International Papers

The Three-Minute War

Judging from commentaries in some European papers, television is almost entirely responsible for shaping our perceptions of the justification for and execution of the U.S.-led action in Iraq.

Switzerland’s Tribune de Genève said the “face of the war changed” Sunday when dead Iraqi civilians and the bodies and bloody faces of American captives were shown on Iraqi television and when forces loyal to Saddam proved themselves capable of stalling the U.S. advance toward Baghdad: “The illusion of a clean, quick, and surgical war—a 21st-century version of the Six-Day War—vanished into thin air.” Libération of Paris echoed those sentiments, declaring, “On the fourth day, the war—the real war—invited itself into American and British living rooms via the TV screen.” The editorial said there’s no doubt the United States will win the war, but it suggested that the superpower had underestimated its opposition: “The truth is that for the moment, the Iraqi army is resisting after a fashion. Saddam is still in place. Nowhere, not even in the Shiite south, have we seen a popular uprising or any signs of enthusiasm from the ‘liberated’ Iraqis.”

Britain’s Daily Mirror said TV images of the U.S. “shock and awe” bombing campaign demolished the case for war: “The live TV footage of the bombardment of Baghdad last night was sickening to watch and to hear. For those of us who are opposed to this war, it was hideous confirmation of our worst fears. And for those who support it, there must have been terrible misgivings about what they were witnessing.” The Guardian declared, “Buoyed by our sense of technological, political and moral superiority towards Iraq, and precipitated by our culture’s preference for short, sharp, scheduled outcomes, we have risked falling prey to a delusion that modern war is easy, cost-free and entertaining, when it is none of these things.” In fact, despite the United States’ undeniable technological superiority, there is no guarantee of victory; “nothing is more dangerous and less certain than the course and outcome of military conflict.”

The Daily Telegraph said Saddam is conjuring a David and Goliath struggle “for the gratification of portions of the Arab world.” The paper’s editorial encouraged readers to take the long view when considering the war’s early casualties and disappointments: “Such setbacks chime in perfectly with the game of expectation management that Saddam Hussein and his minions seek to play with the international media. Precisely because the assumptions about the ‘hyper-power’ of America are so optimistic, the media have a tendency to fix on to any setbacks as evidence of the start of [a] grand strategic tailspin.” The Times agreed that it’s unrealistic to judge the success of the coalition’s military action by how quickly it unfolds: “The Falklands conflict, the Gulf War and the Kosovo campaign all took between two and three months to execute. The drive to depose Saddam Hussein and rid Iraq of weapons of mass destruction is no less complicated than any of those conflicts. A victory on this occasion that was recorded in weeks rather than months would be an astonishing achievement.”