Kathleen Parker

 "Are we there yet? Are we there yet?"

The media are beginning to sound an awful lot like brats in the backseat nagging Daddy Rumsfeld because the war is taking sooooo long. I mean, it's been a little more than a week already!

As a military friend said recently: "The American attention span for wars is the length of an average Hollywood movie."

Since the U.S.-allied attack began on Iraq, reporters and commentators have been struggling for definition. It's as though we were all handed a syllabus at the beginning of the war, and any deviation thereafter is a narcissistic insult, or worse, a military failure.

In nearly every press briefing lately, whether with generals in the desert or with President Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the question surfaces: Why is the war taking so long?

Part of the problem, now thoroughly dissected, is the 24/7 news coverage, which provides slices of war without the larger context. Forget not seeing the forest for the trees; we're focused on the granular composition of the sand. Such saturated emphasis on minutiae moreover conveys the impression that the war has been on going for months when it has been little more than a week, as Rumsfeld has noted.

When reporters asked Bush and Blair Thursday how long the war will take, Blair gave the only answer possible: "We will carry on until the job is done." Later he added that the schedule isn't "set by time; it's set by the nature of the job."

It's true that the U.S. military thought we'd be in Baghdad by now, but those predictions were predicated on a northern front that would have forced Saddam to split his defenses. Even so, our forces were within 50 miles of Baghdad by the fifth day.

Thus, what's slow isn't the war itself, but our capacity to absorb the onslaught of information. Although embedded reporters may provide us with up-to-the-second, live-action outtakes, our brains are just as fast as they were 50 years ago. That is, we need time for due consideration, time to absorb, process, select and analyze. Yet we allow ourselves none of that.

It isn't hard to trace the roots of this quintessentially American problem. We're a drive-through nation addicted to fast food and accustomed to stories that wrap up in a couple of hours. At the same time, we're a tad compulsive about knowing how things turn out. In real-time war, we can't cheat and skip to the last page or dodge into the next-door theater and catch the end of "Rambo Does Iraq."


Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker is a syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.
 
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