The Battle for Hearts and Minds

The closest Israeli to George Bush is Mossad agent Gavriel Alon. His professional cover - art restorer - provides Alon with a good front as he travels the world and explains his interest in Nazi loot.

The closest Israeli to George Bush nowadays is Mossad agent Gavriel Alon, a regular visitor in the American president's leisure hours. His professional cover - art restorer - provides Alon with a good front as he travels the world and explains his interest in Nazi loot. He is a wizard of pinpoint prevention, a daring, cool assassin, like his commander in the Mossad, Ari Shimshon. Lately, on a trip that led to a meeting with the pope, Alon had the opportunity to avenge a friend who was murdered in Munich, where he spent a partial sabbatical - Mossad men never really get a vacation. We, not the Sicilians, invented the blood vengeance, Alon promises.

Gavriel Alon is the fictional hero of "The Confessor," by Daniel Silva, one of two books Bush is reportedly reading currently. According to The New York Times, the other book is "The Conquerors," by Michael R. Beschloss, about the rehabilitation of occupied Germany after World War II. At the end of the day or at Camp David on the weekends, Bush relaxes from his management of the Iraqi war with the help of Daniel and Gavriel, who encourage him to mete out justice to the Nazis and their accomplices, and for variety, he learns how to revive a defeated enemy.

Bush came to politics from Texas and baseball, and has yet to be caught, like Hollywood's Ronald Reagan, blurring reality and fiction, but he is not immune - like his voters and those who voted against him - to the influence of culture and the media. There are no separate files in the mind of someone who reads a Mossad thriller in the evening and CIA reports in the morning. And if that's the way it is with intellectual absorption of printed material, then the barriers are even lower when it comes to the emotional absorption of visual broadcasts. Between the real events on the ground and the fictional movie, there might be a gap, but TV news, which bridges it, turns the pictures of the world and the world of pictures into a thick stew.

This is not some stunning discovery; the innovation is in the intensity of its actualization. Already 50 years ago, to use a contrarian example, the McCarthyites hunted Hollywood screenwriters and directors suspected of helping the wily Communists penetrate American consciousness with hidden messages. The Pentagon's effort to connect to the public and Congress with the mass media was on the sidelines in the Clinton era and occupied center stage in the era of the Bush wars. The climax came with the embedding of journalists among the forces operating in Iraq. Like the two-headed movement toward Baghdad, the Third Infantry Division in the West and the marines on the Euphrates in the East, it was a double-targeted operation, to the world and America.

The export version is obvious: your eyes see all, we have nothing to hide, we could have smashed the egg or made scrambled eggs but we are trying to pierce the shell with a tiny hole and suck out the yolk. The guarantee is the close media accompaniment of the troops by a corps of skeptical foreign and American reporters eager to win a Pulitzer or Emmy, so they won't whitewash the horror.

The director's cut for the home audience is more complex. It began with defining the media as a main arena of combat, justifying attention from the highest levels, and the decision to trust the reporters not to harm the operational security of the forces (and themselves). Without censorship, the job of securing information falls to the ground commanders, and the reporters can publish whatever they know, agreeing only not to report two matters - precise locations and plans for future operations.

The immediate result, in the plethora of reporters and exclusive reports, has been the support of the electorate and their representatives for the war. That's important for the president, as a world statesman and a local politician, but the Pentagon chalked up a much longer-term achievement - breaking the sense of alienation that existed between the nation and its army. The press was surprised to discover and reported home that the combat officers were not gladiators amused by lethal and expensive toys; the paratroops, pilots and marines were perceived as humane and friendly, like the firefighters and police after 9/11. That is a genuine accomplishment, not in Basra or Baghdad, but in Boston, Baltimore and Baton Rouge - at home.