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.


  1. I have a friend who's on her way to Afghanistan's Bagram base to teach (she works for the University of Maryland) and before she'll get there, she's 'hanging' out in Kosovo (camp bondsteel I think it's called) till Bagram opens up. She has not been happy with the increased violence in Afghanistan (she signed up for this months ago) but nevertheless, she's there for the troops and the troops only. Btw.. I was browsing around and saw this and thought of what you've been saying all along re. Iran;


  2. I most assuredly don't believe the part about how Bush is "blazing a diplomatic path for his successor." "Burning bridges" is more like it.

  3. Gotta say I am impressed by US "information operations" - they are the best in the world - no doubt!
    One thing I find interesting (and that the Daily Show highlights - is their coinage of new phrases and words such as collateral damage, or "the surge".
    Now we have this little war in Georgia where it appears to me Georgia launched combined arms operations and GRAD barrage on a city and so forth : and the meme in the West is that Russia is invading poor democratic Georgia?!

  4. Ingrid, it's wonderful that your friend is supporting the troops by traveling to imperial outposts. I'm sure she only does that out of sheer appreciation for the men and women in uniform. Money certainly plays no role in her signing up for that teaching assignment, whatsoever. No, siree, Bob.

    Commander Huber, great insight. As usual. Although assigning Red Army third place in defeating Nazi Germany, after Americans and British, is somewhat comical.

  5. Oleg,

    Okay, okay. Though, come to think of it, I'd say you have to credit the entire Russian people for kicking the Wehrmacht out of Russia. I read the other day--I don't remember seeing the number before--that Napoleon lost 90 percent of his army in his Russian invasion. Imagine Hitler thinking he could do better.

    If this is any consolation for the Russian ranking in this piece, its author is at least one American who knows the 1812 Overture isn't about Aemrica's War of !812. ;-)

  6. Too many media outlets to name them all --- have reported on an interview with Putin -- in which ---(You're not going to believe this) -- he thinks that we had a hand in starting the war in Georgia, and he's mighty suspicious of it starting during the presidential campaign season.

    Now, where ever in the world would ANYBODY get the notion that GWB and DC, would use a war --- for something as tacky as "political gain"?

    BTW - we gotta get ready for another hurricane. More books, more wine, and maybe this time some Blue Bell. (The little ice cream plant, in Brenham, TX., still sells it by the 1/2 gallon.- and I have a friend who has a working theory, that if the power goes, you have NO choice but to finish off the entire carton of ice cream. Home made vanilla and peaches, is one of my favorites.)

    If it is August on the Gulf Coast, it is hurricane season.

    I don't blame the Republicans for possibly wanting to postpone their convention. If another hurricane hits the Louisiana coast, those folks in Louisiana, and some of us here in Texas, may think they deserve some of that bottled water, and baby food, that we are in the process of delivering to Georgia.

  7. This propaganda coup stuff is shameful in how it trivializes human suffering.

    Like your Huberisms, especially this one: "That's a bit like calling Hitler's invasion of Russia a 'public relations campaign.'"

    We need a little red book from you.

  8. EL,

    That hurricane hits the GOP convention and I betcha NORTHCOM won't be sitting around twiddling its thumbs.


  9. Russ,

    Yeah, I'll write an anti-neocon manifesto and call it "Rehabilitating America's Defenses."

  10. Commander,

    It already has. (The hurricane hit the Republican convention.)

    Talk has been of "postponement."

    Other talk of cutting the speeches the President and the Vice President were supposed to deliver. (Because of the hurricane... and stuff.)

    And, if what I read is true, McCain has picked a vice presidential nominee (who, wouldn't you know --- is a former beauty queen?)

    Gustav didn't even have to make landfall to stir up all this stuff.

    To stick with your current topic:
    It appears that newspapers are dropping their subscriptions to the Associated Press news service.

    Ironically, the St. Paul paper was among the latest. AP required a 2 year notice of cancellation.

    Surely, it doesn't have anything to do with the coverage of the current campaigns, as produced and directed from Washington, by the Republican's best friend, Ron Fournier.

    Now, if we could figure out how to break the stranglehold that companies like ClearChannel have on broadcast media.

    It's no wonder the internet, and blogs have become as important as they have. We have to have someplace to find at least a small amount of truth.

  11. Wasn't Cindy a former beauty queen?

  12. Son of a gun, Cindy was named Junior Rodeo Queen of Arizona in 1968.

  13. Talk about your "elitist celebrity" the former Miss Alaska has also appeared in Vogue.

    And.... if memory serves me (and, face it, sometimes it doesn't) the first Mrs. McCain was an ex-Miss Something or other.

    Consistency --- is the key.

    And Gustav is still three days from landfall.

    Governor Palin is a Republican.
    Governor Palin is an ex-beauty queen.
    Governor Palin is under investigation in Alaska.

    The most interesting thing is Governor Palin thinks of herself (according to an article just posted in the UK Independent) as The American Thatcher.

    She also had her supporters lobby the McCain campaign for her spot on the ticket.

    'Nuff said.

  14. Yep! She's A'Palin.

  15. Jeff, I have a stupid question.

    Have the highest ranking military officers (and the recognizable to the public because of media exposure) always been so far removed from what actually happens in war? (In the US)

  16. At first blush I'd think I'd have a lot of fun, but where will the challenge be? She's self-satirizing.


    Off the top of my head I'd say the Union generals early on in the Civil War were on par with the bunch we have now, incompetence wise. The biggest difference is that the one-stars actually had to lead brigades in charges.



  17. Wow. So, basically the only reason that the Allies won WWII is because so many Russians (20 million, right?) marched off into that hamburger grinder?

    Um, yeah, maybe it's time to consider removing war as our major economic stimulus?

  18. Given your opinions expressed here, which I think are all spot on, I wonder what you think of this book; The New American Militarism by Andrew J Bacevich. I have just started reading it and so far have found it extremely interesting. What do you think about his basic premise on american militarism and its effect on american society?

  19. Legacy of the young Mr.Bush in the New World order:

  20. Nunya,

    It might be fairer to say that the meatgrinder marched into 20 million Russians--they were, after all, the invaded, not the invaders. As a bridge to Timr's comment, I'm reading Gulag Archipelago now and am fascinated that Russians would fight as a society like that to repel Hitler then turn around and let Stalin get away with treating them like slaves. (It's not like he wasn't doing that before Hitler struck.)


    I'll reserve comment on Bacevich's new book until I've read it. For now I'll just say that I'm always leery of any military or foreign policy analyst/historian who labels himself "conservative" (or "liberal," for that matter). Bacevich seems happy with the conservative mantle, hence my skepticism about his objectiveness.

    I find myself shaking my head yes, yes, yes as I read him, then bumping into something that makes me scream WTFO?


    Thanks for the link, good stuff.


  21. Commander,
    The Commie repression actually subsided great deal after the war. Most of it happened in the run-up to WWII (late 1920s to late 1930s). Anyway, Stalinist terror, as appaling as it was, is greatly exagerated in the West. "20-50 million dead" figures are preposterous and are not backed by any serious research. One migh as well shoot for 100 million (and some boneheads did), but that would be easily refuted by population stats. NGO "Memorial" which specializes on this issue came up with around 800 000 dead (more if you add 3-4 million who died from famine that resulted from "collectivization" policies). 4-6 million were imprisoned, but eventually survived. Even Robert Conquest who made a career on the Great Terror slashed his first estimate of 20 million by up to 7 million, which by itself should render his writings a bit suspect. Since demonizing USSR has evolved into a quite profitable cottage industry, everything written about it in the West should be taken with a grain of salt. The thesis "Stalin is worse than Hitler" is self-serving garbage, based on monumental historical distortion.

    With regard to John McCain, the "authentic American hero" (or war criminal in the rest of the world) may have outsmarted himself. ImPalin' is terribly painful as it is, but self-imPalin's is doubly so. Up to now I was betting on McCain's victory, but his VP choice made me to scratch my head...

  22. Oleg,

    I'll let you and Solzi duke it out over this one.

  23. Commander,

    I'm curious to know what you make of the new wave of Internet paranoia with respect to Iran. The count-the-carrier folks have us up to five, although they have to count the assault ships Iwo Jima and Peleliu (I don't know. Is that allowed?). And then there is this bizarre story about Dutch spies and Iranian nukes. And the most credible of the lot, the assertion that the recent US dollar rally was the result of blatant market manipulation). Most of the commentary I've seen on this connects it to the recent Georgia fracas, although I find myself wondering if it might also be a ploy to drive down the prices of oil and gold ahead of an Iran clusterf***.

    BTW, the stuff about Sarah Palin not having enough foreign policy "experience" is hilarious. Gorgeous George was a 1 1/2 term governor when he was elected prez, and as a long-suffering Texan I can assure you that there is nothing about the job of governor hereabouts that will prepare one for the Oval Office. And Cheney came into the veephood with a long foreign-policy resume, and look at the mess we're in. (That's not to say I like her. She's basically Katherine Harris with a better paint job).

  24. And you might get a chuckle out of this story, although I have to wonder if it isn't just strange enough to be true. Of course, the only sad thing about Kim Jong-il dying in 2003 would be that he never got to see Team America: World Police.

  25. Thank you Jeff. That makes sense.
    I just finished Anne Applebaum's Gulag. Think geography, propaganda, and illiteracy. A large proportion of those sent to the gulag were peasants. In 1918 the country wasn't that far removed from being a feudal state anyway was it?

    Here's a link to an online interview of Andrew Bacevich by Bill Moyers.

  26. Anonymous12:43 AM

    I guess Andrew Bacevich's credentials are enhanced by the fact that his son was killed in the current Middle-East fiasco.

    Commander, would you care to reflect upon the maritime wisdom of placing warships in contained waters with only one exit (ie. Persian Gulf and Black Sea)?

  27. jp,

    For now, I have to regard the new wave of Internet paranoia with respect to Iran as a new wave of Internet paranoia. No, it's not fair to count the amphibs as "carriers."

    I'm still scratching my head over Palin. I suspect McCain will rue the choice when he figures out that she's better at what is really his only strength, to wit, being a bimbo.

    Nunya, thanks for the link.


    Bacevich tries to downplay his son, but he can't. I'll add to what I've said earlier by saying that while I agree totally with a good 95 percent of what AB says, I still think he's trying to insulate the GOP from the actions of the neocons, which is completely disingenuous.

    I'm going to save the single access waters discussion for a separate article, as it merits some rounding out.



  28. Lordy, as if we didn't have enough trouble down here on the Gulf Coast. Rumor has it McCain is going to speak to the Republican Convention (if he decides to have it at all) from a "Disaster Zone".
    (Since the whole country has been a "disaster zone" for the last eight years, would y'all let him have yours?) People in the path of Gustav have more to worry about than political photo ops.

    BTW - Commander, y'all remember my friend down in Ft. Bend County with the website? She put up a link yesterday to a blog which she calls "the best."

    Click on that link, and you will know exactly why John McCain chose Sarah Palin to put on the ticket.

    It's a link to the magazine cover, which, except for the internet, will never see the light of day.

    That old sea dog hasn't changed a bit.

    You can bet it won't be seen anywhere on the cable or other news channels.

    If Mc Cain's coming this way, I'm gonna have to go get the Blue Bell.

  29. Hurricane Gustav has now made way for Hurricane Hannah, which from all indications will be coming up the east coast of the country. No projections yet on where Ike will go. We are grateful to have been spared. (The Blue Bell will keep for the next one.)

    Since we have very few journalists left in the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan, it would appear from what I saw last night from St. Paul Minneapolis, we have to just start hassling journalists here in this country who are trying to do their job.
    video is available at or or

    Amy Goodman, two of her staff, and several other working journalists, wearing not only "press" credentials, but also floor passes to the convention were arrested and jailed -- for trying to do the job that a journalist does. Report the news. One guy from the NY Post was arrested and jailed.
    An AP guy was arrested and jailed.

    So, it begs the question. Is law enforcement to "protect and serve" only delegates, speakers, lobbyists, and guests at the RNC?

    Goodman was wise to have someone associated with her show post phone numbers for the Mayor's office and the Sherrif's lock-up. I understand they were flooded with phone calls.

    She and her two staff members were on-air this morning.

    I watched the video of her arrest, and those that were taped by her staff, and I wasn't sure where I live anymore.

    The Mall of the Americas may not be that big a tourist attraction, in the future.

    The people who do this work, and get man-handled, bruised, scratched, and in some cases give up their lives, in an effort to bring people truth, have my never-ending gratitude.

    The people who stand out in the rain and wind, and lose hats, and get soaked, I will never understand.

  30. Anonymous2:20 PM

    If there was an award for consistent, well-reasoned, timely, interesting, superbly written commentary, you'd be the winner.
    Thanks, again, for your efforts.
    John Gall (JEG)

  31. EL,

    The people who stand in the wind and rain are the David Petraeuses of TV journalism.

    Thanks, Jeg.


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