Newsweek’s senior editor Jonathan Alter wrote an article for this week’s issue entitled “The Real Price of Propaganda” wherein he came down strongly against recent revelations that the Pentagon might be “buying” articles to be placed in Iraqi newspapers. On the one hand, there is some delicious irony in seeing an anti-propaganda column in an American periodical that is periodically so full of it. Yet, maybe more curious is how Alter seemed mostly disgusted by the amount of money the Pentagon might be paying for such an exercise without recognizing how inexpensive this is compared to the cost of waging a war measured in both dollars and lives. This is made even more hypocritical given Newsweek’s antagonism to this war. However, none of these glaring holes seemed to deter Alter from making his argument.
It is interesting that one of Alter’s major sources for this piece is that venerable bastion of geopolitical opinion, Rolling Stone magazine:
“We got into the war with the help of something called the Rendon Group, a secretive firm that won a huge government contract to ‘create the conditions for the removal of [Saddam] Hussein from power.’ (According to an article by James Bamford in last week's Rolling Stone, Rendon invented the ‘Iraqi National Congress’ and put Judith Miller and other reporters in touch with their bum sources on WMD.)”
Alter then informed us of the cost: “This year, the Pentagon granted three contractors $300 million over five years to offer ‘creative ideas’ for psychological operations aimed at what the PR experts call ‘international perception management.’"
Alter finally cut to the chase. However, after stating what appeared to be a logical explanation for this strategy (“If it helped build Iraqi democracy or blunted anti-American propaganda, it might even be worth it”), Alter allowed his disgust for this war to interfere with even his own sound reasoning:
“But exporting a bunch of budding Jayson Blairs simply feeds the perception of Americans as inept and hypocritical puppetmasters. If we won't withdraw our troops, can't we at least withdraw our ham-handed propaganda efforts?”
With this rhetorical question, Alter missed the possibility that such a strategy might further the goal that he supports, namely, withdrawing American troops. Moreover, such a psy-ops maneuver might, in fact, save the lives of some of these troops until the time comes when they can be withdrawn. Finally, as a magazine that has regularly complained about the billions of dollars being spent on this war, doesn’t it make sense to spend $300 million on such a strategy if it leads to a more expeditious resolution that ends up saving America billions of dollars down the road?
It seems that Alter’s anti-war sentiments are preventing him from seeing this inherent logic as well.