Posted on December 5, 2005
Clarence Page, writing in the Chicago Times (registration required) headlines the latest bogus scandal-of-week thus: “When press is paid to lie, the truth always comes out”
Hard to disagree with that sentiment, except of course that the story he’s referring to is the one broken by the LA Times last week, in which it was revealed that the US military was paying the free Iraqi press to run truthful stories that had admittedly pro-government, pro-US slants.
Let us stipulate and then move on: It is a vast improvement over the bad old days to discover that an Iraqi editor might have the option to run, or not run, an article supportive of the government for pecuniary gain, rather than in fear of his own or of his children’s lives – in Mr. Page’s eyes, running a self-serving truth is the height of moral arrogance, not to mention folly: Who do these people think they are, over there? The good guys?
It is not entirely surprising that Mr. Page would expect those of us in favor of freedom and democracy in Iraq to commit ritual suicide at the revelation that the military has indulged in an Information Campaign during a time of war, although it does reveal something of his limitations as a strategist. Apparently he thinks it would be far better for US troops and their Iraqi allies to fight, die and lose the war by having conceded the moral high ground to witless passivity and mere brute force.
This is a campaign that will be decided in the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people, and ultimately to the hearts and minds of the broader Arab and Islamic street – that’s the tie-in between Iraq and the Global War on Terror that people like Mr. Page obdurately refuse to acknowledge: Freedom and modernity vs. a fantasist return to a land-that-never-was, the pipe dream of the 7th Islamist caliphate. In competition with the idea of “one man, one vote,” we face an enemy that not only proudly cuts peoples throats on internet videos as a part of an on-going intimidation campaign, but often strategically times their mass casualty attacks against innocent passersby to attempt to push good news off the front pages and television screens, thereby hoping to achieve information battlespace dominance for their own IO campaign. In this, alas, their allies, witting or otherwise, are legion.
It would have been perfect if we could have gotten good (and to repeat: truthful) news into the Iraqi media without having to pay for access to their pages, but we don’t yet live in a perfect world, and Iraq is still very far from being a perfect democracy. Whether it gets there or not is the issue in contest, and the IO campaign to convince the Iraqi people that there is a future in self-rule through demonstrated successes is the quickest way to sap the will-to-fight of the insurgency while continuing to attentuate its passive support. In combination, this would mean ending the killing, ensuring security, installing democracy and bringing our troops back home.
Which you’d think that Mr. Page would support, but it turns out: No. Because it’s clear from his writings that we’re not supposed to win. That winning, either for us or for a fledgling Iraqi democracy, would be somehow wrong.
It would have been helpful if the LA Times could have resisted the urge to publish their findings that the military was paying to run truthful stories in the Iraqi media, thereby removing another arrow from the military quiver – an arrow, I might point out, that doesn’t actually kill anyone – but, and this is important, they were perfectly well within their rights to do so. After all – as uninterested “citizens of the world,” admirably neutral, and having no particular care which way the chips might fall in Iraq: Bloody theocratic tyranny or popular democracy, a win for the US or a crushing defeat – who are they to judge?
But for Mr. Page to tendentiously argue that telling the truth, even one that serves our interest, is somehow equivalent to pushing a lie takes Orwellian logic to new and previously unexplored depths. We should thank him – rarely has a pundit’s descent into sputtering, indignant inanity had the benefit of so eloquent a diarist.