Propaganda and the eye of the beholder

Posted: Dec 05, 2005 4:05 AM

The Pentagon is investigating allegations that the military paid to have positive stories about the war published in Iraqi newspapers. Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, a military spokesman in Iraq, believes the program is "an important part of countering misinformation in the news by insurgents." Johnson said in an e-mail, "This is a military program initiated by the Multi-National Force to help get factual information about ongoing operations into Iraqi news. I want to emphasize that all information used for marketing these stories is completely factual."

In this, as in other wars, propaganda has been a useful tool in winning hearts and minds. Propaganda is defined on as "The systematic propagation of a doctrine or cause or of information reflecting the views and interests of those advocating such a doctrine or cause."

The late columnist Walter Lippmann observed, "We must remember that in time of war, what is said on the enemy's side of the front is always propaganda, and what is said on our side of the front is truth and righteousness, the cause of humanity and a crusade for peace." Lippmann was possibly being sarcastic, but propaganda is an important weapon in any war.

In his speech last week on our "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq" and in the 35-page document available at, President Bush used propaganda to persuade the public he has a winning strategy in Iraq. Democrats, who have engaged in their own propaganda, calling on the president to present a winning strategy, engaged in propaganda by criticizing his strategy. That their response to the president's speech was contrary to their earlier propaganda, which made many of the president's points, apparently escaped them.

Propaganda is sometimes true. It can be used to advance a policy that is workable, or not, depending on the intent of the one engaging in it.

General Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke at the National Defense University last week. Using truthful propaganda, Gen. Pace said our enemies declared war on us years before 9/11 and have stated without equivocation that their goal is to "destroy our way of life." He said we need to understand the nature of our enemy and that the United States and free world don't have the option of staying home, because they would come after us anyway: "They are saying their goal is to rid the Middle East of all foreigners. Then, overthrow all governments that are not friendly to them, which means every single one of those governments. Then, to use that base as a way to spread their terrorism and their oppression across the globe to include a map that shows 100 years from now that the entire globe will be under their domination."

Gen. Pace added, "Our enemies are ruthless, uncaring. They murder children with bombs. . The more people understand who these terrorists are, the more they will gather together to defeat them." He also mentioned a number of positive signs for the Iraqi economy, including more than 30,000 new businesses that have come on line in Iraq and the bravery of individual Iraqis who vote and apply for jobs in the new Iraqi army and police force in spite of terrorist attacks. That is something one never reads or sees in the mainstream media, which delivers its own propaganda that says nothing is going well in Iraq. It sees only dark linings in silver clouds.

I have no problem with planted stories in the Iraqi press if they are truthful. How else to counter enemy propaganda, which includes most Middle East newspapers and al-Jazeera? They regularly publish lies about America's intent in Iraq and throughout the region.

President Bush and the military leadership have said this will be a long war without an obvious conclusion. But the conclusion will be obvious if the American left wins its own propaganda war, encouraging our enemies to fight on by causing a precipitous withdrawal before the goal of a self-sufficient Iraq is achieved.

The choice isn't war or peace. The choice is victory or defeat. That is truthful propaganda.