Personal and academic blog. Explores the borderlands between rhetoric, politics and intelligence.


Deception: Warm at first, but then it freezes and starts to itch

NY Times today brings a story about Pentagon's considerations about bringing combat information/disinformation and psychological warfare into the public realm.

"Pentagon and military officials directly involved in the debate say that such a secret propaganda program, for example, could include planting news stories in the foreign press or creating false documents and Web sites translated into Arabic as an effort to discredit and undermine the influence of mosques and religious schools that preach anti-American principles."

This is not uncontroversial of course and an earlier initiative from Donald Rumsfeld was closed some years ago. But now the idea is being revived, after frustration that American companies can sell their cars even to those hostile to the USA, but the government can't sell its democracy.

It is a very legitimate concern that is the basis of this thinking, but it is also flawed. The government officials readily use terms taken from a market thinking, but they fail to take the analysis that goes with it. Why don't people in the Middle East buy democracy as readily as cars? Because they lack the incentives and the intellectual surplus. The US must show that its brand of democracy - and not just market economy - is worth buying. And will PsyOps help them out in this? Only in short term gains - especially in an information world, where deception in on little arab newspaper could find itself on the front-page of NY Times the next day.

Instead the US should help nurture the Arab journalists and media, by sponsoring independent newspapers and pressuring Arab rulers to lift their heavy-handed control of the press.

Because as Erasmus of Rotterdam said:

Being good is the most expedient way to maintain the appearance of good.


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