Results-Based Propaganda Analysis


Writing in the Washington Post, former CIA officer Reuel Marc Gerecht makes the case for covert propaganda in Iraq, based largely on the fact that, well, we did it during the Cold War, too.

The United States ran enormous covert and not-so-covert operations known as "CA" activities throughout the Cold War. With the CIA usually in the lead, Washington spent hundreds of millions of dollars on book publishing, magazines, newspapers, radios, union organizing, women's and youth groups, scholarships, academic foundations, intellectual salons and societies, and direct cash payments to individuals (usually scholars, public intellectuals and journalists) who believed in ideas that America thought worthy of support.

It's difficult to assess the influence of these covert-action programs. But when an important Third World political leader writes that a well-known liberal Western book had an enormous impact on his intellectual evolution—a book that, unbeknownst to him was translated and distributed in his country at CIA expense—then it's clear that the program had value. It shouldn't be that hard for educated Americans to support such activity, even though one often can't gauge its effectiveness.

Nor should it be so hard to support even more aggressive clandestine action in developing democracies such as Iraq. Let us make a Cold War parallel.

That's a pretty thin three-pronged case: 1) We used X during Cold War, then won the Cold War, so X is valid; 2) this one guy says that this one book really blew his mind; and 3) democracy-building in Iraq is analogous enough to empire-undermining in the Soviet Bloc.

Gerecht, as supporters of propaganda are wont to do, tries to bathe all Cold War cultural spookery (and therefore their WoT descendants) in the rosy glow of Radio Free Europe. But RFE, to put it mildly, was no Hi magazine; nor was its operation at all equivalent to surreptitiously handing bags of cash to pro-American journalists; nor was it aimed at a struggling new quasi-democracy, one patrolled by 100,000-plus U.S. troops.

Gerecht is right about at least one thing—it is indeed "difficult to assess the influence of these covert-action programs." Which is an excellent reason to avoid giving the Bush Administration carte blanche to revive each and every one of them.

Link via Glenn Reynolds.