So it turns out that the Army is planting stories in the Iraqi media to make the American effort look good. Blue Blogistan has erupted in outrage, but the target of their anger is misplaced.
I’d be pretty upset if we didn’t have some kind of propaganda campaign operating in Iraq. This is a war, and as wartime tactics go, this is really pretty mild. It’s even legitimate, in my view, to plant false stories if it helps the war effort. Ted Kennedy’s protest that “if Americans were truly welcomed in Iraq as liberators, we wouldn’t have to doctor the news for the Iraqi people” seems very naive to me: in an unstable, violent conflict, the idea that “the people” will reward the side that they support is blind to the brute facts of power on the ground, and the ability of differing sides to structure rewards and punishments to attract support and intimidate opponents. Beliefs that one side is winning often become self-fulfilling prophecies.
It’s no argument to say that if this effort is discovered, then it reduces American credibility. Well, sure: but the whole point of this is that it’s covert. It may well have been foolish to think that it could remain covert, but that goes to incompetence, not evil.
The real scandal is that the administration is using the legal and legitimate tool of foreign propaganda operations as a way of corrupting the domestic political arena. It failed paying Armstrong Williams to write stories for it here, so what it does is plant stories in Iraq in the hopes that it will be picked up by the American media. As Laura Rozen demonstrates, this is part of a coordinated DoD effort to use psy ops against the American public.
This is the globalization of what Mark Schmitt rightfully calls Rovism: every institution must be corrupted to achieve maximum political effect for the Dear Leader. Whether it is corrupting the intelligence process, the Senate through the Nuclear Option, the scientific method, the Justice Department’s voting rights section, or anything else: nothing is more important than political power.
Skeptics might say I put the administration in an impossible position: either they don’t do foreign psy ops, in which case they are incompetent, or they do, and if it gets out to the American media, then they are blamed for that. Hardly: this administration’s record is so overwhelming on the use of every available institution for political purposes that they have the responsibility to show that they aren’t being corrupt. They are guilty until proven innocent. If they think that that’s good enough for Jose Padilla, then it should be good enough for them.