The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Winning the other War of Ideas


April 27, 2008

Sorry for the lack of posts recently, I’ve been sick all week and finally feel like myself again this afternoon, so I’m going to try to catch up on a few things that I had meant to mention but….

First off: A must read from last Sunday’s NYT (I had actually started the post earlier, but only typed 2 lines before I started coughing).

So, to all those who thought that the US needed to do a better job in winning the “war of ideas,” it turns out that the US is doing a fantastic job—just targeting a different audience. Last Sunday’s NYT has a fascinating bit of investigative journalism on the cozy to insidious relationship between expert military analysts employed by major media organizations and the Pentagon’s public affairs team. In a nutshell, the Pentagon treated the retired senior officers acting as media analysts as its behind enemy lines information warriors, in place to shape the story of Iraq. Whenever bad information was reported, the Pentagon fed these analysts talking points which were then repeated on air or in print. What makes it really seamy is that these analysts were treated to first-class access to the upper echelons of DoD and used that access to advance their consulting gigs, helping to win contracts. DoD also paid big bucks to a media monitoring firm to track each and every media appearance of its team of analysts to monitor its efforts.

Now, a military friend of mine was not at all surprised by this–his reaction was duh, why wouldn’t they at least try this. I think the surprise is the extent of the effort, the blatant payoff in contracts for customers (sort of a play to get paid), and the monitoring and resulting swift retribution for those going off message.

Some seem to think this is more arrogance by the Administration, but my reaction was that smacks of insecurity even more.

Bush likes to analogize himself to Truman—a president who did what he thought was right, ended up rather unpopular as a result, but was vindicated by history. The key difference now exposed is that Truman never wavered in his forthrightness with the American people. Truman was vastly unpopular in 1948 as well, and yet still managed to defeat Dewey (famous photo to the contrary), because when he campaigned on the merits of his actions, his honest, forthright, and persuasive arguments carried the day. What we now see is that this administration has no honest, forthright, and persuasive arguments to offer the American people on the war with Iraq. Rather, it seeks to define the rhetorical terrain in the media in its favor because it knows that it can’t win on a level playing field, as its unvarnished arguments have little merit and even less persuasive value to the public at large.

Really, though, you should read the article and judge for yourself.

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Dr. Peter Howard focuses on US foreign policy and international security. He studies how the implementation of foreign policy programs produces rule-based regional security regimes, conducting research in Estonia on NATO Expansion and US Military Exchange programs and South Korea on nuclear negotiations with North Korea.