Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Pavlov's Dogs of War Propaganda

Jeff Huber | April 29, 2008

It turns out that James “Spider” Marks, retired Army general and military analyst, was peddling the Bush administration’s war propaganda on CNN under the guise of objective journalism for fun and profit.

Say it ain’t so, Spider.

“Shoeless” Barry McCaffrey and “Clueless” Ken Allard were also among the ranks of retired officers who cashed in on their military experience to shill young Mr. Bush’s woebegone war on the major news networks, according to a recent article in the New York Times by David Barstow. Many of the analysts who spoke with Barstow were so contrite they sounded like they were trying to put their hands on a Get Out of Hell Free card. Allard was especially amusing, seeming to want us to think that it took him five years or so to figure out that he was being duped by the Pentagon, but now that he’s on to their little charade, boy he’s hoppin’ mad about it.

It’s difficult to believe Allard could have been that dumb for that long, but keep in mind that he’s a former intelligence officer, and that the average intelligence officer is no more intelligent than the average fighter pilot, so he might have been.

A Few Bad Men

Allard, McCaffrey, Marks and many other network military analysts have been part of an extensive Pentagon information campaign designed “to generate favorable news coverage of the administration’s wartime performance,” according to Barstow. The effort “began with the buildup to the Iraq war and continues to this day.” Not surprisingly, “Most of the analysts have ties to military contractors vested in the very war policies they are asked to assess on air.”

Allard told Barstow the campaign amounted to a “sophisticated information operation.” “This was a coherent, active policy,” Allard said. He would know. If Irony were alive and with us, it would adore the fact that Allard has taught information warfare at the National Defense University, yet now wants to portray himself as a hapless victim of Pentagon spin merchants. “Night and day,” Allard said, “I felt we’d been hosed.”

Gee, Ken. Imagine how the rest of us feel.

You Can’t Panhandle the Truth

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman told Barstow it is “a bit incredible” to think retired military officers could be “wound up” and turned into “puppets of the Defense Department.” Yet what the retired officers have done is no less unimaginable than the behavior of their still on active duty counterparts.

Air Force General Richard B. Myers was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 2001 to 2005, and one of the administration’s most avid and visible echo chamberlains. It was during his tenure that a bitter debate arose within the Department of Defense over the ethic and legal implications of Donald Rumsfeld’s programs for planting disinformation in the news media. In the summer of 2004, then U.S. commander in Iraq General George Casey approved merging his public affairs and combat information operations into a single “strategic communications office.”

Myers issued a memorandum that warned commanders like Casey about the risks of merging public affairs with things like psychological operations and operational deception, but that didn’t forbid them from doing so. Casey and the other commanders promptly ignored the memo. Did Myers really expect his generals to follow an order he didn’t actually give? Well, he is a fighter pilot, after all, which, as we discussed earlier, makes him as dumb as an intelligence officer. Our late friend Irony might wonder, though, if Myers is so dumb, how did he manage to earn graduate degrees and certificates from Auburn University, the Air Force Command and Staff College, the Army War College and (ahem) Harvard?

Now retired, Myers seems desperate to distance himself from another disgrace of his tenure: torture. Myers has gone and gotten himself a ten-dollar lawyer named Philippe Sands who’s apparently smarter than an intelligence officer and a fighter pilot put together. Sands says Myers was “hoodwinked” by Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney into allowing waterboarding and other torture techniques to be practiced at the Guantanamo Bay detention center. While JCS chairman, Myers aggressively defended the GITMO camp’s existence and the interrogation techniques practiced there. Lawyer Sands says Harvard graduate Myers was “confused” about the decisions that allowed torture to take place, and that he thought the interrogation techniques Rumsfeld approved came from a U.S. Army field manual.

I’ll bet you cash money that a copy of that field manual was laying around somewhere at the Pentagon back then, and that if Myers had really wanted to know what it said about interrogation techniques, he would have had one of his little helpers read it for him and tell him all about it. I think Myers already had a pretty good idea what it said but he didn’t want to know for sure, because then he would have had to stand up to Donald Rumsfeld, and being an Air Force fighter pilot he didn’t have the body parts it takes to do that.

Irony would be delighted to hear that following his retirement, Myers was named as the Colin Powell Chair of Character, Leadership and Ethics at National Defense University, and it would tickle Irony pink that Myers now serves on the boards of Northrup Grumman, one of America’s largest defense contracting firms, and John Deere, which makes the kind of heavy construction equipment that comes in so handy in countries that are trying to rebuild themselves after being blown to smithereens by the United States.

Where Do We Find Such Men?

A good friend who taught at the scandal plagued U.S. Naval Academy once told me that Annapolis is a place where plebe freshmen spend a summer learning a million senseless rules and then spend the next four years learning to break them without getting caught. That the Academy’s curriculum includes an honor code and a required course on ethics would satisfy Irony to no end.

Given the moral incubation the Academy provides the naval forces’ officer corps, it is little wonder that the semi-official motto of naval aviation’s fighter community is “If you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying.” Toward the end of my career, the Navy launched its “Moral Sailor” program, the watchwords of which were, “Moral sailors do the right thing even when nobody’s watching.” On the deck plates, this bromide swiftly morphed into “Smart sailors only do the right thing when nobody’s watching because that’s the only time they can get away with it.”

The naval services hardly have a monopoly on moral hypocrisy. The Air Force has produced its share of generals like Richard Myers. Irony would likely say, though, that the Army broke the mold when it manufactured General David H. Petraeus.

The moment he took over as commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, Petraeus began living up to the assessment of his boss, Admiral William Fallon, who reportedly called him "an a**-kissing little chickens***." One of Petraeus’s first acts in his new billet was to meet with and re-indoctrinate the news channel military analysts like Barry McCaffrey and Spider Marks and Ken Allard.

Petraeus is a master of ends-justify-means media manipulation when it comes to promoting his mission, his agenda and himself. The most atrocious example of his showboating was the Baghdad outdoor market shopping spree he put on for pro-surge Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham in April 2007, a propaganda event made possible by more than 100 U.S. troops who provided security.

The security detail wasn’t just the standard red rump window dressing you deck out whenever VIPs show up. Real danger was involved. The Shorja Market, where Lindsey Graham bought five carpets for a dollar each, had been bombed at least six times since the summer prior to the McCain retinue’s visit. 61 people were killed there the previous February. At least 60 people, mostly women and children, died during a suicide bombing in another Baghdad market the Thursday before McCain’s party arrived. The day after McCain’s shopping excursion, 21 Shiites who worked at the Shorja Market were ambushed, tied up and shot to death.

Any way you want to slice it, Petraeus put the lives of more than 100 soldiers under his command at risk in order to convince the American public his surge was “working,” to promote John McCain’s presidential candidacy, and to grease the rails for his own retirement career in politics.

Lovely guy, huh?

Irony wouldn’t get its hopes up that America’s military can somehow reverse its trend of rewarding self-promoting yes men with its top leadership spots. The man the Army brought in from the field last November to preside over its brigadier (one-star) general selection board was one David H. Petraeus.

This was the same David H. Petraeus, Irony would add, whom young Mr. Bush just nominated to move up and take over Central Command.

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