David Barstow's recent New York Times expose Behind TV Analysts, Pentagon's Hidden Hand describes how the Bush administration used and was used by a coterie of opportunistic retired military officers posing as unbiased media advisers to the fourth estate in its coverage of the so-called long war on terror. It is long overdue but hardly qualifies as news.
While many of the details are new and the scope is laid out very well, the basics of this psyop operation have been obvious for years. Indeed, they were common knowledge throughout the Pentagon and among most responsible (and irresponsible) defense reporters when I retired on May 31, 2003. And the sordid story Barstow reports is only part of the psyop operation the Bush administration and the Pentagon have against the American people ... the corrupting influence of embedding reporters in combat units, for example, has yet to be analyzed in comparable detail by a major news paper, like the New York Times (which has gone along with the embedding operation), although its pernicious effects were addressed early in the Iraq War by George Wilson, the dean of Washington defense reporters, when he came back from his embedded assignment.
The domestic psyops operation is a perverted vision of how to go about achieving one of the most important parts of shaping a successful grand strategy: namely the requirement to build up and sustain the internal national political cohesion of a nation at war. Sun Tzu, in the first chapter of the oldest extant treatise on the conduct of war, stressed the overwhelming importance of this task and recommended that the most essential aspect of this effort should be wise, humane, and moral leadership, so that the people willingly share the interests and burdens of the leadership. (See my earlier article on the five components of Grand Strategy here.)
Great political leaders like Churchill, Lincoln, and Roosevelt sensed this requirement, at least in part. But wise and moral leadership is not the only way to pump up cohesion; there are other, more sinister methods of attaining this goal, at least in the short term. Hitler, for example, was a master of building German cohesion by creating and manipulating a climate of fear inflamed and supported by clever use of propaganda.
After Vietnam, many, if not most in the American military (the uniformed members of the military reform movement generally excepted), convinced themselves that we won the war on the battlefield, but lost it at home. This in itself was a stunning admission of a congenital incompetence to appreciate the power of grand strategy. Based on this faulty appreciation, the majority of the military establishment (which includes the contractors and politicians benefiting from the Pentagon's money flow) resolved to never again lose the support of the American people.
Rather than ask the unpleasant question of why it lost the support of the American people in Vietnam, the Pentagon and its supporters, with their characteristic brutish insensitivity decided to answer the cohesion problem in a simple, straightforward, albeit primitive way. Namely, they would prevent another stab in the back by the American people by preparing the battlefield at home with sophisticated info operations targeted against the American people -- read media manipulation, of which this article about retired military as media "analysts" is ONLY a part. Their effort was abetted by a propensity to promote ethically-challenged careerists more interested in promoting themselves and making money after they retire, than in serving their county.
Add 9-11 to the the hi-tech art of spin control, together with unscrupulous political leaders like Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld, and a self-organizing neo-Hitlerian brew of fear reinforced by hi-tech propaganda was probably inevitable. That this short sighted mixture of policies shaping the domestic dimensions of our grand strategy is now clearly a central theme in the so-called long war on terror is now beyond doubt. It virtually guarantees an eventual breakdown in cohesion at home... the beginnings of which are already becoming evident.
A grand strategy that pumps up internal cohesion through lies and deception is always a loser over the long term, because as Lincoln reportedly said, "You can fool all of the people some of the time, some of the people all of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time." On the other hand, in a culture dumbed down by the sound byte mentality of the mainstream media, it may take a long time and a huge waste of blood and treasure to reach Lincoln's end state, particularly when the propaganda machine hosing the American people is run by a voluntary, not to mention enthusiastic, cooperation by the majority of the fourth estate establishment, with only a few exceptions, like the McClatchey newspapers.