Masters of Propaganda
It's amazing that pro-Iraq war Republicans, who adamantly oppose nation building, continue to believe Bush's same tired rhetoric: "The future of Iraq belongs to freedom. Despite the costs, the pain, and the danger, Iraqis are showing courage and are moving forward to build a free society and a lasting democracy in the heart of the Middle East - and the United States of America will help them succeed."
Think Progress has a great summary of Bush's latest effort to bring freedom to Iraq:
President Bush regularly heralds himself as a champion of democratic principles; yesterday, he declared one of his prime goals in Iraq to be "providing an inspiring example to reformers in the region." Yet hours earlier, it was revealed that his administration has spent tens of millions of dollars on a coordinated campaign to spread misleading covert propaganda through Iraqi media outlets. As numerous analysts, including White House ally and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner (R-VA), have acknowledged, these ham-handed efforts not only undermine the development of Iraq's civil society, but dangerously risk the credibility of our nation's military at home and abroad.
DISSECTING THE PROPAGANDA: U.S. media manipulation efforts in Iraq, largely directed by the "Information Operations Task Force" (IOTF) in Baghdad, have been extensive. Officials not only planted "paid propaganda in the Iraqi news media and [paid] friendly Iraqi journalists monthly stipends," but have recently "intensified" the operations by purchasing an Iraqi newspaper and radio station to "channel pro-American messages to the Iraqi public. Neither is identified as a military mouthpiece." These actions apparently do not violate any laws. Yet according to the Los Angeles Times, "U.S. law forbids the military from carrying out psychological operations or planting propaganda through American media outlets," and the Pentagon's efforts "were carried out with the knowledge that coverage in the foreign press inevitably 'bleeds' into the Western media and influences coverage in US news outlets." Moreover, according to a recent expose by military analyst James Bamford, the IOTF closely resembles the Pentagon's Office of Strategic Influence (OSI), a short-lived operation shut down after strong resistance from Congress and military officials. OSI's functions "were apparently shifted to [the IOTF], deeper in the Pentagon's bureaucracy," Bamford wrote.
PROPAGANDA EFFORTS SAP CREDIBILITY OF U.S. MILITARY: According to the L.A. Times, the propaganda efforts have "sparked a backlash among some senior military officers in Iraq and at the Pentagon who argue that attempts to subvert the news media could destroy the U.S. military's credibility in other nations and with the American public." Said one senior Pentagon official, "Here we are trying to create the principles of democracy in Iraq. Every speech we give in that country is about democracy. And we're breaking all the first principles of democracy when we're doing it."
PROPAGANDA EFFORTS UNDERMINE DEVELOPMENT OF IRAQI DEMOCRACY: The "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq" released yesterday by President Bush included among its eight "strategic pillars" the importance of promoting "the vitality of a free press" by "working to promote civic understanding and enable Iraq's public and private media institutions to flower." To further this goal, the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development today "pay contractors millions of dollars to help train journalists and promote a professional and independent Iraqi media." Many of these programs specifically instruct foreign journalists "not to accept payments from interested parties to write articles and not to print government propaganda disguised as news." In other words, the administration's propaganda program not only works against U.S. efforts to help bolster democratic reform and develop Iraqi civil society, but counteracts programs on which millions of taxpayer dollars have been spent.
LONG HISTORY OF ADMINISTRATION MANIPULATION IN IRAQ: This is not the first time that U.S. officials have taken a heavy-handed approach to influencing social and political developments in Iraq. In the months leading up to last January's elections, President Bush approved a plan for covert U.S. agents to support Iraqi candidates and political parties favorable to White House interests. The plan was purportedly rescinded after congressional opposition led by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). But "the Bush Administration decided to override Pelosi's objections and covertly intervene in the Iraqi election," the New Yorker reported. The Pentagon has also engaged in suspect efforts to influence Iraqi press coverage. Last year, Rumsfeld's office issued a private memo detailing how a Pentagon-sponsored group of Iraqis would be touring the country with presentations "designed to be uplifting accounts with good news messages;" the memo recommended that that U.S. officials "seek local news coverage, noting that 'these events and presentations are positive public relations opportunities.'"
LINCOLN GROUP STAFFED BY CONSERVATIVE POLITICAL OPERATIVES: The Lincoln Group, a DC-based contracting firm, has been paid millions to carry out these sloppy propaganda efforts. In October 2004, Lincoln (then called Iraqex) "was awarded a one-year $6 million contract from the Pentagon to do PR work for the military in Iraq;" Lincoln negotiated a new deal worth roughly $100 million earlier this year. Kevin McCauley, editor of the PR industry journal "O'Dwyer's Newsletter," called the 2004 deal "a blockbuster -- in terms of dollars -- for PR. ... Those are big numbers, even if one is operating in a war zone." What about the firm justified such high fees? Though a Lincoln spokesman claimed the firm had "more experience working in Iraq than any other firm or organization anywhere in the world," facts suggest otherwise. A 2004 Chicago Tribune report found that Lincoln's PR workers in Iraq were conservative campaign operatives with no apparent experience in Iraq: "When [Jonathan Blessing] and another political consultant [Brian Swift] who had been working for the Bush campaign in Illinois heard about an opportunity to work for a company doing public relations in Iraq, the two jumped at the chance. ... Swift worked for the Bush-Cheney campaign in Illinois, and Blessing worked for the state GOP." Such bona fides extend to the group's top officials, including longtime senior executive Christian Bailey, a top operative in conservative circles for years.
SPINNING THE PROPAGANDA: Conservative U.S. media outlets and pundits offered virtually unqualified praise for the covert propaganda efforts. National Review's Stephen Spruiell wrote, "We need more operations like this in Iraq, and more respect for their classified nature," arguing that the misleading planted stories "wouldn't undercut the trust of the Iraqi people if papers like the LA Times weren't blowing their cover." Meanwhile, Fox News reporter Steve Centanni said the function of the Pentagon program was merely "to offer favorable articles to Iraqi newspapers as a way to counter the misinformation put out by the insurgency." Fox contributor Bill Cowan is an official advisor to the Lincoln Group, according to the firm's website.