canadians and Mexicans into a "NorthAmerican" category along with us. A little geo-political history knowledge goes a long way. The U.S. has had political good will with countries in the Middle East in the past. It can be done, but not with the current pinheads in the White House.

Also, she should check out those recent statistics that cite how many average citizens in Iraq feel we deserve to be blown up. It's amazing how having your family members blown up and killed by your "liberators" will cause you to hate same.

Hope you're doing well, David.


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