By Joseph J. Collins ( Institute for National Strategic Studies) Reviewed by Amb. (ret.) Michael Cotter ( Vice. (This is a National Defense University study paper on the Iraq war. It opens “Measured in. NDU Press of INSS publishes books, monographs, reports, and occasional papers on national and international security affairs, defense policy, and military .
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greta’s gouge: NDU report on Iraq
I n a third-party counterinsurgency campaign pitting a strong, industrial democracy against a poorly-armed guerrilla group, the weak underbelly of the democracy carrying out the campaign is the popular support it must have to continue its war efforts.
An authoritarian government can start and stop wars when it decides – democracies ostensibly require the will of the people to initiate and then carry out any type of sustained military action. As such, maintaining the enthusiasm of the populace for the war effort is both desired and necessary in a counterinsurgency campaign. That said, the potential for excess on the part of the government is readily apparent, and checks on abuse of power must be firmly established. In the United States, the Smith-Mundt Act of specifies when the US government can and cannot use propaganda as part of a strategic communications campaign.
Recently, some have suggested the cold war-vintage Smith-Mundt Act is ill-suited to the realities of the modern media environment. But the most significant clause in the act remains a good one: If you just glanced at the front page of Sunday’s New York Times, you could be forgiven for thinking reporter David Barstow and his editors had uncovered a real scandal at the Pentagon: In the end, though, all the 8,word article revealed was that the department of defence had very cleverly manipulated popular opinion by targeting opinion makers – in this case, the retired generals who often turn up on television news as “military experts” – with the same kind of positive “spin” everyday Americans are subjected to every waking hour during a presidential campaign.
Given a broad view of American history, this is pretty tame stuff.
During the first world war, the first neoconservative, President Woodrow Wilson, imprisonedAmericans for making “disloyal” statements during wartime. Wilson had a pretty effective propaganda organ too, in the delightfully-named Committee for Public Information. Neither of these things gets much mention insa US history textbooks.
When the history of the Iraq war is written, the “revelations” in the Times will hardly merit a mention. There was nothing illegal in what the department of defence did.
The Pentagon merely identified generals and pundits likely to buy into their rosy picture of events on the ground in Iraq and fed them talking points they had every right to either embrace or reject.
Bob Bateman, an active-duty US army officer and respected military historian, noted on the blog Small Wars Journal that several of the generals profiled in the Times article – notably, Barry McCaffrey and Robert Scales – have been among the fiercest and most intelligent critics of the war effort despite the Pentagon’s efforts to woo them.
The kp5 who ended up with egg on their faces were not the Bush administration or the Pentagon – though Donald Rumsfeld, in the transcripts, was as cynical and dislikeable as ever – but the generals oop5 bought into the Pentagon’s spin and the networks who employed them.
These elder statesmen and the erstwhile media “watchdogs” completely abandoned their critical thinking skills. The media’s role in this will not come as a surprise to an American people subjected to 45 minutes of trivia at the beginning of last week’s Democratic debate, moderated by comically out-of-touch anchormen.
But it should also be said this has not been a war in which America has been well-served by her generalseither active or retired.
In the end, I was more heartened by the revelations about the Pentagon’s strategic communications programme than I was disgusted. What disgusted me, by contrast, was that while this well-oiled effort was underway in America, our strategic communications efforts in Iraq ins the greater Middle East remained bumbling and inept. Infor example, when the US mistakenly and horrifically targeted a wedding party in Iraq, killing 40 innocent people, the spokesman in Iraq at the time lamely insisted that “bad people have parties too.
Choosing war: the decision to invade Iraq and its aftermath
The fact is, the United States and its allies have largely ceded the strategic communications battlefield to the insurgents and terrorists since If the Pentagon invested as much time and effort communicating to the audience of al-Jazeera as it does communicating to the audience of Fox News, more Americans soldiers in Iraq might be home by now.
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