The RMA program flew under the radar until an April 2008 New York Times article revealed that the Pentagon had recruited media military analysts for a "campaign to generate favorable news coverage of the administration’s wartime performance." The article discomfited the Pentagon I.G. office into launching an investigation of the RMA program—nearly six years after it had been initiated. The I.G. report, posted on the Pentagon's web site the Friday before the inauguration so everyone would be sure to notice it, explained, "the evidence in this case was insufficient to conclude" that RMA activities "violated statutory prohibitions on publicity or propaganda," but conceded that the judgment had been difficult to arrive at because "the definition of propaganda in this context remains unclear."
So it all depends what your definition of "propaganda" is. I feel the I.G.'s pain, don't you?
Rewriting Military History
I first started hearing the expression "we're losing the public affairs war" about the time of Desert Storm, when the Air Force was grabbing the headlines for winning the air battle and Navy carrier participation got piddled into the footnotes.
Time passed. During the 1999 Kosovo War, my ship, the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt, entertained more members of the foreign press than the number of combat sorties she launched. As a wartime operations officer of a U.S. Navy flagship, my number one concern was to make sure each and every one of those reporters got on and off the ship safely and received a triple dose of gee whiz by watching flight operations from Vulture's Row high atop the ship's island.
What the air wing did over the beach didn't matter; the targets they bombed were mainly plywood decoys. I didn't have to worry about defending the ship, either. Bad Guy's Navy was sinking at the pier. We never did accomplish our original objective, which had something to do with keeping Bad Guy Milosevic from cleansing his ethnics, who were the good guys in this particular war because then Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said they were. Milosevic cleansed as many ethnics as he wanted to before he quit and everyone left him alone, a technique the Israelis later exploited to great effect in Lebanon and Gaza. None of our guys got killed in combat. In fact, the biggest friendly casualties of the war were the careers of most of the flag and general officers involved, some of whom retired in disgust, and some who just got caught taking their pants off in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong company, a trait they shared with their commander in chief, who unlike them managed to keep his job for a few more years.
In all, the Kosovo Conflict was a perfect play war to end the 20th century with.
Boondoggle or no, we came home to heroes' welcomes, and our carrier was hailed as a keystone of the greatest naval and air victory ever won under the command of a clueless Army general. The carrier Navy held onto its slab of the defense budget, and lived to play war in a new American century.
Bull Feather Merchants
The Kosovo War was a watershed conflict in that it illustrated—or should have illustrated—that the efficacy of American military power was nearing the terminus of its collision course with a brick wall. No one could really say the Kosovo War had defended America or had protected its interests overseas or had even protected innocents abroad because the good guys in the conflict were no better than the bad guys. At that point in history, the military's full time mission shifted to self-preservation, and the purpose of the relatively new "information warfare" specialty went from supporting armed conflicts to fabricating convincing arguments for having them.
Shortly after 9/11, then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld established the Office of Strategic Influence, an information warfare directorate with "a broad mission ranging from 'black' campaigns that use[d] disinformation and other covert activities to 'white' public affairs that rely on truthful news releases," according to its chief, Air Force one star Simon P. Worden. Protests arose when the Pentagon announced that the OSI would "provide news items, possibly even false ones." Rumsfeld shut down OSI to quell the controversy. Well, he sort of shut it down. "You can have the [OSI] name," he said at a press conference, "but I'm gonna keep doing every single thing that needs to be done and I have."
Before it skulked out the servants' door, OSI spawned a number of truth sub-ministries within DoD, one of which was the Retired Military Analyst program.
Part II will analyze RMA as a microcosm of the Pentagon's propaganda campaign to protect and defend the military industrial complex.
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.