The Most Powerful Force

Like many observers, George Packer views the flotilla attack as a media victory for Israel's enemies:

Sunday night’s incident showed again that the most powerful force in international relations today is neither standing armies nor diplomatic councils, but public opinion as shaped by media. The presence of an Al Jazeera crew on one ship proves that the pro-Gazans understand completely the main arena in which they’re operating. The American military learned this truth slowly and the hard way in Iraq and Afghanistan.

No one else cared if it was insurgents dressed as ordinary men who triggered an attack; what always shaped the world’s judgment was footage of soldiers retaliating with overwhelming firepower. (The recent WikiLeaks video is a good example; Raffi Khatchadourian has more about WikiLeaks this week in the magazine.) For years, the military would release self-justifying (and often misleading) statements that only inflamed opinion and strengthened the hand of the insurgents. Over time, American soldiers learned that they had to care what the worldespecially Iraqis and Afghansthought. They started trying harder to avoid such incidents, and, when that failed, to control their effect by owning up faster to their own responsibility.