Iraq War Cover-up

Here are some excerpts from the introduction and concluding chapter of
The Silence of the Rational Center
by Stefan A. Halper and Jonathan Clarke.
Paragraph numbers and emphasis are added.

[I.1, page 1]
At times, United States foreign policy has been extraordinarily successful.
The current era, sadly, is not one of those times.
With the American image tracking new lows in almost every part of the world
and American policies meeting nearly unprecedented resistance,
the state of U.S. relations with the rest of the world is bleak.

[I.2, page 1]
People who are dissatisfied, as we are, with the nation’s foreign policy
have often written books to critique the offending elements or priorities
and propose better ones.
[The current author recommends Walt.]
That is not our intention here.
Instead ... we invite the reader
to consider a broader question centered on foreign policy
but also reaching into contemporary culture.

The administration of American foreign policy,
particularly if it involves significant human and financial costs,
can proceed only with the support of the public.
This means that in advance of major decisions
a debate about the options takes place in the public space.
In considering this critical juncture in the policy process,
we suggest that
embedded flaws within the structure of foreign policy deliberations
produce irrational impulses rather than rational calculation
and that
these flaws are especially apparent in times of crisis.

[I.3, page 2]
The format of foreign policy debate has been shaped by
two mutually reinforcing elements.

The first is the unusual American susceptibility to what we call Big Ideas.
Some of these, phrases like Manifest Destiny, have achieved iconic status.
Others, such as “Axis of Evil,” are little more than transitory clichés.
In both their grandiloquent manifestations,
as in today’s Freedom on the March
and more modest renditions like Stay the Course,
these phrases allude to a deus ex machine
that tends to compress complex issues into simple nostrums
and obfuscate rather than illuminate.
At their worst, these phrases—
like Domino Theory during the Vietnam era and “drain the swamp,”
the neoconservative rallying cry for ridding the Middle East of terrorists—
are disastrously misleading to both policymakers and the public.

[This is quite simply silly.
What Halper and Clarke are calling “Big Ideas” are really just shorthand.
The central issues are
whether it is clearly understood exactly for what they are shorthand,
whether any characterizations implicit in the shorthand are apt, and
whether any goals implied by the shorthand are worthy or desirable.
For example, “Axis of Evil” was certainly well-defined:
Iraq, Iran, and North Korea.
The point is that “evil” has a lot of connotations,
which may or may not be applicable to those three nations.
For “Freedom on the March” the primary issues are
what is freedom and, granted a given definition of freedom,
whether that freedom can be imposed by an external power
or must grow indigenously within a society or nation.
“Drain the Swamp” is a perfectly fine concept,
if one defines it to mean addressing the root causes of the problem,
i.e., curing the disease, not just addressing symptoms.

As to Americans being “unusually susceptible” to “Big Ideas,”
I don’t think there is that much truth to that.
Other nations have had their own self-conceptions and “Big Ideas.”]

The second element is the requirements of 24–7 media, which,
with large blocks of time and space to fill,
are hungry for a constant stream of catchy notions and fresh faces
to attract eyes, ears, and advertising dollars.

[Undoubtedly true,
but what does 24-7 media have to do with
“the structure of foreign policy deliberations”?
Who in their right mind would turn to cable news
(which is essentially the only media platform they discuss,
in their chapter 3, and which has been the prime 24-7 media)
for inputs and guidance concerning those foreign policy deliberations?
There are a few television programs which do have useful depth, for example,
on PBS, “The Newshour” and “Frontline,”
C-SPAN and a few interview programs on Sunday morning,
but otherwise for depth one must go to the print media,
to which they pay rather little attention.]

In combination these elements produce a distorted public discourse in which
the nature and implications of important policy decisions are obscured.
Superficial explanations are rewarded [by whom?] and
expert analysis, which is usually complex, is penalized.
Slogans dominate the discourse in place of
the subtle balancing of interests and resources
typically needed in executing a successful foreign policy.

[Absolutely wrong.
These elements do not “produce a distorted public discourse.”
What does produce a distorted public discourse is
when only one side of an issue is presented.
For example, in the run up to the Iraq War,
practically the entirety of the MSM
presented only the alleged benefits of invading Iraq,
while they thoroughly suppressed
any discussion of the potential costs of that invasion,
and how likely those costs would be incurred.]


In the concluding chapter of The Silence of the Rational Center
by Stefan A. Halper and Jonathan Clarke
they write (but the emphasis is added):

[10.1.1, page 254]
Sadly, the rational center was silent on Iraq.
  1. The lure of celebrity separated eminent academics
    from opinions critical of the Administration’s assumptions.

  2. Talk-show formats mispositioned the nation’s foremost intellects
    so that they were unable to articulate their arguments.

  3. The White House press office created an echo chamber
    where sympathetic media outlets
    reflected the Administration’s narrative and marginalized critics.

  4. Think tanks concluded that vital government grants and other funding
    were dependent on compatible public positions.

  5. The political and media cultures
    celebrated the war as patriots
    and allowed doubters to be demonized.

Others, who can be placed in none of the above categories,
were simply unsure and confused about what to believe and said nothing.

Miscellaneous Articles and References


Behind Analysts, the Pentagon’s Hidden Hand
New York Times, 2008-04-20, page A1, Lead Story

The Tarnished Brass
New York Times Editorial, 2008-04-26

[The full text of this editorial;
paragraph numbers and emphasis are added.]

As it prepared to invade Iraq five years ago,
the Bush administration
called up retired military officers
to help sell the war.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his propaganda team
courted as many as 75 retired military officers
who could best market the Pentagon line, particularly on television.
As detailed in The Times on Sunday,
many of these officers used their access to Pentagon bigwigs
to promote their private businesses.

The deal was simple:
Offer good news on Iraq, even when the news is bad.

All administrations try to spin, or even manipulate, the news media,
but this White House has taken that to a new low.
The Bush administration has hired actors to pose as journalists.
It has produced mock news bulletins to promote its view of the Iraq war.
At least one conservative commentator was paid $240,000
to go on television to promote President Bush’s education policies.
Now, based on thousands of e-mail messages and other documents,
The Times’s David Barstow has outlined how
the Pentagon used a “Trojan horse” of former military officers
to parrot falsely positive messages.

These willful distortions only undermine
any remaining shreds of the administration’s credibility
and demean the former officers.
They also failed to fool the public.

Mr. Bush’s national security team — and many Pentagon officers —
continues to labor under the tragic delusion that negative coverage,
rather than the bad news itself,
undermined public support for the war in Vietnam.
the propaganda experts created the instant commentariat
of decorated retired generals and admirals
who could seem to be strong and independent voices.

Too many were not independent at all.
One example: a retired Marine colonel and Fox News analyst
asked his Pentagon contact to
“please let me know if you have any specific points you want covered
or that you would prefer to downplay.”

Worse, some of the analysts
had business relationships with the Pentagon that they wanted to preserve.
One Pentagon aide acknowledged that
the business relationship was part of the formula.
Some former military officers
were skeptical of the war in private and in public,
but doubts were punished by the Pentagon.
One former officer reported being “fired from the analysts group”
after he said on Fox News that
America was “not on a good glide path right now” in Iraq.

News organizations bear the ultimate responsibility for using experts.
The Times has a system for vetting an outsider’s credentials and conflicts.
But news organizations should give viewers and readers
as much information as possible
about anyone offering expert opinion.

As for the government’s role, Senator Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan,
is calling for an investigation of the propaganda purveyors,
especially those with business ties to the Pentagon.
That is a start.
Candidates for president should also declare their views about
how to market policies to the public and the news media.
Hint: the Rumsfeld propaganda show is not the way.

The Pipeline From Pentagon to TV
New York Times Letters to the Editor, 2008-04-26

[Letters to the Editor concerning 2008-04-20-NYT-Pentagon.]


I don't have time right now to fill in
all the criticism the above New York Times articles deserve,
but here is a quick response.
The Times cries its eyeballs out about biased TV coverage,
but look at what the Times has completely ignored:
all coverage of the 2008-04-02 Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing ;
note in particular the testimony of General McCaffrey
and Lieutenant General Odom.
That is a recent example of how
they ignore commentary
from distinguished retired military officers critical of the war.

What is their excuse for ignoring same?

Going back to the prewar and early war coverage,
where was their prominent coverage
of the now famous testimony of General Shinseki?
Perhaps he was not of high enough position to merit their coverage.
Where was their coverage of the prewar criticism of retired Marine General Zinni,
who had been CENTCOM CIC?

Other retired generals,
critics either of the need for the war or of its conduct,
who seem to have been almost ignored by the media include
Gen. Hoar, LTG Newbold, and LTG Sanchez.
Why have they not been hired by the media as analysts?

Then there is the entire cast of generals who comprised the "Generals' Revolt,"
including MG Batista and MG Eaton.
They were available for media hire, but seem to have been neglected.

To blame the "Bush administration" for hoodwinking the media seems to
ignore the media's own actions.


Richard Perle is a liar
by Stephen M. Walt
ForeignPolicy.com, 2009-02-23

[Its last two paragraphs; emphasis is added.]

Let’s face it:

there is little or no accountability in Washington,
where being wrong means never having to say you’re sorry;
indeed, you don’t even have to admit responsibility for past mistakes,
no matter how serious.
It’s just the American taxpayer who ends up footing the bill,
along with the soldiers who fought and died for these blunders.

As Frank Rich and others have figured out,
we are in trouble today because

we have allowed a culture of corruption and dishonesty
to permeate our institutions
and pollute our public discourse.

Until that changes --
until our public institutions contain
a lot more truth-tellers like Gene Kranz
and fewer liars like Richard Perle --
we are not going to know
where we stand,
where we are headed, or
whom to trust.

Richard Perle's Apologia
Maybe next time the neocons will win.
by Thomas Frank
Wall Street Journal (Opinion Journal), 2009-02-25

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