The <strike>Ministry of Propaganda</strike> White House on War

Matt writes something that's true, but also weirdly specific, about the administration media management strategy:

If you think, as John McCain and George Bush and about 30 percent of Americans do, that an indefinite American military operation in Iraq is a good idea then you need to engage in a lot of propaganda operations. After all, realistically we are much more likely to leave Iraq because politicians representing the views of the 70 percent of the public who doesn't think that an indefinite American military operation in Iraq is a good idea than we are to be literally driven out by Iraqis who oppose the U.S. presence.

This is just one of the ways in which a protracted Iraq-style engagement tends to undermine the small-d and small-r democratic and republican values on which the country was founded. You see this in the way that David Petraeus has become a key official administration spokesman and you see it in the Times story about semi-covert operations happening on our cable networks. During Vietnam, of course, we had the government's security apparatus spending time working against anti-war groups, and for all we know this sort of thing is why the Bush administration is so eager to wiretap people without warrants.

There's a weird tendency to diagnose a bunch of different aspects of war as being somehow unique to the sort of war we're fighting now. When I did that Bloggingheads debate with Glenn Greenwald, he kept speaking of torture as being an inevitable result of "aggressive war". But this is silly. War crimes are not a special characteristic of the invading side; we did lots of things in World War II that would now be recognized as war crimes (Dresden, Tokyo), as well as number of run-of-the-mill war crimes like shooting inconvenient POWs and desecrating bodies. Nor was Sherman's March to the Sea strictly within the Geneva Conventions. People who are trying to kill each other tend to get sloppy about the niceties of things like not slapping around your prisoners for information--whether they are the invader or the invadee.

Similarly, propaganda campaigns are a) a characteristic of any major government program and b) particularly characteristic of military operations; government control of the media during World War II was vastly more extensive than anything they even dare hint at now, though it perhaps loses out to Woodrow Wilson's administration in the creepy totalitarian sweepstakes.

We're not seeing the Bush administration trying to manage the media because of the kind of war this is--they were doing it back when the war was extremely popular, too. The administration is trying to manage the media because that's what politicians do, especially in the area of foreign policy, where there are few voters to bear eyewitness to their deception. You have to watch the bastards all the time, not just when they're doing something you don't like.