John Brown, a former Foreign Service officer who resigned from the State Department over the war in Iraq, now compiles the "Public Diplomacy Press Review," which can be obtained free by e-mail by clicking here .
The mainstream media —at last catching up with the administration’s spin and mendacity—recently revealed that the Lincoln Group covertly paid Iraqi newspapers to print articles composed by the U.S. military but published as straight news items. The inside-the-Beltway group operated this program thanks to a $5 million dollar Pentagon contract. The story, first broken by the Los Angeles Times on November 30, is yet another illustration of the administration’s moral bankruptcy and failure to win hearts and minds abroad.
Both the ends and means of the Pentagon’s made-to-order Lincoln Group propaganda are, to say the least, questionable. The ostensible purpose of this propaganda—to obtain Iraqi support for the U.S. occupation of their country—is by the day becoming increasingly unjustifiable. A growing number of Americans who want our troops to withdraw from Iraq would agree with this view.
I suspect there is another, more down to earth motive for the just-exposed Pentagon propaganda, probably found among mid-level bureaucrats there whose careers depend on negotiating contracts with private, politically-connected PR firms peddling their Iraq “expertise.” These bureaucrats want to demonstrate to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and the top brass that “something is being done” about moving the needle of Iraqi public opinion in favor of the U.S. They hope this evidence will shield the Secretary and his high-ranking military—traditionally little concerned about what civilians think—from criticism by Congress and elsewhere that they aren’t winning the ideological side of the so-called war on terror.
This less than noble motive has perhaps more to do with getting favorable in-house efficiency reports and promotions and fighting the long slug of Washington agency turf and media wars. One wonders whether the architects of this project truly care about changing attitudes toward the United States in Iraq—where 30,000 civilians have been killed, as the president himself stated without the slightest concern or remorse, as a result of the U.S. “liberation” of their country.
Indeed, for the Bush administration, the best foreign public opinion is dead public opinion. Extermination and torture, even more than its insipid propaganda, are its favorite “public diplomacy” tools.
The Lincoln Group’s propaganda’s methods are simply infantile, based as they are on the naïve assumption that “we’re-winning-the-war” stories drafted by U.S. military and covertly placed in local media might actually influence skeptical Iraqi audiences. As one military official confessed:
Stuff would show up in the Iraqi press, and I would ask, 'Where the hell did that come from?' It was clearly not something that indigenous Iraqi press would have conceived of on their own.
(My favorite Lincoln Group blooper, noted by the Los Angeles Times article mentioned above: “Nearly $1,500 was paid to the independent Addustour newspaper to run an Aug. 2 article titled "More Money Goes to Iraq's Development.") I would not be surprised if Lincoln Group staff itself, if it is at all professional (their British-born senior executive claims an Oxford degree), knew all along that these planted stories were more a way of proving effectiveness to parochial Pentagon green-shade types (and thus obtaining more funding) rather than influencing Iraqi public opinion. According to The Guardian , 1,000 articles were placed in the Iraqi press—just the kind of statistic that pleases bureaucratic bean counters as evidence of propaganda “success.”
But the true bottom line is that, far from making Iraqis view the U.S. positively, the Pentagon’s paid-for newspaper stories have the opposite effect. The phony pieces have backfired, as yet another example to foreigners of America’s hypocrisy: While we preach the virtues of a free press, we bribe editors and journalists to publish bogus pro-American news for reasons that perhaps have more to do with Washington politics than the tragic conflict in Iraq.