Monday, April 10, 2006

Propaganda Blow-Back

This morning, the Washington Post ran an article on its front page that left me fuming. In this article, titled "Military Plays up Role of Zarqawi," the Post cites "internal military documents," and "officers familiar with the program," alleging that the United States has launched a propaganda campaign to "play up" the role of Zarqawi in the Iraqi insurgency, in order to turn Iraqis opinions against the insurgents by "playing on their perceived dislike of foreigners."

To quote the Post article:

For the past two years, U.S. military leaders have been using Iraqi media and other outlets in Baghdad to publicize Zarqawi's role in the insurgency. The documents explicitly list the "U.S. Home Audience" as one of the targets of a broader propaganda campaign.

The US Home Audience?! Wait, that's a little differnet. Isn't propaganda supposed to be the stuff of George Orwell, that rampant disinformation that repressive countries feed their unsuspecting public? The stuff that caused us to be thankful we grew up in a free country so as not to be subject to it? What the hell is a propaganda campaign doing being devised with the US Home Audience as one of its broader targets?!

The Post describes this propaganda campaign as including, "leaflets, radio and television broadcasts, Internet postings and at least one leak to an American journalist."

Leaflets, hmm.... Those who have been reading Iraqi blogs for a while may remember this leaflet, showing a burning house and reading, "They didn't think that we saw them, but those who work with al-Zarqawi are being watched. If you helped al-Zarqawi or his people, your house will be like this one."

I'm sure whoever dropped this on my friend Najma's roof in Mosul over a year ago did not imagine a copy of it being photographed and put up on a blog where people here in America can read a translation of what's written on it. It is infuriating to think that, if the Post article is correct, this leaflet and others like it may have been geared to overinflate Zarqawi; to play up his role and turn ordinary Iraqis against the insurgency, and in the process, to deceive all of us.

What is more infuriating is to think back to all of the news we have read over the past three years, and to wonder how much it was truth and how much was distortions and outright lies.

It is easy to understand why some American authorities might want to pump up Zarqawi's image - Zarqawi is one of the easiest terrorists to hate. From his allegiance to al-Qaeda (the same organization that crashed the planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 9/11), to his brutal beheadings of hostages (including at least one, Nick Berg, who he allegedly beheaded himself), to his group's brutal bombing of a Palestinian wedding in Jordan, Zarqawi has earned himself a reputation as a monster. Many Americans would be quite willing to support a war against a guy like Zarqawi and his organization, but some Americans would likely be less willing to support a war against a group of home-grown insurgents, who do not have the terrorist connections of Zarqawi.

The trouble is, when you start telling lies, you erode people's confidence in everything you say. Like the boy who cried "wolf", if the American authorities start lying to the American public along with the rest of the world community and gets caught, their credibility is shot. People won't believe them anymore about much of anything and will get their information from other sources.

If the Post article is true, the main question left on the table is how endemic this alleged domestic propaganda campaign is. Is it a systemic problem, or the act of a few overzealous psyops people?

Americans love the United States because of its American values and freedoms, and a domestic propaganda campaign goes so far against those American ideals I don't even know where to start. Five years ago, terrorists attacked America, and if people here allow the country to dilute and warp the values that make the country great in reaction to those attacks, the terrorists have scored a major victory. Likewise, America invaded Iraq three years ago in an attempt to bring these same freedoms there, but a propaganda campaign just sullies them. As I have written before, I am a big believer in liberty and free speech, but just as I love free speech, I hate disinformation. Let's get real, and let's be truthful - both to the Iraqi people, and to ourselves.