I’ve said a couple of times that it didn’t seem that Americans were fully focused on this war. That seems really silly now -- obviously most of us are glued to our TV sets these days. There was a bit more engagement in ’91, I think, when yellow ribbons were everywhere, and, of course, after 9/11, when so many flags began to be flown, but America is clearly caught up now.
Please notice, however, that it’s the coverage of the war that’s engaging America. The country wasn’t awash in pro-war symbols before the war started, as it was before Gulf War I. I still think that’s because Bush never made this America’s war -- the media have done this now, by giving us drama, but Bush never did it.
The message we got from Bush was that it was his war. It was all about him.
Whatever words Bush may have uttered before the war started, the story was always Bush vs. ... someone: Bush vs. congressional Democrats. Bush vs. the United Nations. Bush vs. Germany. Bush vs. France. Bush vs. Turkey. Bush vs. the protesters. For a while, even Bush vs. Colin Powell. Rumsfeld and Fleischer and Cheney and Perle sent out the same message, and Powell eventually did as well: We want this war. We’re going to get it. If you try to stop us, we will keep coming and keep coming until we prevail.
Bush obviously met a lot of resistance -- but he never made a serious effort to lower the diplomatic temperature (he and his subordinates deliberately raised it many times), and time and again he refused to compromise. And he kept reminding us that he refused to compromise, that his “patience” was “wearing thin.” That meant that the story was always going to be about Bush’s squabbles, not Bush’s case for the war.
I’m an opponent of this war. I can’t imagine that Bush would have ever swayed me, because I think this a war about empire that in the long run will do more harm than good to innocent people. But Bush could have made much of the country feel that this war was the result of something more than a fit of presidential pique. He didn’t.
Here’s a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll on the media’s coverage of the war. The story is supposedly a drop in public approval of the media, but notice that the approval rating is still 79%. That’s higher than Bush’s.
It’s easy to find fault with the media coverage of the war -- plenty of us do, on the left and the right -- but TV and radio and the print press have taken the war back from Bush. We’re getting a melodramatic story with inadequate context, but now it’s a story about combat and the combatants -- not about the snappish brat in the Oval Office.