Working for the enemy?
Simpson makes the point that, far more than a conventional war (which, he acknowledges, America "would win hands down"), Iraq is "a war of public relations", and not just for America. He also says that "For the insurgents, too, this is a war for public opinion." And although he avoids coming out and saying it baldly, it is clear that Simspon thinks the "insurgents" are winning this particular public relations war.
Now, whether or not he is correct about this, the very fact that he thinks it raises an interesting, and perhaps troubling, issue. John Simpson is an opinion columnist for the BBC. As such, presumably, he hopes to help shape public opinion about issues he writes about. That is, afterall, why pundits offer their opinions up to the public - in the hopes of influencing the opinions of members of that public. And, if the Iraq war is a battle for public opinion, then isn't it fair to ask what role John Simpson, as a shaper of public opinion, is playing in that war?
Take, for instance, the very column under question. What is the likely effect on public opinion of Simpson's sage observations? Well, let's look at the observations/opinions he is promoting:
- America's military strength is not all that helpful in Iraq.
- On the same day Bush pledged "nothing less than complete victory", 10 marines were killed in Iraq which, Simpson reminds us, is atypically yet particularly significant.
- The Pentagon "presumably" witheld the news of the deaths for 24 hours for political/propaganda reasons.
- If America can declare victory "of a kind", withdraw its troops, and leave Iraq to "sink or swim" on its own, then even if the "insurgents" ultimately win the war outright, America could claim to be uninvolved.
- The Iraqi army is ill-suited and ill-equipped to take on the "insurgents".
- The US "has not succeeded in neutralising the insurgency in any of the major population centres in the Sunni heartland."
- History strongly favors an "insurgent" victory.
- The insurgents "had the better of" the war for public opinion last week. (This, by the way, the week in which the "insurgents" killed 2 British civilians at the airport and kidnapped a German, an American, two Canadians, and a Briton, civilians all, holding them hostage. Simpson doesn't mention these events, so it is not clear whether or not he considers them to be a part of the good PR week for the "insurgents".)
Now if, as Simpson proclaims is the case (and I think he is correct at this point), public opinion is the "real battleground" of this war, and John Simpson himself is helping to shape that opinion through the use of his (tax-funded) opinion column, then in light of the opinions he is promoting, it seems entirely fair to me to wonder just who John Simpson is pulling for.