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Reflecting on Rumsfeld
Posted on Oct 17, 2006
By Stan Goff
Rendon had picked up where Hill and Knowlton, the Gulf War I perception managers, left off. H and K contracted with the U.S. government to hatch the “Kuwaiti babies thrown from their incubators by Iraqi soldiers” story. This complete fabrication mobilized massive press and public support for the Bush I invasion. It proved so persistent that an HBO movie about Gulf War I in 2004 actually echoed it again as fact. It should not surprise anyone that Victoria (Torie) Clarke, Pentagon spokesperson during the stop-and-start blitz at the beginning of this invasion, is a former Hill and Knowlton staffer.
Clarke went on to become the Pentagon’s assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, the office responsible directly to Rumsfeld for military perception management.
The Rendon Group was founded by former Democratic Party operator John Rendon. Rendon Group worked alongside Hill and Knowlton during Gulf War I, inside Kuwait, where it learned quickly how to mine America’s consumer witlessness.
Rendon boasted to the National Security Conference about his efficacy at selling a lie.
Hill and Knowlton actually published a book with so many lies it was almost a new fiction genre; it’s called “The Rape of Kuwait.” It was sent directly to troops before the launching of Desert Storm, presumably to remove their inhibitions and imbue them with the proper fighting spirit by dehumanizing their new enemy.
Retired Air Force Col. Sam Gardiner in October 2003 published a remarkable document online, “Truth From These Podia,” which I recommend. He found over 50 systematic and intentional lies that were generated for the express purpose of deceiving not some putative enemy but the press and the people of the United States and Britain.
He describes the evolution and structure of the White House’s Office of Global Communications—an office almost run by Rendon people—and how it generated news stories out of CENTCOM and elsewhere faster than the press could keep up in order to push deadlines and competition and thereby inhibit fact-checking.
As the stories come apart, sometimes in mere days or hours, the Rendon technique counsels that fabrications be allowed to “ linger” without comment.
This tactic is combined with message control—explaining why “Americans are not the running kind” can show up in two separate speeches in the same day by different members of the administration. Redefining all opposition to U.S. actions as “terrorists” is another example of building false associations through repetition—“echoing,” as it is called in the perception management trade.
How many times did we hear “September 11,” “terrorists” and “Saddam Hussein” in the same breath? Gardiner shows how this is a PSYOPS technique, a method to “construct memory.”
When the spinners get caught, they reconfigure the story with elliptical language, then let it “linger” some more. Weapons of mass destruction become a “weapons program,” then a “seeking” of WMD. George Tenet’s CIA “had questions” about the British forgery on Niger’s purported yellow-cake uranium. Caraccilo just “wanted to share that pride with the people back home.” And let the lingering constructed memory kick in as the next flurry of stories is released to bury the newly emergent lie.
Caraccilo, curiously enough, took the heat off the Bush administration in the Wilson-Plame case, and who could even remember the Jessica Lynch fable, the stage-management of Basra, the yellow-cake uranium, the Iraqi anthrax, the bio-weapons trailers, the Iraqis using American uniforms, the Iraqis who used white flags to lure their prey, the 10-year-old soldiers, the disappearing Scuds, the Iraqi killer drones, the Iraqi woman hanged by the Fedayeen for waving to an American, and the whole wretched list of fabrications that came and went—what I referred to in my book “Full Spectrum Disorder” as the CENTCOM lie of the day.
All of this was dutifully echoed by the press, blindly obedient to some self-censoring convention of their own, called “the presumption of goodwill and good faith,” which the press gives to government officials.
In March of this year, Mark Mazzetti, writing for the Los Angeles Times, filed a story entitled “ Gen. Casey says U.S. to keep up Iraq PR program.” It makes reference to another PR agency called the Lincoln Group that last year was exposed as the source for hundreds of faked stories that were being planted in Iraqi newspapers as part of the Pentagon effort to reacquire some semblance of the initiative there.
It would be credulous to the point of stupidity—absent the presumption of goodwill—for anyone to assume that this manipulative mind-set is aberrant in the Rumsfeld Pentagon or the Bush administration.
Because, of course, the first and most successful bit of perception management was that “the war was won but the peace was lost.” I have to challenge that. The war—the tactical war—was lost when the U.S. crossed the line of departure between Kuwait and Iraq on March 29, 2003.
At the end of the day, military success is not measured in tactical outcomes, but political ones. The “capture of Baghdad” was touted as a great military victory, but it was an abject failure and a trap. The capture of Baghdad toppled a political regime that had already decamped. But the political objective was regime change that implanted a regime subordinate to the U.S. in a pacified Iraq. The topping of Saddam was a foregone conclusion by everyone. Baghdad’s occupation was an intermediate objective.
But this managed myth of “winning the war” persists even among the war’s critics. As the memories of 2003 fade, and the fact of this big-picture defeat begins to penetrate our collective consciousness, the perception managers have been forced to ever more diligently attack American empathy.
* * *
The United States is not suffering from some collective personality disorder called compassion fatigue. We are suffering from the most well-funded thought-control experiment in history, more sophisticated and deadly by many orders of magnitude than anything contrived by Kim Jong Il—the latest bete noir of American public discourse, and we are suffering from the complicity of journalistic hacks like Judith Miller and the anodyne intellectual narcotics of policy think tanks.
It is our empathy that is under attack, because if it is aroused to a point where Iraqis or Afghans or even our own imperial soldiers become real people (and not a yellow-ribbon magnet), the jig is up.
So here is a simple reminder. This war is wanton cruelty in our name; there is no rationalization that can mitigate or excuse it; “we” will not win it and somehow transmogrify a swine into a swan ... and it is not over.
He is a veteran of the Jungle Operations Training Center in Panama and also taught military science at the United States Military Academy at West Point.
Goff is the author of the books “Hideous Dream—A Soldier’s Memoir of the U.S. Invasion of Haiti,” “Full Spectrum Disorder—The Military in the New American Century” and “Sex & War.”
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