Rumour has it that the US armed forces in Iraq, and therefore presumably UK forces, are under instructions not to launch any serious operations in Iraq until the American presidential election is out of the way. The idea being that large casualty figures would work against the incumbent president.
Unfortunately this suggestion will never be proved either way. It is interesting though. Even if untrue the fact that people could even think like that is illuminating. In the past, the timing of military operations was dictated by factors that would have a direct impact on the immediate outcome; the relative strength of forces, the weather, tides, whatever. As time went by, and journalists and public opinion became a factor, governments took to making things up (WW1 onwards) but more or less continued to exclude thoughts of newspaper headlines in their strategic and tactical planning.
Then came Vietnam. Journalists had unrestricted access to combat zones, took risks to be at the sharp end, died in significant numbers and reported stories that pretty much eroded the American will to fight. Given the fact that Vietnam didn't exactly become a hotbed for the spread of global communism after winning the war, I would suggest that this was a good thing. The Vietnam War was a nonsense from the beginning. The tragedy is that journalism didn't end the war much sooner and spare America, and Vietnam, an awful lot of misery.
Anyway, after Vietnam the US government has got a lot more savvy about managing journalists, to a point where operational planning would actually factor in the impact on news and television stories. The commencement of the air bombardment, then the subsequent ground assault of Iraq Conflict Number One were timed to deliver dramatic footage in time for the evening news broadcasts in America. The land based offensive was halted after exactly 100 hours. You can either believe that this occurred because a) all military objectives had been achieved, or b) it sounded really spiffy.
Fast forward to Iraq Conflict Number Two, the sequel. Since the US retook Samarra at the end of last month (third time lucky) they have eased off a little. There's a little bit of trade and some sabre rattling taking place around Fallujah. If the Americans go into Fallujah before their election the rumour is probably untrue. If they don't attack it probably is true. If so, that would suggest that the US (and UK) Armed Forces have been transformed into nothing more than representatives of the Republican and UK Labour Parties. I'm sure that would be a comfort to people killed as a result of party politically motivated battle plans.
Even more interesting is the potential evolution of the concept. Future US/UK commanders will have to consider several additional factors when planning assaults:
- have they put film in their cameras?
- have they built up adequate front lines forces; infantry, tanks, air support, embedded journalists?
- will the combination of moon and weather enable filming of those really cool, greenish coloured, night vision shots?
- does the timing of the attack clash with a World Cup qualifying match or the Superbowl?
- is Tony Blair doing a spot on 'Richard and Judy' the next morning?