Military Propaganda for Domestic Consumption
This oped piece, written by the Iraq command’s chief information officer can only be seen as propaganda. It was placed on the neocon compliant editorial page of one of the leading American newspapers. The intended audience is obviously the American electorate. This is domestic propaganda conducted by the armed forces on behalf of the policy of a particular political party and administration. It is propaganda directed at the American people by a man in the uniform of the United States Army. The American people revere their Army.
Overseas propaganda in support of a military campaign or political goal is a legitimate activity. Domestic propaganda conducted by the US Armed forces to keep the American people “on board” is not.
I respectfully dissent.
Yes, this is “propaganda,” in the benign sense of providing information in an attempt to persuade an audience toward one’s point of view. To say that it is done “on behalf of the policy of a particular political party and administration,” though, is not quite right.
The United States is at war and the United States Army is the chief instrument of that war. This war was initiated by a duly elected president, who has since been re-elected, with the overwhelming support of both Houses of Congress. It is, therefore, the policy of the United States of America that Caldwell is defending, not that of a political faction. That remains true even though the war is now controversial and many, especially those in the opposition party, are opposed to its continuance.
Caldwell represents “137,000 U.S. servicemen and servicewomen” who daily “lace up their boots, strap on their body armor and drive ahead with our mission.” It is perfectly reasonable for him to tell the American people about those soldiers are doing and progress they are making. Doing so not only helps maintain troop morale but assures the public that their military is doing its job.
His op-ed makes no pitch for a change in policy or even for the continuation of the current one. He merely offers his professional opinion about a current topic of debate:
I studied civil wars at West Point and at the Army Command and Staff College. I respect the credentials and opinions of those who want to hang that label here. But I respectfully — and strongly — disagree. I see the Iraqi people suffering from overlapping terrorist campaigns by extremist groups combined with the mass criminality that too often accompanies the sudden toppling of a dictatorship. This poses a different military challenge than does a civil war.
I happen to agree with Caldwell’s position on the civil war debate, as I have noted before, and agree that whether it is a “civil war” or something else matters tactically and strategically. (For an excellent counterpoint, see Stephen Biddle’s “Seeing Baghdad, Thinking Saigon” in the March/April Foreign Affairs, arguing Iraq is in a “communal civil war.”)
Where exactly we should draw the line on serving officers talking to the American public about matters of public policy, I’m not sure. This seems to me to be well short of crossing it, however.