Many people know the old adage about restaurant kitchens: to know if the kitchen is clean, check the bathroom. The same holds true for Soldiers, only it calls for checking windows. If you are going on a combat mission and Soldiers have not cleaned all their windows to a sparkle (during times when it is possible to do so), do not go with them. Soldiers with dirty windows are not watching for tiny wires in the road, nor are they scanning rooftops. They are talking about women, football, and the car they will buy when they get home. I will not go into combat with Soldiers with dirty windows.If all reporters knew as much about the military (and put as much work into doing good reporting) as Yon, I'd be a little more optimistic about that last line. But for all that the mainstream press makes a good punching-bag for conservative pundits, I don't doubt he's right that good ability to deal with the press is essential to being a good commander in Iraq these days.
I also look at the state of their weapons and ammunition. Does the machine gunner have lubricant? Before going out with them, does someone tell me what to do if there is any drama? Or do they just drag me into combat like a sack of potatoes? It’s usually very simple. A platoon sergeant will say, “Sir, you stay next to me and do what I tell you, we’ll probably get you back alive.” Although there are always exceptions, most of the Soldiers fall into the “ready, prepared and alert” category.
On the command level, there are other indicators. In counterinsurgency, as our Vietnam veterans will vouch, press has both strategic and tactical influence. Commanders who are afraid of the press or who cannot handle it cannot win this fight. They are often the same people who alienate Iraqis. I remember one captain who had allowed his men to ransack an Iraqi home, much later shouting in my face while his lip quivered with anger, “You are a piece of shit!” He could not handle having press around, and resented the very air they breathed, and he made sure they knew it. Of course anyone whose idea of winning is to bully Iraqis would not want media around. I watched him for months as a study in how not to do certain things. Tactically, he was competent and knew how to win the gun battles, but he was incompetent and inadequate for counterinsurgency.
Dealing with the press is just a reality, like the weather. We would never put a commander in the field who refused to make plans for fighting in the cold or heat. Although it’s just a reality, cold weather, for example, could destroy a unit overnight if they had not prepared for it. As with the weather, the press also influences the enemy. Cold weather freezes everyone’s toes; bad press stalls progress. In either instance, he who is better-suited and more adaptable has a supreme advantage. There was a time when many of our enemies in Iraq were beating us in the press, both their press and ours, but now that is changing.
Fortnightly Book, March 26
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