March 4, 2006
new Zogby poll gauging the opinions of American troops in Iraq has drawn
attention mostly because it finds that 72 percent believe the United
States should withdraw in a year or less and only 23 percent favor
George W. Bush’s plan to "stay the course."
the poll also illustrates the power of propaganda.
Shockingly, 85 percent of the troops questioned
believe they are fighting in Iraq "to retaliate for Saddam’s role in the
9-11 attacks" – one of the key Iraq War myths built by Bush’s frequent
juxtaposition of references to Osama bin-Laden and Saddam Hussein.
This subliminal message has stuck with the vast
majority of U.S. troops even though Bush eventually acknowledged
publicly that there is no evidence linking Saddam to the Sept. 11, 2001,
In other words, more than eight in 10 of the U.S.
soldiers and Marines in Iraq think they are there avenging the 3,000
people killed on Sept. 11, even though the U.S. government lacks
evidence of the connection.
The poll also found that 77 percent think that a
major reason for the war was "to stop Saddam from protecting al-Qaeda in
Iraq" – another myth nurtured by the Bush administration even though
Hussein’s secular government was a bitter enemy of al-Qaeda’s Islamic
Despite this confusion over the reasons for the
war, the poll exploded another myth promoted by the administration and
its media allies – that Americans are unpatriotic if they criticize
Bush’s policies, because to do so would damage troop morale.
It turns out the troops want the war brought to a
quick end because they have concluded it’s unwinnable based on their own
experiences, not from the carping of home-side naysayers, often
denounced as "traitors" by Bush’s supporters.
It seems somehow that 72 percent of the U.S.
soldiers stationed in Iraq have become "traitors," too.
But what’s going on? How can the Bush
administration and its supporters get away with spreading so much
confusion about the reasons for invading Iraq? How can they justify
demonizing so many Americans who disagree with the war policy?
The answer seems to be that the relentless
application of propaganda was always part of the administration’s
strategy for herding the American public in the direction favored by
Bush and his neoconservative advisers.
Remember Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s Office
of Strategic Influence, the secretive project designed to manipulate
international opinion but which was expected to "blow back" some of its
propaganda onto the American people.
On Feb. 19, 2002, five months after the Sept. 11
terror attacks and 13 months before the invasion of Iraq,
the New York Times reported that this Pentagon office was
"developing plans to provide news items, possibly even false ones, to
foreign media organizations" in order "to influence public sentiment and
policy makers in both friendly and unfriendly countries."
News of this disinformation program caused outrage
and led to a Pentagon announcement that the office had been shut down.
But Rumsfeld later explained that the concept was kept alive even though
the office was closed.
"There was the Office of Strategic Influence,"
Rumsfeld said. "You may recall that. And 'Oh, my goodness gracious,
isn’t that terrible; Henny Penny, the sky is going to fall.’ I went down
that next day and said, 'Fine, if you want to savage this thing, fine,
I’ll give you the corpse. There’s the name. You can have the name, but
I’m gonna keep doing every single thing that needs to be done’ and I
have." [See Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting press release, Nov. 27,
So the Pentagon continued
its propaganda project of placing stories, possibly false, in the
foreign media, with some of them surely feeding back into the U.S.
political debate though the U.S. government is barred from disseminating
propaganda at home.
In 2003, the Pentagon
produced another propaganda program described in a document called
"Information Operations Roadmap," which describes the need for
influencing journalists, enemies and the public.
The document recognizes
that Americans consume propaganda – on TV and through the Internet –
that is intended for foreign audiences. [BBC, Jan. 28, 2006]
While the Pentagon
insists that its public information is accurate, albeit promoting images
favorable to the United States, the BBC registered a different opinion
about the stories circulated by the U.S. military during the Iraq
"We’re absolutely sick
and tired of putting things out and finding they’re not true," a senior
BBC journalist told the Guardian. "The misinformation in this war is far
and away worse than any conflict I’ve covered, including the first Gulf
War and Kosovo. …
"I don’t know whether
they (Pentagon officials) are putting out flyers in the hope that we’ll
run them first and ask questions later or whether they genuinely don’t
know what’s going on – I rather suspect the latter." [The Guardian, UK,
March 28, 2003]
Military analysts also
shake their heads at how reliant the administration has become on
propaganda for promoting its goals. Sam Gardiner, an instructor in
strategy at the National War College, said the Bush administration has
waged a systematic P.R. campaign to sell the invasion of Iraq to the
"There is absolutely no
question that the White House and the Pentagon participated in an effort
to market the military option," Gardiner said. "The truth did not make
any difference to that campaign. To call it fixing is to miss the more
"It was a campaign to
influence. It involved creating false stories; it involved exaggerating;
it involved manipulating the numbers of stories that were released; it
involved a major campaign to attack those who disagreed with the
military option; it included all the techniques those who ran the
marketing effort had learned in political campaign." [Kevin Zeese,
Democracy Rising, June 23, 2005]
So, there was the tale
about Pfc. Jessica Lynch, both her fierce resistance under fire and her
daring rescue from a hostile Iraqi hospital – when the reality was that
she never fired a shot and the hospital staff presented no opposition to
her rescue. [AP, Nov. 11, 2003]
Then, there was
ex-football player Pat Tillman, who died in Afghanistan. Contrary to
official reports of his death in a firefight while on patrol, he
actually was killed by friendly fire, a reality that was suppressed for
five weeks while the Bush administration milked the propaganda advantage
of Tillman’s death.
"I’m disgusted by things
that have happened with the Pentagon since my son’s death," his mother,
Mary, told the Los Angeles Times. "I don't trust them one bit."
The truth was stretched,
too, when it came to containing negative stories, like the abuse of
prisoners at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison. Bush said the problem was limited
to a few guards on the night shift and that the United States doesn’t
engage in torture.
The reality has turned
out to be much worse. Torture and other abuse of prisoners have reached
from Guantanamo Bay to Iraq and Afghanistan – finally overwhelming
The Bush administration
has practiced propaganda on domestic issues as well. In 2005, the
Government Accountability Office objected to the broadcasting of fake
"news videos" that were designed to look like independent news stories.
The GAO said the stories appeared to violate federal rules against
propaganda. [AP, Feb. 19, 2005]
The GAO also reported
that the administration spent more than $1.6 billion on public relations
and media contracts in a 2 ½ year span, including hiring advertising
firms to sell its policies to the America public. [www.democrats.reform.house.gov]
Beyond this expensive
outreach, the Bush administration has succeeded in gaining cooperation
from U.S. news organizations in its news management. Bowing to the
administration’s national security claims, New York Times executives
held the story of warrantless wiretaps for more than a year, possibly
altering the outcome of 2004 election.
Violence in Iraq
And what has happened to
journalists who act independently and write what they observe in war
zones like Iraq?
In 2005, they were killed
at a record rate, including a growing number of them becoming the
victims of "targeted" killings, according to the International
Federation of Journalists. At least 89 journalists were murdered because
of their professional work out of a total of 150 media deaths, IFJ said.
"The numbers are
staggering," IFJ general secretary Aidan White said.
IFJ listed 38 deliberate
killings in the Middle East in 2005, with 35 occurring in Iraq. Five
other media workers in Iraq were killed by U.S. troops, bringing the
total killed by coalition forces to 18 since the U.S.-led invasion in
March 2003. [Reuters,
Jan. 23, 2006]
In April 2003, as U.S.
forces were moving into the Iraqi capital of Baghdad, a U.S. tank fired
on the Palestine Hotel, which housed foreign journalists, purportedly in
"response to hostile fire." Two journalists were killed, but other
reporters monitoring the fighting from their balconies denied that there
had been any shooting from the hotel.
"There is simply no
evidence to support the official U.S. position that U.S. forces were
returning hostile fire from the Palestine Hotel," said a report by the
Committee to Protect Journalists. [CBS, May 28, 2003]
U.S. news executives also
have complained about strong-arm tactics used to prevent journalists
from reporting on incidents that might undermine support for the war
back in the United States.
"Our journalists in Iraq
have been shoved to the ground, pushed out of the way, told to leave the
scene of explosions; we’ve had camera disks and videotapes confiscated,
reporters detained," said Associated Press Washington bureau chief Sandy
Johnson. [Nation, Dec. 25, 2003]
As the Iraqi insurgency
grew in 2004, so did the heavy-handed tactics against journalists. In
May, three Reuters journalists and one working for NBC said U.S. forces
subjected them to beatings and other abuse similar to what was later
revealed at Abu Ghraib prison.
"Two of the three Reuters
staff said they had been forced to insert a finger into their anuses and
then lick it, and were forced to put shoes in their mouths, particularly
humiliating in Arab culture," Reuters reported.
"The soldiers told them
they would be taken to the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay in
Cuba, deprived them of sleep, placed bags over their heads, kicked and
hit them and forced them to remain in stress positions for long
periods." [Reuters, Oct, 14, 2004]
The British newspaper,
The Guardian, described Iraqi police following the American lead in
adopting their own harsh tactics toward journalists in 2004:
"Dozens of journalists in
Najaf, including the entire BBC team, were forced from their hotel at
gunpoint and detained by local police. Around 60 journalists from local
and foreign news organisations including the Guardian, the Telegraph and
the Independent as well as the BBC, were held for almost an hour while
police officers delivered what one correspondent described as an
'unexpected press conference at gunpoint.’ …
"Correspondents in the
Najaf Sea hotel said around a dozen policemen, some masked, stormed into
the rooms of journalists and forced them into vans and a truck. The
Independent's Donald Macintyre reported that the police, some masked,
'shouted threats and abuse at the reporters, along with their Iraqi
drivers and translators, and fired about a dozen shots inside and
outside the hotel before taking them before the police chief,
Major-General Ghaleb al-Jazaari, to hear his emotional complaints about
media coverage and the sufferings of police officers during the present
crisis’." [Guardian, Aug., 26, 2004]
One of the lessons of
"democracy" apparently being taught to the Iraqi government is the need
to control the information reaching the public, at almost any cost. What
American spin doctors call "spreading our values" has become the
tireless manipulation of public perceptions within an endless
Media stories are
planted; public relations firms are hired to shape the opinions of an
unsuspecting public; reporters who document contrary facts are deemed
the enemy and are subject to bullying or worse.
Rumsfeld’s dictums about
the need to wage "strategic" media campaigns may be right in a way that
his words didn’t fully articulate. The truth must be managed lest the
American people learn what the administration is actually doing.
Author Alex Sabbeth acts
as an informal researcher and organizer for several retired intelligence
officers who share his concerns about America's future.