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Across the country from New York to LA and few points in between, journalists were outraged at the revelation that the US military was paying to have "good news" stories run in Iraqi papers. I couldn't see the problem - but I'm not a complicated man. From my simple perspective the story boils down to this: I have a gun. You have a gun. I can talk you into setting that gun down, or I can shoot you. This, I believe, is the fundamental concept - the moral imperative, in fact - establishing the need for such information operations in a war zone. Of course, people getting shot is what the front page of the paper is all about, so perhaps reducing that number equals reduced sales - and this of course, will fuel "outrage" from those dependent on those sales to pay for the next drinking binge when the pangs of guilt start gnawing into their conscience. But I digress...
When Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) originally demanded an investigation into those stories he labeled the program "a devious scheme to place favorable propaganda in Iraqi newspapers." That investigation is nearly complete, but based on those comments he likely won't be happy with the result:
Iraq Info Ops Review Yields No Wrongdoing, Casey SaysAnd Senator Kennedy will likely not be alone in his anger - when that final report is issued there will be more outrage in the American media.
WASHINGTON, Dec. 16, 2005 – A preliminary investigation of alleged improprieties conducted by U.S. military information operations activities in Iraq hasn't found any wrongdoing, the top U.S. officer in Iraq said today.
"We concluded that we were operating within our authorities and the appropriate legal procedures," Army Gen. George W. Casey Jr. said from his headquarters in Iraq during a satellite news conference with Pentagon reporters.
Casey, commander of Multinational Force Iraq, was responding to a reporter's question on the status of the two-week-old review Navy Rear Adm. Scott R. Van Buskirk is conducting into U.S. information operations practices in Iraq.
The issue had been raised in a recent Los Angeles Times story alleging that articles written by U.S. forces highlighting anti-terrorist and reconstruction successes and mounting anti-insurgent sentiment in Iraq had been improperly planted in Iraqi media outlets.
As there was in the immediate aftermath of the fall of Saddam Hussein's regime when the media was "outraged" over having been duped by another "skilled" propagandist. From a CENTCOM press briefing, April 11, 2003:
GEN. BROOKS:...I would add that information-wise, the coalition governments have identified a list of key regime leaders who must be pursued and brought to justice. The key list has 55 individuals who may be pursued, killed or captured, and the list does not exclude leaders who may have already been killed or captured. This list has been provided to coalition forces on the ground in several forms to ease identification when contact does occur. And this deck of cards is one example of what we provide to soldiers out -- soldiers and marines out in the field -- with the faces of the individuals and what their role is. In this case, there are 55 cards in the deck...The "joker" was Mohammad Saeed Al-Sahhaf - dubbed "Baghdad Bob" he became a source of comic relief to many. Few will forget his insistence that there were no Americans near Baghdad, a claim delivered straight-faced as US battle tanks rumbled in the background.
Q General, Jeff Meade from Sky News... And if I can also ask a second question, your deck of 55 most wanted, does that include the former information minister -- because every pack needs a joker? (Laughter.)
GEN. BROOKS: Well said, Jeff. Well said. Well, there are jokers in this deck, there's no doubt about that. (Laughter.) And that is also there are cards that have "joker" marked on them.
But in those claims he was aided and abetted by some in the western media:
Was it true, the Iraqi minister of information was asked at his daily 2pm press conference (11pm NZT) - a routine institution of usually deadly tedium - that the Americans were at the airport?That's the report from British journalist Robert Fisk, dated 4 April 2003. In fact, the US had taken the airport the day prior, and on 5 April it served as the launch point for the first Thunder Run - a tank excursion through Baghdad proper that proved so effective that plans were changed on the fly and a second attack launched two days later toppled the regime.
"Rubbish!" he shouted. "Lies! Go and look for yourself."
So we did.
And, alas for the Anglo-American spokesmen in Doha and the US officer quoted on the BBC, the Iraqi minister was right and the Americans were wrong. But it's a good idea to take these things, if not with a pinch of salt, then at least with the knowledge that there are always two reasons for every decision taken in this violent, ruthless land.
Sure, the Americans had been caught lying again - as they were about the "securing" of Nasiriyah more than a week ago - but was that the only reason journalists were permitted to visit Baghdad airport? We saw no Republican Guards - just as the Americans have themselves somehow failed to discover the 12,000 Republican Guards supposedly facing them.
Indeed, what I found most extraordinary was that there appeared to be absolutely no attempt to block the road into Baghdad from the airport.
Save for a few soldiers on the streets and a police squad car, you might have thought this a mildly warm holiday afternoon.
At first perplexing - and as noted, a source of amusement to many - the disinformation campaign actually had a purpose. The target wasn't the outside world, it was the citizens of Baghdad who, it was hoped, would be duped into going about their normal routine that day.
Colonel Raaed Faik was riding with fellow Republican Guard officers on a civilian bus thirty-two kilometers northeast of Baghdad that morning, trying to obey an order to rush to Baghdad to join in the defense of the city. They were to help keep Highway 8 open for a counterattack. Faik was a senior signal officer in the Republican Guard, but he was dressed now in civilian clothes. The chief of staff had radioed an order for this division to fight without uniforms in hopes of mounting an effective guerilla war against the American forces on the streets of Baghdad. But some officers had not received the order, and they were still in their uniforms. They bickered with the plainclothes officers over how to dress for the battle.The plan for the defense of Baghdad was a long, bloody seige, fought by soldiers in civilian clothes on streets crowded with actual civilians. With no hope of military victory, the leadership in Iraq wanted to create a global outrage, fueled by media reports of civilian casualties (actual and otherwise) and other atrocities, to the point where the US would ultimately withdraw humiliated. Far from being humorous, the claims of Mohammad Saeed Al-Sahhaf and Robert Fisk - made willingly or witlessly - had a deadly serious purpose: maximize the number of real civilians on the streets along with those soldiers posing as the same. The goal? Photographs of mounds of civilian corpses splashed across front pages and news broadcasts worldwide.
Faik was disgusted. He took pride in being a member of an elite unit, but now they were like women trying to decide what outfits to wear. They were fools led by imbeciles.
That protracted combat never happened, by the 9th of April the fall of Baghdad would be marked by the fall of a statue in Firdos Square.
But the plan lives on in cities and towns through al Anbar and other provinces, (see Fallujah, April 2004) where "ex-regime loyalists" and former military officers went home from the war to build an "insurgency" that confronts coalition forces - including the new government of Iraq - to this day.
Enemy information operations in those towns may not have the level of organization the government of Saddam Hussein could provide, but in areas where all news is local and communication is mostly by word of mouth there are still effective methods for spreading propaganda:
On July 29, a platoon from the 5th Battalion's Alpha Company entered a concrete block house south of Balad. A 15-year-old girl threw herself at the Americans.
Tugging at their arms, crying and nearly hysterical, she told them through an interpreter that her uncle, who lived in the house, had been plotting attacks against the Americans and beat her "like a dog."
"If we didn't take her from that house, there was no doubt in my mind she would be killed," said 1st Lt. Joshua Rambo, a 26-year-old platoon leader from Bossier City, La.
The decision ignited one of the 5th Battalion's worst crises. The girl was part of the al-Rafeat tribe, one of the largest in the region. Tribal custom forbade a virgin to leave her house unescorted. "This was unthinkable, for strangers to take come and take one of our women," said the tribal leader, Eifan Muslih Mehdi. "It is a stain on our honor. Take 1,000 men, but never a woman."
Petery was faced with an explosive situation. Keeping the girl would mean certain violence, he believed. But releasing her would be tantamount to a death sentence.
Petery and Mehdi compromised. The tribal leader agreed to take custody of the girl and guarantee her safety. To remove her from Camp Paliwoda, the Americans had to pry the wailing girl's fingers from a doorjamb.
The next day, Rambo's platoon went to check on the girl. They found her not at Mehdi's house but at her grandfather's, surrounded by relatives and wearing a full-length abaya that covered all but her face.
Now in a daze, the girl walked up to the Americans and pulled back her right sleeve, revealing a burn mark that "looked like the width of a bayonet, like somebody could have heated it up and stuck it on her arm," Rambo recalled. "It was a couple inches across the inside of her forearm. She said she had been blindfolded and forced to drink something hot that made her sick. And then she was burned."
Furious that Mehdi had lied and concerned that the girl had been tortured, Petery had her escorted to a Balad hospital.
The girl then changed her story: The Americans, she told her family, had given her a mysterious pill, then assaulted her.
Petery was now convinced the girl had been lying all along. His female interpreter, Thanna Azawi, an Iraqi American from Redford, Mich., said she believed the girl had been tortured by her family and changed her story. Petery said he had no choice but to release her back to her family. He called a meeting and asked Sunni tribal leaders to dispel rumors that the Americans had kidnapped the girl. The Iraqis refused.
John Guardiano served in Iraq in 2003 with a Marine Civil Affairs Group. A reservist, his civilian job is journalist, and this month his work appeared in the Wall Street Journal:
The latest Iraq "scandal" the politicians and the media have discovered is the U.S. military's alleged covert purchase of favorable articles in the Iraqi press. This alleged "propaganda campaign . . . violates fundamental principles of Western journalism," reports the New York Times.The information operations in Iraq may be doomed to failure. But attempting to reduce casualties, even with little chance of success, is not a war crime - indeed, it is a necessity. Again, I have a gun. You have a gun. I can talk you into setting that gun down, or I can shoot you.
This is not surprising, insofar as Iraq does not yet enjoy "Western journalism." Journalists there are murdered, blackmailed and bribed. They and their families are routinely threatened and coerced by terrorist/insurgents. Newspapers often serve as propaganda arms of various political and religious factions. The widely viewed Arab network Al-Jazeera works diligently to promote terrorism and undermine Iraq by disseminating lies, distortions and misinformation.
In light of this reality, the U.S. military has a choice: It can accept this deleterious state of affairs, play by Marquess of Queensberry rules, and wait decades for the emergence of "Western journalism." The result would be a heady propaganda win for the terrorist/insurgents, a prolonged conflict, and more unnecessary violence and death. Or the U.S. military can work within Iraq's present-day constraints to try to ensure that Iraqis hear the truth about what is happening in their country.
The U.S. military wisely has decided to pursue the latter course of action. But contrary to the Times and other self-anointed paragons of journalistic virtue, this is nothing new. I know because while serving as a Marine in Iraq in April 2003, I volunteered to write newspaper articles and radio and television scripts for dissemination in-country. Yes, I was a not-so-covert Iraqi journalist.
I say not-so-covert because everyone--U.S. Marines and Iraqis alike--knew who I was and what I was doing.
National Public Radio heard of our efforts and sent one of its reporters to visit us from Baghdad. Ivan Watson and his producer courageously trekked 60 miles to Al Hilla, where Mr. Watson interviewed Lt. Moulton and me. His report aired on "All Things Considered" on Aug. 25, 2003.
"Public relations initiatives," Mr. Watson informed NPR's listeners, "include this TV show called 'Moulton and Mohammed'--or the 'M&M show.' It's a half-hour program on U.S.-Iraqi cooperation, hosted by Lt. Seth Moulton and translator Mohammed Fawzi. The production standards are crude, and yet the show has turned one of the hosts [Lt. Moulton] into a minor celebrity."
Everything we wrote, published, aired and disseminated was factual and accurate. I can tell you that was true in 2003; according to the U.S. military, it is also true today. Iraqis are better informed, not less informed or misinformed, because of U.S. military information operations.
If the media and the politicians have their way, the U.S. military will be denied this key tool of 21st-century warfare. Yet what is urgently needed in Iraq and elsewhere is more and better information operations. What is won on the battlefield today can be lost in the media tomorrow.
America has one great advantage over the enemy: The truth is on our side. It exposes and weakens them while strengthening and supporting us. Thus, we have no need for dishonest propaganda. We do need, though, to strongly propagate the truth about American intentions, actions and results.
The U.S. can and will win in Iraq, but only if we win the larger-scale media war. Correcting misperceptions--in Baghdad and Washington, New York and Tikrit--is not somebody else's job; it is the job of the U.S. military. For unless the truth is widely known and shared, no military victory in the 21st century can ever be complete.
I say we give peace a chance.
The rightous indignation is just a smoke screen to push the news that a drawdown to 15 brigades is imminent to the back pages of the NY Times and Washington post, and it for the most part, worked.
I talked with the daughter on X-mas. As a stop-lossed civil affairs reservist...troop levels in Iraq are of great interest to her.(Does she volunteer for a deployment that will co-incincide with University semesters...or does she wait and hope that she doesn't get yanked out of University for a deployment in mid-semester, losing the substantial tuition money in the process)
She hadn't heard that a deploying brigade was put on hold in Kuwait..and another was stopped in Kansas. If she didn't know...then neither do 90% of the American people. She had heard about the NSA scandal and the Information Operations scandal though.
The so called "Democrats" scored yet another victory in their war on the American people.Posted by Soldier's Dad at December 27, 2005 08:19 PM
Look, the US did this in World War II. The US did this in the Cold War. As a matter of fact we subsidized just about every conceivable media outlet (not to mention political party) that favored democratic change over totalitarian revolution. It was all clandestine. It was also one of the most energetic and creative periods in US foreign policy. And you know what? It worked! Is it any wonder that the US is using information warfare techniques in a war that is, once again, mostly a matter of ideas and ideologies?Posted by DJ Chapman at December 27, 2005 11:16 PM
I am wondering why alternatives were not viable.
The proposition is that good news about Iraq written by Americans is not likely to be believed when published. Therefore, the U.S. needs to covertly pay Iraqi journalists to publish good news written by Americans so that Iraqi's may actually believe it.
The first alternative is obvious: have Iraqi's write good news stories about their own country. Why is that a problem? Will Iraqi's not recognize good news when it surrounds them or a news tip is provided? If the military is providing good news tips, and the tips are reliable, wouldn't the Iraqi journalists trust them even more in the future?
The second alternative is for the U.S. to publish under their own byline in the Iraqi papers. Why is this a problem? Same result ensues if the news is accurate and truthful in that the Iraqi's would believe more of these bylines in the future.
The third alternative is to actually pay for a page of advertising and present the local military news in a fashion that represents the U.S. point of view.
I think that we must conclude that the purpose of surreptitiously publishing American good news is to deceive the public at large. The only purpose of this is to have it not be easily traceable and to have deniability for articles that are not factually accurate.
It is not relevant if this was done in every war since 1776 and the establishment of the US government. We already know that under certain conditions the administration will pay American journalists for favorable stories. It is not relevant if we have committed this act previously. When your child is disrespectful to you, you must address this behavior when they are 2 years old or when they are 20 years old regardless of how many tiems they have committed this act in the past. It is disrespectful to the Iraqi's and to the U.S. values to covertly publish American good news stories.
Less effective truth is always preferred to an effective lie that becomes exposed.Posted by Dale at December 28, 2005 12:16 AM
Good post, Greyhawk - Personally, I think Baghdad Bob was covertly sent to the U.S., where he now works for all MSM. :) Most of their stories are as pitifully obvious as his were.Posted by MissBirdlegs in AL at December 28, 2005 12:27 AM
I agree with you in all but one detail. When we read Newsweek, and we see the special advertising sections, they are clearly labeled as such. Would we be giving up very much at all by labeling these paid stories in their respective media as such?
Sometimes there's a third way.
fPosted by Fred Schoeneman at December 28, 2005 02:26 AM
People like Robert Fisk daw a healthy paycheck for fabricating lies. So what's wrong with paying somebody else a modest paycheck to report truth?
I'm surprised you hadn't mentioned Eason Jordan's prostitution of CNN to Saddam in exchange for access prior to the war... but there are so many examples of MSM corruption it must be hard to know what to cover. The spirit of Walter Duranty lives on, it seems. What astonishes me is the shameless moral thundering from these liars and hacks. Why does anyone pay them credence?Posted by Steve Skubinna at December 28, 2005 05:01 AM Hide Comments | Show/Add Comments in Popup Window(6) | (Note: You must refresh main page to view newly posted comments here)