Monday, October 06, 2008

Live from Baghdad, It's Saturday Night!

You know, it occurs to us that, after we've done the Iraqis they are still not going to welcome us a liberators. In fact, it seems they have a wee grudge against us for destroying their country. Who could have predicted they'd be so self centered?

What to do? What to do? Oh, we know. Let's put on a show!

The Defense Department will pay private U.S. contractors in Iraq up to $300 million over the next three years to produce news stories, entertainment programs and public service advertisements for the Iraqi media in an effort to "engage and inspire" the local population to support U.S. objectives and the Iraqi government. "We're thinking CSI: Mosul," said a Defense Department spokesperson. "Or maybe Dancing with the Sons of Iraq."

The new contracts -- awarded last week to four companies -- will expand and consolidate what the U.S. military calls "last ditch/hail Mary clutching at straws operations " in Iraq far into the future, even as violence appears to be abating and U.S. troops have begun drawing down. "Well, if by drawing down you mean staying put," the spokesperson said.

The Pentagon still sometimes feels it is playing catch-up in a propaganda market dominated by al-Qaeda, whose media operations include sophisticated Web sites and professionally produced videos and audios featuring Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants. "For guys living in caves, they got the killer apps," Secretary Robert M. Gates often remarks. "We didn't even know there was an Arab word for nerd."

Military and contractor-produced media campaigns like, 'Ten Things I Hate About Insurgents,' "helped in developing attitudes" that led Iraqis to reject al-Jazeera's 'American Infidel'" over the past two years, an official said. "Death To America Or No Death To America killed in Basra," a State Department official said.

U.S.-produced public service broadcasts and billboards have touted improvements in government services. "Our 'Got Water?' campaign seems to be well received said a Pentagon spokesperson. "At least in the areas of Baghdad where we've restored water."

When national euphoria broke out last year after an Iraqi singer won a talent contest in Lebanon, the U.S. military considered producing an Iraqi version of "American Idol" to help distract people from the fact that they live in a war zone. The idea was shelved as too expensive, an official said, and "most people still don't have electricity all day so we couldn't figure out a time to show it." Even so, "'The Amazing Race' is an idea that's popular with Iraqis," the official said. "Especially since in allows them to get out of the country."

One official described how part of the program works: "There's a video piece produced by a contractor . . . showing a family being attacked by a group of bad guys, and their daughter being taken off. The message is: You've got to stand up against the enemy." The professionally produced vignette, he said, "is offered for airing on various [television] stations in Iraq. "So far our surveys indicate that most people who watch the video think the bad guys are us, but we're working on that," the official told reporters.

Some of the new doctrine emerged from General David Petraeus's own early experience in Iraq. As commander of the 101st Airborne Division in northern Nineveh province in 2003, he ensured that war-ravaged radio and television stations were brought rapidly back on line. At his urging, the first TV programs included Nineveh Talent Search. "We had to give it up though," an aide to Petraeus said. "After all, how many different ways can you sing 'Death to the Crusaders' before the whole thing gets pretty boring?"

Defense officials maintained that strict rules are enforced against disseminating false information. "Our enemies have the luxury of not having to tell the truth," Undersecretary of Defense Eric Edelman told a congressional hearing last month. "We pay an extremely high price if we blame the insurgents when we blow up a neighborhood.

In 2006, the Pentagon's inspector general found that media work that the Lincoln Group did in Iraq was improperly supervised but legal. The contractor had prepared news items considered favorable to the U.S. military and paid to place them in the Iraqi media without attribution. Then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld told reporters that his initial reaction to the anonymous pay-to-publish program was "Gee, that's not what we ought to be doing. We ought to be blowing those TV stations up."

"He was very focused," said a pentagon official.

Some inside the military itself have questioned the effectiveness of the defense program. "I'm not a huge fan" of information operations, one military official said, adding that Iraqi opinions -- as for most people -- are formed more by what they experience than by what they read in a newspaper, hear on the radio or see on billboards. "So a nice billboard saying Uncle Sam is your friend over the smoldering ruins of your house? Not so effective."

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Let's hope Obama gets in and we are out in 18 months. Iraq needs to take over its own country and we now need to lend serious troops to Afghanistan .
The world is a scarier place if you make more support is the only way to go as it has always been.