Saturday, August 25, 2007

Transatlantic Catapult: Propaganda Surges To The UK

Alex Spillius, writing in the Telegraph, says

Democrats demonised for backing Bush in Iraq

"Demonised?" "When?" "Which Democrats?" and "How did I miss that?", I asked my frozen self.

Fortunately, Alex Spillius has all the answers.
Two of the Democratic party’s most influential strategists have been transformed into hate figures of the American Left after daring to support President George W. Bush’s tactics in Iraq.
Spillius writes:
Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack, military analysts at Washington’s liberal Brookings Institution, declared themselves as unlikely allies of Mr Bush when they wrote an article in the New York Times titled “A War We Might Just Win".
Have you seen that yet? It's a brilliant piece of fiction (here or here) leading with the undeniable assertion that
The Bush administration has over four years lost essentially all credibility
yet postulating that for this very reason, critics of the administration
seem unaware of the significant [positive] changes taking place [in Iraq]
In fact we are all unaware of almost every meaningful aspect of the war. We are deliberately and successfully insulated from the blood, the pain, the grief, the utter breakdown of civic society, the smell of death, the lack of water, the lack of electricity, the daily reality of living amid the ruins of an ancient civilization ... not to mention sudden poverty, horrific torture, and the pervasive fear engendered by all of the above.

But to Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack, the sad part is that we're unaware of how well things are going.

Most readers of the New York Times op-ed, as well as readers of this so-called reportage by Alex Spillius in the Telegraph, would be well-served with answers to the question:

Who are Michael O'Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack?

According to the Telegraph, they were
Two of the Democratic party’s most influential strategists
until they were
transformed into hate figures of the American Left after daring to support President George W. Bush’s tactics in Iraq
But who are they, really? It doesn't take much research, really.

It looks like O'Hanlon is a neocon:
O'Hanlon signed a letter and a statement on postwar Iraq published by the Project for the New American Century.[6][7]
And it looks like Pollack is an Israeli mole:
A U.S. government indictment alleges that Pollack provided information to former American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) employees Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman during the AIPAC espionage scandal.[1]
Well, what do you know about that?

Back to the Telegraph, which says:
The article was a godsend to the Bush administration
A godsend? As if God would send something to these mass murderers to help them along with their genocidal plans? Puh-leeze!

The piece was obviously planted, with all the right pedigree: Authors from the "liberal" or "left-wing" Brookings Institution and product placement in the "liberal" or "left-wing" New York Times.

But as often happens in these propaganda-surge events, the most important part is what they didn't say.

Bob Parry was all over this a long time ago.
“As two analysts who have harshly criticized the Bush administration’s miserable handling of Iraq, we were surprised by the gains we saw and the potential to produce not necessarily ‘victory’ but a sustainable stability that both we and the Iraqis could live with,” O’Hanlon and Pollack wrote [...]

Yet the authors – and the New York Times – failed to tell readers the full story about these supposed skeptics: far from grizzled peaceniks, O’Hanlon and Pollack have been longtime cheerleaders for a larger U.S. military occupying force in Iraq.

Pollack, a former CIA analyst, was a leading advocate for invading Iraq in the first place. He published The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq in September 2002, just as the Bush administration was gearing up its marketing push for going to war.

Pollack’s influential book offered the “full monte” neoconservative vision for remaking the Middle East, with the Iraq invasion as only the first step in the transformation.

In [journalist Robert] Fisk’s view, “Pollack’s argument for war was breathtakingly amoral. War would be the right decision, it seemed, not because it was morally necessary but because we would win. War was now a viable and potentially successful policy option.

“It would free up Washington’s ‘foreign policy agenda,’ presumably allowing it to invade another country or two where American vital interests would be discovered. [Pollack’s] narrative – in essence an Israeli one – is quite simple: deprived of the support of one of the Arab world’s most powerful nations, the Palestinians would be further weakened in their struggle against Israeli occupation.” [See Robert Fisk's The Great War for Civilization]

After the U.S. invasion of Iraq failed to locate the promised weapons of mass destruction – and a stubborn Iraqi insurgency emerged – Pollack offered an apology for his high-profile role in promoting the war.

In fall 2004, Pollack told an interviewer for the New York Times magazine, “I made a mistake based on faulty intelligence. Of course, I feel guilty about it. I feel awful. … I’m sorry; I’m sorry!” [NYT Magazine, Oct. 24, 2004]

But now Pollack – having re-positioned himself from war booster to war critic – can reinvent himself again as a grudging convert to the wisdom of Bush’s war strategy, without either him or the Times editors alerting readers to this reverse metamorphosis.
If it seems to you that there's a familiar pattern in all this, you're not alone.

Bob Parry continues:
This idea of a critic reluctantly admitting the wisdom of a neoconservative strategy has long been one of the neocons’ favorite propaganda tactics dating back to the Cold War days of the 1980s.

Then, a common neocon refrain was that “even the liberal New Republic” supported the Nicaraguan contra rebels. That endorsement supposedly lent the contra cause greater weight because the New Republic had a historic reputation as a leftist magazine.

In reality, however, the New Republic had been taken over by neocon Martin Peretz in the 1970s, and he had turned it into a home for neocon and right-wing pundits, such as Charles Krauthammer and Fred Barnes.

Yet, if Americans didn’t know those details, they could be influenced by an out-of-date impression, much as many people still recall Brookings as a “liberal” think tank, an image that Brookings has worked quietly to shed since it started moving rightward in the 1980s, bringing in more centrist, center-right and neoconservative analysts.
Pollack, check. Brookings, check. Two down, one to go. What of O'Hanlon?

Parry says O'Hanlon was
more skeptical about the Bush administration’s case for invading Iraq than Pollack was. For instance, O’Hanlon correctly doubted the evidence of links between Hussein’s secular government and the Islamic extremists of al-Qaeda.

But O’Hanlon carefully covered all his bases, arguing that “there is a case for overthrowing Mr. Hussein if we cannot re-establish and improve the inspections and disarmament process in Iraq. But it has more to do with the region’s security than with any unlikely Hussein-al-Qaeda link.” [Baltimore Sun, Sept. 26, 2002]

Since the failure to find WMD stockpiles and the stumbling occupation, O’Hanlon and Pollack have constructed reputations as critics of Bush’s war strategy not by objecting to its imperial impulses or the immorality of invading a country at peace but by hitting the administration for an inadequate commitment of troops and resources.

In other words, they have fit themselves in with many Washington insiders who still maintain that the invasion was a fine and noble idea; the only problem was the incompetent occupation.

It’s [...] disingenuous [...] for O’Hanlon and Pollack to present themselves as harsh critics of Bush’s Iraq War when, in fact, they either advocated the invasion (in Pollack’s case) or eagerly promoted the surge (as O’Hanlon did). At minimum, they should have given a fuller accounting of their past positions.

To read their op-ed in the New York Times, an unsuspecting reader would get the impression that these two hard-boiled anti-war skeptics have finally been won over to Bush’s wisdom by the strength of the evidence. That simply isn’t the case; they were predisposed to Bush’s position to begin with.

The reality appears to be that these two on-and-off war supporters were given an administration-sponsored tour of Iraq with the expectation that they would return to Washington with glowing reports about the war’s progress, made all the more believable by them playing up – or puffing up – their credentials as war critics.

In that case, Mission Accomplished.
But of course that's not all.

Now that their op-ed has hit the streets -- and the elite coffee-tables -- via the Times, it's being used as a launching pad for even more propaganda, such as the piece in the Telegraph, which draws on a panoply of pro-war spin techniques to stretch its points:
The day after the article was published the vice-president Dick Cheney seized on it as being something positive written by “critics of war”.
The fact that this "something positive" had been written by men who portrayed themselves as "critics of war" but in fact were nothing of the sort -- this annoyed a lot of people!
It has since turned Mr O’Hanlon and Mr Pollack into objects of hate for some Democrats and in the liberal blogosphere. accused them of “shameless pro-administration propaganda” and called their article a “rank deceit”.
Here the Telegraph toes the wingnut line by conflating criticism with hatred. This is half of a propaganda ploy that's been used for long time now; the other half involves conflating Bush personally and his administration's policies in general with America itself.

Having performed this double sleight-of-hand, administration warmongers and those who support them now happily (and easily) depict anyone who criticizes the president or his administration's policies as someone who hates America and who therefore ranks somewhere on the scale between "not worth listening to" and "lucky not to be in Gitmo".

All this merely for pointing out that they're lying. The lies have led to the deaths of thousands of Americans and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, and yet those lies are not considered "hate speech". But pointing out that the lies are obviously false is commonly portrayed as akin to treason!

The implications, the ramifications, the ripple effect of lie built on lie built on lie, can never be neglected. Here's a fine example:
Most significantly the emergence of Mr O’Hanlon and Mr Pollack as cheerleaders for the “surge” strategy proved that senior Democrats are unable to present a united front of opposition to the war.
It proved no such thing! Democrats have always been unable to present a united front of opposition to the war. There are competing explanations for why, none of them entirely satisfactory to me personally, but more to the point, since when are these two think tank "consultants" -- one apparently a former Israeli CIA mole and the other a neocon tight with the PNAC crowd -- since when are they "senior Democrats"?

Or is Alex Spillius mostly referring to another neocon Democrat?
Such was its impact that the presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton acknowledged that the surge is “working” in it efforts to improve security, even if Iraq’s government was failing.
Among other things, this propaganda has given Hillary Clinton the political cover she needs to maintain a pro-war position and still hope to gain the Democratic nomination. But does it "prove" anything else? For that matter, does it prove anything at all?

It will give Bush political cover as well, not that it matters much. He's going to do whatever he wants, and none of the so-called expert analysts seem to understand his agenda anyway. Alex Spillius seems to understand that, or at least most of it, but so of course does Michael O'Hanlon.
Mr O’Hanlon, a senior fellow with 20 years’ experience, agrees that leaving too soon would be disastrous. He denied that his trip, funded and organised by the Pentagon, was a public relations stunt that he had fallen for, saying he and Mr Pollack conducted dozens of interviews with US and Iraqi officials, often without a “chaperone”, and were free to ask what they wanted.
His trip was funded and organised by the Pentagon but it wasn't a public relations stunt? That's a good one!

Or maybe it wasn't a public relations stunt that he had fallen for; he couldn't fall for it because he was a willing participant. That's a good one, too!

And here's another good one: If you listen closely right at the end, you can almost hear a whisper of acknowledgment from O'Hanlon himself:
“Our critics said were taking momentum away [from the anti-war lobby] just as it was building up. But we were merely at the leading edge of an argument that would have happened anyway,” he said.
Don't you love that? We were merely at the leading edge -- surfing the surge! -- of an argument that would have happened anyway -- even without us on the edge, catapulting the propaganda!

Haven't we had enough propaganda for one post? Let's end with a dose of truth, from seven Americans who have served in Iraq and know what it's all about:

The War as We Saw It (or here, or here):
The claim that we are increasingly in control of the battlefields in Iraq is an assessment arrived at through a flawed, American-centered framework. Yes, we are militarily superior, but our successes are offset by failures elsewhere. What soldiers call the “battle space” remains the same, with changes only at the margins. It is crowded with actors who do not fit neatly into boxes: Sunni extremists, Al Qaeda terrorists, Shiite militiamen, criminals and armed tribes. This situation is made more complex by the questionable loyalties and Janus-faced role of the Iraqi police and Iraqi Army, which have been trained and armed at United States taxpayers’ expense.

A few nights ago, for example, we witnessed the death of one American soldier and the critical wounding of two others when a lethal armor-piercing explosive was detonated between an Iraqi Army checkpoint and a police one. Local Iraqis readily testified to American investigators that Iraqi police and Army officers escorted the triggermen and helped plant the bomb. These civilians highlighted their own predicament: had they informed the Americans of the bomb before the incident, the Iraqi Army, the police or the local Shiite militia would have killed their families.

As many grunts will tell you, this is a near-routine event. Reports that a majority of Iraqi Army commanders are now reliable partners can be considered only misleading rhetoric. The truth is that battalion commanders, even if well meaning, have little to no influence over the thousands of obstinate men under them, in an incoherent chain of command, who are really loyal only to their militias.

The most important front in the counterinsurgency, improving basic social and economic conditions, is the one on which we have failed most miserably. Two million Iraqis are in refugee camps in bordering countries. Close to two million more are internally displaced and now fill many urban slums. Cities lack regular electricity, telephone services and sanitation. “Lucky” Iraqis live in gated communities barricaded with concrete blast walls that provide them with a sense of communal claustrophobia rather than any sense of security we would consider normal.

Given the situation, it is important not to assess security from an American-centered perspective. The ability of, say, American observers to safely walk down the streets of formerly violent towns is not a resounding indicator of security. What matters is the experience of the local citizenry and the future of our counterinsurgency. When we take this view, we see that a vast majority of Iraqis feel increasingly insecure and view us as an occupation force that has failed to produce normalcy after four years and is increasingly unlikely to do so as we continue to arm each warring side.
Once again we are at the crux of the matter. If the United States truly wanted to provide security to Iraq, they wouldn't be fomenting "sectarian violence" and arming all sides. This is what you do if you're trying to accelerate a civil war.

The realities on the ground in Iraq are entirely out of synch with all the alleged justifications for this war, and the war now stands exposed as exactly what its opponents have always said it was -- mass murder and grand theft, a premeditated war crime of unimaginable scope and ferocity.

Only a massive propaganda barrage can possibly fill the gaps between rhetoric and reality.

We're in the midst of that barrage right now.

We should expect it to start coming even faster and thicker.

Unless I am very wrong, it will also be even more vicious.