Infiltrating the Iraqi Media: The Real Scandal

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.

—Jonathan Zasloff

Author: Jonathan Zasloff

Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees. Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses. Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.