Thursday, August 28, 2008
Spinners and Losers in the Brave New World Order
Sorry to open with a Jeff Huber-ism, but this is another one that can't be repeated often enough: if the Bush administration put as much effort into winning its wars at it puts into spinning its wars, it wouldn't have to spin them. A story titled "Taliban Gain New Foothold in Afghan City" in the August 26 New York Times illustrates how much our cockamamie conflict with Islamofablulism is about perception and how little of it has to do with reality.
Reporter Carlotta Gall tells the tale of a spectacular June prison break staged by the Taliban in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Elements of the militant group exploded a fuel truck to free 900 prisoners—350 of them Taliban members—from a detention facility in the Afghanistan's second largest city. Gall characterized this extraordinary setback for U.S. and NATO forces not as a major tactical defeat or a profound exploitation of the inadequate security apparatus in Afghanistan, but as a "spectacular propaganda coup" for the Taliban.
That's a bit like calling Hitler's invasion of Russia a "public relations campaign."
Let There Be Victory
All of young Mr. Bush's wars have been exercises in information maneuver. The administration sold its fuzzy case for the invasion of Iraq though tacit cooperation of so-called liberal media outlets like the New York Times. To this day, the ubiquitous unnamed military and administration "officials" broadcast war propaganda in the guise of objective truth through the compliant news media that allow them to speak anonymously due to the sensitivity of the fact that they are proxies for or are themselves Dick Cheney.
It is understandable to a point that an administration possessing more power in one political pail than the world has ever witnessed would believe that it creates reality. Perception and reality are indeed connected to the extent that ideas prompt actions, and actions can alter the physical universe to a lesser or greater extent depending on the amount and type of force exerted. When a regime begins to act as though it can make something true simply by saying it is so, it begins to get us in trouble. So it is that five years and change after the staging of a statue being toppled in Baghdad and a "mission accomplished" ceremony on a warship and countless corners turned and last throes thrown, we're now told that we can't leave Iraq because we're so close to winning—depending, of course, on what your definition of "winning" is.
Winning in Iraq, for the Bush mill neocons, was always about establishing a permanent robust military presence in the center of the oil rich Middle East from which America—or rather America's neocon oligarchy—could throw its weight around the region. Now Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al Maliki says we have to leave. Administration bull feather merchants have tried to deny he really means that—Maliki was misinterpreted, or drunk, or he was trying to impress some hooker he met online, or what have you—but Maliki keeps saying it, so it sounds like he really, really does mean it, and his Shiite rival Muqtada al Sadr really means it too, as does Grand Ayatolla Ali al Sistani. The Sunnis, well, if they don't like it, they can go fish in a sand dune. Whether the administration can talk its way out of this crack remains to be seen,
Kill the Messenger
Another redundant but apropos Jeff Huber-ism: the biggest lie—among a vast field of strong contenders—in the American military ethos is that we lost the Vietnam War on the home front. We lost the Vietnam War in Vietnam. Walter Cronkite didn't lose it for us. Lyndon Johnson and Robert McNamara and Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger and William Westmoreland lost it for us. Nonetheless, scapegoating the media for our wartime failures remains a popular pastime among the right wing war mongery.
Throughout our woebegone war on terror, the administration has castigated the press for not telling enough "good news," as if building schools and handing out Hershey bars were the proper measure by which to gauge our military and diplomatic effectiveness.
When the Abu Ghraib story broke, then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and others didn't so much decry the actions of a few "bad apples" as much as they harped on the fact that someone had the temerity to take pictures of prisoner abuse and leak them to the press. The sin was not in the deed, but in the reporting of it.
Rumsfeld was one of the leading administration echo chamberlains to complain at length on the Sunday morning lap dance shows that public opinion was turning against the war because people were seeing so many violent images on television. But think about it: how many violent images of the Iraq war have you actually seen? Do you recall seeing any blood, or any body parts flying through the air? The truth of the matter is that we have seen more of what war really looks like in fictions such as Saving Private Ryan than we have seen in the coverage of our real war.
Rumsfeld's infamous Office of Strategic Influence and its progeny have taken the art of information operations to fantastic vistas previously unwitnessed. In Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler soundly criticized the weak German propaganda effort of World War I, and the work of Joseph Goebbels and Leni Riefenstahl are noted among contemporary information operatoratives as the cornerstone of their discipline. But no one can argue that the fall of Berlin came about because Hitler's propagandists weren't persuasive enough. Berlin fell because the American and English and Russian armies kicked the living Scheisse out of the Wehrmacht.
Yet the Pentagon's approach to warfare continues to drift from efforts at shaping the battlefield to efforts at shaping perceptions. It has eliminated any pretense of a separation between public affairs and information operations. Bribing the overseas press to print disinformation as news has become standard operating procedure, and nobody seriously believes it is possible to erect a firewall between the foreign and domestic media. Any given operational or strategic deception operation is just as likely to target the American pubic as it is to influence the "enemy." (And believe you me, to a lot of these info warriors, the American public is the enemy.)
Members of the press covering the war have little or no military expertise. The military experts" the media hire to "educate" their audiences are, in fact, covert Pentagon information operatives. The nation's most successful general at present is one of history's most adept information warriors. "King" David Petraeus, soon to take over Central Command, has made an exceptional military career out of media savvy and self-promotion. He has managed to fabricate "success" in Iraq out of a three-ring shopping spree for John McCain and his gal pal Lindsey Graham, staged soccer tournaments, and rigged one-arm pushup contests privates (Psst, kid. Remember: the General wins).
Thus it has come to pass that when we score propaganda coups we call them spectacular victories and when the enemy scores spectacular victories we call them propaganda coups.
I hope nobody really thinks Joe Biden lends some sort of foreign policy panacea to the Democratic ticket that will make the last eight years of fakery, fumbling and fiasco go away. I don't care if Joe was with Achilles at the gates of Ilium; no amount of experience can craft a Trojan horse sufficient to alter overnight the brutal reality of the situation we face, especially, now, in the Bananastans.
Don't get me wrong; Obama and Biden are the best option we have by magnitudes. When it comes to foreign policy, Bull Goose McCain wouldn't know reality if it crawled up his bottom and started a family there.
Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes at Pen and Sword . Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books), a lampoon on America's rise to global dominance, is on sale now. Also catch Russ Wellen's interview with Jeff at The Huffington Post and Scholars and Rogues.
at 5:29 PM