It must have been the sandstorm. Remember last week when everyone in Iraq was blinded and baffled by the whorl of dust and darkness? Today we might figure that embedded in those blistering grains of hard dust was a meme, one of those catchy ideas that gets implanted in the human mind and multiplies through the culture like a virus.
The media culture seems to have been infected, as much of what we read and hear doesn't jive with what we otherwise know to be true. Headlines and news stories, for instance, variously tell us that we're in trouble, we're falling behind, our plan has failed, that we're the ones "shocked and awed" by Iraqi resistance.
Yet, on the other hand, we know that this is what's really true: Americans and Brits have secured strategic areas, including oil fields in the south and airstrips in the north; carefully minimized civilian casualties; fed and doctored surrendering Iraqis; uncovered a "torture hospital" and a terrorist camp packed with training equipment for nuclear, biological and chemical warfare; and encircled Baghdad in less than two weeks with less than 50 American casualties.
This is a failed plan? So said formerly employed MSNBC war correspondent Peter Arnett, whose weird interview with Saddam's television station was otherwise notable for its inaccuracies. In another statement, Arnett said: "There is growing challenge to President Bush about the conduct of the war and also opposition to the war," which is patently false. The most recent polls continue to show that 70 percent of Americans support the war.
To be fair, Arnett did make one true statement when he said that the Iraqi "population is responsive to the government's requirements of discipline." Yessiree, when it comes to behavior management, Saddam is peerless. Do we really need to explain this?
Over the weekend, the media played the meme game to perfection, taking a single quote and spreading it around like a germ, infecting other minds along the way so that by now the homeless hitchhiker "knows" that coalition forces misgauged Iraqi resistance.
The quote du jour, attributed to Lt. Gen. William Wallace, commander of U.S. Army ground forces, and simultaneously repeated in Time magazine, The New York Times (compliments of columnist Maureen Dowd), and a scattering of other newspapers that picked up the original wire story, went like this:
"The enemy we're fighting is a bit different than the one we war-gamed against," he reportedly said. Well, yes, that seems true enough. So what? Soldiers train to fight other soldiers, not children or disguise artists or cowards strapped with bombs. But that's not how Wallace's purloined statement is meant to be understood.