Dover Bitch

Friday, December 02, 2005

Tell the Lincoln Group to STICK IT

One debating tactic used in Washington is the isolation of one narrow aspect of a subject -- a point that can either be won or fought to an acceptable stalemate. DB calls that point a "stick," a term derived from the football scheme in which defenders line up at "the sticks" -- the line the offense must cross to get a first down. It's a low risk play of semi-concession for the defense, who are not going for a sack or anything; a nine-yard gain by the offense will still result in a turnover on downs.

Where the analogy comes up short is that in football, passing the sticks may be the offense's goal. In a debate, the stick is a distraction from a more relevant point of debate. But it's DB's analogy and we're, well... sticking to it.

For example, torture. Is it effective? Or will people just lie and say anything to stop the pain? An interesting academic debate.

And completely irrelevant to DB.

Why? Because torture is immoral and un-American. Period. Any time spent debating the effectiveness of torture is a waste of time that could otherwise be used to remind people what it is that we stand for as Americans -- in this case, humane treatment of prisoners and respect for the law. Is torture effective? Is selling meth to teenagers profitable? Who cares? They're both wrong.

Simple right? So why bring this up today? Because it is the preferred tactic of those who would tell us that the spreading of propaganda in Iraq is justified.

DB has heard three arguments in favor of the Pentagon's actions:

  • The stories that were planted are all "true"
  • It is an effective strategy and our troops need every break they can get
  • This is a time of war and overseas disinformation is ethical

All three points are sticks.

1. Are the stories really "true?" Who knows? It depends upon whether they're opinions or factual reports of progress. It depends upon how much information has been omitted and how much has been included. Are the included facts "cherrypicked?" DB hasn't read these stories and won't. It simply doesn't matter. One thing DB does know is that this administration doesn't have a whole lot of credibility when it comes to telling the truth.

2. Is propaganda effective? Some believe it is, others do not. While DB thinks there are certain examples of disinformation and propaganda that are helpful in a time of war, it is the opinion of this blogger in regards to the current situation in Iraq that the risks outweighed the rewards and that there exist far more effective, less cynical and less costly ways of aiding and protecting our troops while winning the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people.

3. Is it unethical to use propaganda overseas during a war? This is the classic stick -- a nice hypothetical/philosophical question when there is an actual event to evaluate. Bush destroyed Kerry with this kind of stick when the president got his opponent to clarify his views on the doctrine of preemption and his "global test" while Bush's actual elective war was being waged.

All three of these debates should be immediately dismissed and the focus should remain on the following:

This administration already poisoned these waters with its similar domestic tactics.

Paying Armstrong Williams and others, granting media access to fake journalists like Jeff Gannon and creating fake news to promote their domestic agenda at home has destroyed any chance the administration had to innocently claim that these tactics are acceptable because of the unique situation in Iraq and the war.

This administration has a record of using the media as an echo chamber for propaganda at home.

As Maureen Dowd pointed out on David Letterman this week and as Arianna Huffington praised Chris Matthews for repeating, the Bush Administration planted dubious and outright false information in the papers, not only to support their claims, but timed to exactly precede key television appearances by members of the administration. This way, people like Condi Rice and Dick Cheney could point to the stories the administration planted as confirmation of its own claims.

The U.S. borders do not protect its citizens from receiving administration propaganda.

In his excellent piece in Rolling Stone, James Bamford writes:

By law, the Bush administration is expressly prohibited from disseminating government propaganda at home. But in an age of global communications, there is nothing to stop it from planting a phony pro-war story overseas -- knowing with certainty that it will reach American citizens almost instantly. A recent congressional report suggests that the Pentagon may be relying on "covert psychological operations affecting audiences within friendly nations." In a "secret amendment" to Pentagon policy, the report warns, "psyops funds might be used to publish stories favorable to American policies, or hire outside contractors without obvious ties to the Pentagon to organize rallies in support of administration policies."

We hear over and over from administration allies that the MSM fails to report all the good news. But when they turn around and point to the "good news" reported in Iraq, they are (willingly or otherwise) fulfilling this psychological operation performed on Americans by our own government.

That the military reporters have an obligation to censor sensitive information is a given that any reasonable American must accept. That they will report "good news" and limit "bad news" is a reality that should also be accepted despite the fact that it is somewhat unpalatable.

But a strategy by the administration to plant stories in Iraq, or anywhere else outside our borders, in concert with an effort at home to point to the propaganda in an effort to push their agenda here is entirely unacceptable to DB.

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