TCS Daily

Vacillating Between Neglect and Derision

By Paul Aligica - December 3, 2003 12:00 AM

Although you might not know if you follow the American media's coverage of the War on Terrorism, the fact is that in addition to the Europeans in carnival gear populating the streets of affluent capitals to "fight for peace," there are Europeans in combat gear fighting against terrorists and criminals in the mountains of Afghanistan and the deserts of Iraq. It is unfortunate that the American media concedes the existence of those allies only with tragic events like the recent killing of seventeen Italians in Iraq.


It is also dangerously irresponsible. If U.S. media outlets continue to ignore the sacrifices of America's international allies, America could actually lose them.


Among the strongest supporters of the United States are Europe's new democracies. On February 7, 2003, ten Eastern European countries issued a strong statement of support for the United States in its possible war with Iraq. Making implicit reference to their historical experience of almost half a century of Soviet occupation, they claimed that their countries "understand the dangers posed by tyranny and the special responsibility of democracies to defend our shared values." Also making explicit reference to their treasured and newly gained membership in the transatlantic community, they expressed their solidarity with it and their commitment to "stand together to face the threat posed by the nexus of terrorism and dictators with weapons of mass destruction." Later in the month, the Eastern Europeans went from declarations to concrete actions. Countries like Bulgaria and Romania offered their military bases, airports, and logistical support to the United States in the event of an Iraqi intervention.


The Western European media, seconded by its U.S. imitators, like the New York Times editorialists, flooded the public with abusive comments about the poor, cowardly, shabby, and ridiculous Eastern Europeans. Everything culminated with Jacques Chirac's public outburst that told "New Europe" to shut up or else.


Today, now that countries like Romania have troops on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, the media elites have changed their tune. The idea now is not so much to downplay and ridicule the allies but to portray the United States and the Bush administration as lonely and isolated. The less said about America's Coalition partners, the better.


The intention may be to embarrass the administration, but the effect is a slap in the face to the forces of every Coalition nation. Romania, for instance, is directly involved in operations both in Afghanistan and Iraq. One hundred twenty Romanian soldiers were camped in the same barracks with the Italians when the blast happened. It was only a mater of chance than none of the Romanian soldiers was hurt. But chance eluded the Romanians fighting in Afghanistan, where two of them were killed in the same week the Italian soldiers in Iraq were killed.


What where the Romanians doing in Afghanistan? A long list posted by the Romanian Ministry of Defense mentions that during the last nine months, among many others operations, the Romanians:


  • "provided a fast reaction force acting along the corridor created by highway that crosses Afghanistan from the East to the West";
  • "executed missions providing information regarding the existence of important al Qaeda and Taliban forces and armament hideouts, in the Red Mountain area";
  • "assured the security of the Kandahar airport";
  • "executed missions increasing the confidence of the local population in the transition Afghan government, and in the anti-terrorist coalition";
  • "organized in cooperation with the American forces a land assault convoy consisting of fighting sub-units and reconnaissance and logistic support sub-units";
  • authored "the most significant ammunition capture achieved by the Coalition forces from the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom."


The Romanians have performed over 500 patrol missions in the operation area; over 1,000 data-collection and information missions; over 300 missions intended to assure the security of logistical operations; tens of escort missions; and over 400 missions of verification and guidance. It was during one of these operations recently that the two Romanian soldiers lost their lives.


It is dispiriting to observe the silence of the U.S. media on the material and human efforts of Poles, Romanians, and of the many other members of the Coalition, but what is truly disheartening is to see how Coalition sacrifices are practically under a media boycott in the United States. And it is even sadder to contrast the coverage of the Coalition with the coverage devoted to the latest posturing of this or that French or German official engaged in an ego-boosting exercise, while their peoples are practically free-riding on the security-building endeavor provided by Coalition soldiers.


The U.S. media embargo on the Coalition's actions in Afghanistan may have an additional explanation. It was clearly presented by a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan who was commenting on a digital photo of a funeral procession for one of the Romanian soldiers killed in action and posted on a blog:


Since I have been in Afghanistan, I would say that, on average, I know of about one U.S. or coalition soldier getting killed every week. However, I see almost no news reports on these deaths -- and my wife at home does not either. My point is that per capita (with 10-15k soldiers in country), we are taking as many, or more hits than Iraq, yet no press coverage. Given this fact, it seems to me that the mainstream media are controlling public opinion by which information they cover. The liberals have a difficult time saying they are against the war in Afghanistan, but can oppose Iraq because the decision to attack wasn't as clearly obvious -- thus only report the bad stuff in Iraq -- at least this is my take. (


Reasonable people can disagree about the reasons the U.S. media coverage of the Coalition is vacillating between neglect and derision. However, beyond speculation about motives, the facts are clear: the Coalition efforts and even its losses are downplayed systematically, and sometimes the coverage of the allies' involvement in the War on Terrorism reaches revolting levels of condescension and tactlessness.


What the Romanians see, by glancing at the U.S. newscasts and newspapers, is an attitude of arrogance, callousness, and indifference -- exactly those attributes that prominent members of the U.S. media impute to their own government. Most Romanians, Poles, and Bulgarians don't make distinctions between the administration, the media, and the American people. One day they will decide that Americans are indeed an arrogant and callous people. How else could they explain the fact that the journalists of their wartime ally are constantly neglecting and belittling them? Maybe it is time for the U.S. media to rethink its role in generating anti-Americanism abroad. And a reconsideration of the way they treat the Coalition and its members would be a good starting point in that direction.


Paul Dragos Aligica is a Fellow at George Mason University, Mercatus Center and an Adjunct Fellow at Hudson Institute.


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