Sunday, February 19, 2006

"Hearts and Minds" rises from the dead

The GAO has reported that the Bush administration has spent more than 1.6 billion dollars on agitprop in the 2 1/2 years before mid 2005. This includes 340 contracts with PR firms. It includes the $100,000 spent in direct "promotional contracts" with members of the press. The expenditure, as far as I can tell, is inside the US.

That information seems to dovetail nicely with Secretary of Defense Crazy Don Rumsfeld's recent policy statement lamenting that freedom of speech in parts of the world not saturated by Fox News has led to Muslims being misinformed about our good intentions. To counter this, he said, we need to “mount a far more aggressive, swift and nontraditional information campaign to counter the messages of extremist and terrorist groups in the world media.”

So is the idea that we are going to spend billions (modeled after the program above) in bribing foreign journalists, and inundating news outlets abroad with hired media campaigns? Or perhaps founding an al-Fox news network of our own? I'd say the answer would be yes.

Crazy Don said that what we are up against is the following: e-mail, blogs, blackberries, instant messaging, digital cameras, "a global Internet with no inhibitions", cell phones, hand held video cameras, talk radio, 24 hour news broadcasts, and satellite TV.

"Regrettably," said Rummy, "many of the news channels being watched through these [satellite] dishes are extremely hostile to the West." Thus lies can be quickly spread, and we are too slow to counter them, he went on to say. His specific example was the story about the desecration of the Koran last year. "It was finally determined that the charge was false" but "in the meantime the lives had been lost and great damage had been done."

Well, actually, the desecration story was investigated by several groups, including, after its fashion, the US military. The military investigation said, after, um, "re-interviewing" the guy who made the accusation that our interrogators flushed, or tried to flush, a Koran, that this individual did not care to continue making that claim. Case closed on the flush story. Fancy that.

But, wait, Rummie, don't you remember the Army--after investigating-- also saying that one of our soldiers actually urinated on a Koran? It was an "accident," of course. (Accidents are thick on the ground with this administration.) Our guys don't piss on Korans on purpose. We all know that. But the Arab world, evidently, does not. Moreover, the International Red Cross reported that several of the desecration stories were "credible." So, who are you gonna believe, Crazy Don, or the Red Cross?

Rumsfeld's solution to the plague of blogs, blackberries, and emails is for us (i.e., the Bush administration) to be "proactive" rather than "reactive." Rather than react to lies, we should learn from Karl Rove, and lie first, lie faster, lie better, and lie more often than our enemies. Or, to use Rummy's own words, "Engage experts from both within and outside of government to help to communicate; rapidly deploy the best military communications capabilities to new theaters of operation; and develop and execute multifaceted media campaigns -- print, radio, television and Internet."

He closed by counseling patience in the War on Terror, comparing it to the Cold War, which he pointed out lasted nearly 50 years. (If in 50 years we have melted the Greenland ice cap, terrorism will be the least of our worries, but it shows that the Republicans are nothing if not grandiose in their hallucinations, or "vision" as they are more likely to put it.)

But Rumsfeld is really a piece of work. The evil and creepy phrase "hearts and minds" popped out of his mouth at one point, which could lead you to wonder if this man is actually possessed by Satan, especially since he was at the same time channelling both Robert McNamara, seemingly without realizing it, and Ayman al-Zawahiri whom he claimed to be quoting. According to the Secretary himself, al Zawahiri threw down the hearts and minds gauntlet, and Rummy, eyes glowing red, felt compelled to leap down and pick it up and wave it around.

Just as McNamara did not understand that it was hard to win hearts and minds by burning the skin off children with napalm, torching villages, and shooting prisoners of war in the head, likewise Crazy Don somehow--amazingly--replicates that failure of understanding, and he does it without effort, like he has taken up residence in Bob McNamara's brain. But dropping leaflets announcing our dedication to freedom didn't cut it then, and Crazy Don's proposed media blitz is obviously not going to cut it now. Rummy, like his predecessor in folly, just doesn't get it.

Karl Rove probably does. I mean, given that al-Rove understands how to succeed in exploiting our specific cultural fears, superstitions, hopes, and bigotries--whether by lies, misdirection, red-herrings dragged stinking across the trail of Republican wrongdoing, flight-suit photo ops for the Commander in Chief, or by bribing journalists--surely Karl knows better than anyone that these techniques don't transfer very well to, say, the Muslim world. But if Rove, being a smart if wicked man, must understand that, Rummy, being a foolish if wicked man, surely does not.

Unfortunately, as the Vietnam War proved, the fact that Johnson, McNamara, Nixon, Kissinger, their sorry ten-year long retinue of motley-and-bell garbed enablers, fellow travelers, strategic visionaries and like-minded enemies of the good, the true, and the beautiful, were--all of them--fools, clowns, mountebanks, men on the make, men on the take, and habitual liars, or crooks, or both, did not keep them from achieving a stunning catastrophe for our country. I am more and more worried that Bush's men--whose raw negative potential if anything exceeds that of their predecessors--will equal it, if not do worse.

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