Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Pravda in Iraq

My people in Army Public Affairs look really bad today (Link via Atrios).
As part of an information offensive in Iraq, the U.S. military is secretly paying Iraqi newspapers to publish stories written by American troops in an effort to burnish the image of the U.S. mission in Iraq.

The articles, written by U.S. military "information operations" troops, are translated into Arabic and placed in Baghdad newspapers with the help of a defense contractor, according to U.S. military officials and documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times.
Here's the kicker: While I was in Afghanistan, I noticed that Public Affairs was being taken over by "Information Operations." We fought it hard. We were supposed to be the honest brokers of information. If people couldn't trust us, then we were pointless.

So I started doing some research into this shift and whose name did I find at the center of the bullshit pile topped by this sorry day? None other Zalmay Khalilzad, the current ambassador to Iraq and, while I was there, the ambassador to Afghanistan. If what we're doing in Iraq today surprises you, you haven't been paying attention to good 'ol "Zal," who co-edited a book for the Rand Corporation called Strategic Appraisal: The Changing Role of Information in Warfare. It includes this passage written by Brian Nichiporuk (PDF link):
Three cautions are important when discussing perception-shaping strategies against other states. First, in recent times, technology has often outpaced international norms and standards. We still do not have a clear sense of which types of perception-shaping activities will be construed as legitimate peacetime behavior and which as casus belli by international organizations and institutions. Therefore, to reduce the risk of inadvertent escalation, it will be necessary to rethink our doctrine for perception shaping periodically in accordance with developing international norms and standards.

Second, perception-shaping activities carry a constant threat of "blowback": Operations designed to manage the opponent’s perceptions may end up distorting our own perceptions to an equal or even greater extent. For example, while it may be advantageous to convince the enemy that U.S. forces are more capable than they actually are, it would be less helpful to convince oneself of that fiction. Yet, because of the need for consistency and secrecy to accomplish perception-shaping objectives, these two effects are, in practice, not completely separable.
As someone who's been there on the ground floor of this stuff, I can tell you this: The "blowback" of distorting American perceptions is no longer seen as detrimental. As Atrios always says, it's no longer a bug, but a feature.

Update: Hey idiot! You're wrong!
The truth of the matter is, we need to win the war before we can worry about leaving behind a pristine democracy, and what is happening here, it seems to me, is no different than, say, the LA Times or the New York Times reprinting press-releases from the anti-gun lobby—the difference being that while there is clearly a problem with such “journalism” in a free and long-established democratic republic (with an established “free” press), I’m not so sure I see “largely factual” pro-American “propaganda” as too much of a problem if it helps to burnish the image of Americans in the eyes of skeptical Iraqis long under the boot heel of a tyranical [sic] dictator—and in doing so, helps save soldiers lives and expedites the victory on the ground and the establishment of a strong and viable Iraqi government.
First of all, I recommend you go pick up a copy of Elements of Style. For a supposed writer and teacher you sure do write some awfully long, awfully awful sentences.

Second, there is a huge difference between press releases, which come across a fax with an organization's header and contact information clearly labeled, and sending some local to a newspaper with a bag-full of money to get a uncredited pro-American story printed.

Not only is this kind of stuff unethical, it's stupid. You need to read Assassin's Gate by George Packer. There's a section which discusses the horrible cultural missteps we've made in trying to woo the Iraqi public (i.e., the American-run radio station with announcers who ignore bad news and speak poor Arabic). As the field manual Army Public Affairs Operations states (PDF link):
When credibility is undermined, communication becomes ineffective and it is impossible to achieve information objectives.
PAOs must ensure the PA or information operations never deceive the media or the American public. The mere perception of deception targeted against them can destroy the credibility of the Army and shatter public support.
In other words, you don't know what you're talking about.

Update: Aforementioned idiot continues to prove his ignorance. He links to this article, which--gasp--proves that there were Information Operations units before Bush!

No shit.

The difference is we didn't sign off on undercover stories presented to newspapers by front men. I was there, dumbass. I know.

Update: More in an excellent post at Bush Out.

(I highly recommend reading all of Nichiporuk's article. You will find a million ways the Bushies have misused that document. They took all of his ideas and used them without taking into account his repeated warnings that the information used as a weapon must be true or would come back to bite us in the ass.)


Blogger Neil Shakespeare said...

In other words it's the "WE'RE STARTING TO BELIEVE OUR OWN PROPAGANDA BULLSHIT" syndrome? Oh, excuse me, it's not propaganda it's...um...oh yeah! "Perception Shaping"! I'm sure Goebbels would have been happy with that. What's in a name? Shit by any other name would smell as foul.

3:21 AM  

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