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War Is Sell
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War Is Sell

War Is Sell

by Laura Miller

"From a marketing point of view, you don't introduce new products in August," White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. told the New York Times in September. Card was explaining what the Times characterized as a "meticulously planned strategy to persuade the public, the Congress, and the allies of the need to confront the threat from Saddam Hussein."

Officially, President George W. Bush is claiming that he sees war as an option of last resort, and many members of the American public seem to have taken him at his word. In reality, say journalists and others who have closely observed the key players in decision-making positions at the White House, they have already decided on war.

In November, key Pentagon advisor Richard Perle stunned British members of parliament when he told them that even a "clean bill of health" from UN chief weapons inspector Hans Blix would not stop a US attack on Iraq. "Evidence from one witness on Saddam Hussein's weapons program will be enough to trigger a fresh military onslaught," reported the Mirror of London, paraphrasing Perle's comments at an all-party meeting on global security.

"America is duping the world into believing it supports these inspections," said Peter Kilfoyle, a member of the British Labour party and a former British defense minister. "President Bush intends to go to war even if inspectors find nothing. This makes a mockery of the whole process and exposes America's real determination to bomb Iraq."

Even the US Central Intelligence Agency, hardly a pacifist organization, has come under pressure from White House and Pentagon hawks unhappy with the CIA's reluctance to offer intelligence assessments that would justify an invasion.

"The Pentagon is bringing relentless pressure to bear on the agency to produce intelligence reports more supportive of war with Iraq," reported Robert Dreyfuss in the American Prospect in December. "Morale inside the US national-security apparatus is said to be low, with career staffers feeling intimidated and pressured to justify the push for war."

Much of the pro-war information cited by the White House comes from the Iraqi National Congress (INC), a front group established in the early 1990s by the Rendon Group. (PR Watch's Fourth Quarter 2001 issue detailed the Rendon Group's role in creating the INC.)

"Most Iraq hands with long experience in dealing with that country's tumultuous politics consider the INC's intelligence-gathering abilities to be nearly nil," Dreyfuss stated. "The Pentagon's critics are appalled that intelligence provided by the INC might shape US decisions about going to war against Baghdad. At the CIA and at the State Department, Ahmed Chalabi, the INC's leader, is viewed as the ineffectual head of a self-inflated and corrupt organization skilled at lobbying and public relations, but not much else."

Focus, People, Focus

The techniques being used to sell a war in Iraq are familiar PR strategies. The message is developed to resonate with the targeted audiences through the use of focus groups and other types of market research and media monitoring. The delivery of the message is tightly controlled. Relevant information flows to the media and the public through a limited number of well-trained messengers, including seemingly independent third parties.

A seamless blend of private and public money and organizations are executing their war campaign in the face of a sinking US economy and increasing public opposition to attacking Iraq. But with a Republican-controlled Congress and a largely pliant corporate media, there is little to challenge the White House agenda. Its diplomatic and political maneuvers have been tightly choreographed in concert with a handful of right-wing think tanks, the newly concocted Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, and well connected PR and lobby firms that now dominate media coverage of US foreign policy in the Middle East.

According to the New York Times, intensive planning for the "Iraq rollout" began in July. Bush advisers checked the Congressional calendar for the best time to launch a "full-scale lobbying campaign." The effort started the day after Labor Day as Congress reconvened and Congressional leaders received invitations to the White House and the Pentagon for Iraq briefings with Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and CIA director George Tenet. White House communications aides scouted locations for the President's September 11 address, which served as a prelude to his militaristic speech to the United Nations Security Council.

The Washington Post reported in July that the White House had created an Office of Global Communications (OGC) to "coordinate the administration's foreign policy message and supervise America's image abroad." In September, the Times of London reported that the OGC would spend $200 million for a "PR blitz against Saddam Hussein" aimed "at American and foreign audiences, particularly in Arab nations skeptical of US policy in the region." The campaign would use "advertising techniques to persuade crucial target groups that the Iraqi leader must be ousted."

The Bush administration has not hesitated to use outright disinformation to bolster the case for war. In December, CBS 60 Minutes interviewed a former CIA agent who investigated and debunked the oft-mentioned report that September 11 airplane hijacker Mohammed Atta met with an Iraqi intelligence official in Prague several months before the deadly attacks on September 11. "Despite a lack of evidence that the meeting took place," the CBS report noted, "the item was cited by administration officials as high as Vice President Dick Cheney and ended up being reported so widely that two-thirds of Americans polled by the Council on Foreign Relations believe Iraq was behind the terrorist attacks of 9/11."

The Battle of the Band

"We're getting the band together," said White House Communications Director Dan Bartlett in September. The "band," explained Newsweek's Martha Brant, refers to "the people who brought you the war in Afghanistan--or at least the accompanying public-relations campaign. ... Now they're back for a reunion tour on Iraq."

A group of young White House up-and-comers, the "band" was meeting daily on a morning conference call to plan media strategy with the aim of controlling "the message within the administration so no one--not even Vice President Dick Cheney--freelances on Iraq," Brant wrote. Its main players are Bartlett, Office of Global Communications director Tucker Eskew, and James Wilkinson, former Deputy Communications director who has now been reassigned to serve as spokesperson to Gen. Tommy Franks at US Central Command in Qatar. Other frequent participants in the planning sessions have included top Pentagon spokesperson Victoria Clarke, Cheney advisor Mary Matalin, and Secretary of State Colin Powell's mouthpiece, Richard Boucher.

Meanwhile, the State Department is providing media training to Iraqi dissidents to "help make the Bush administration's argument for the removal of Saddam Hussein," reported PR Week on September 2. Muhammed Eshaiker, who serves on the board of the Iraqi Forum for Democracy, was one of the State Department trainees. "Iraqis in exile were not really taking advantage of the media opportunities," he said during an interview on National Public Radio. "We probably stumble and wait and say well, I mean what's the use--everybody knows [Hussein's] a criminal, so what's the use if we just add another story or another crime? But everything counts! ... If we keep hammering on the same nail, the nail is going to find its way through."

US Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld has used an informal "strategic communications" group of Beltway lobbyists, PR people and Republican insiders to hone the Pentagon's message. Pentagon public affairs head Victoria Clarke, who used to run Hill & Knowlton's DC office, is reported to have assembled the Rumsfeld group. Participants "intermittently offer messaging advice to the Pentagon," reported PR Week on August 26. One of the Rumsfeld group's projects is linking the anti-terrorism cause with efforts to convince the public "of the need to engage 'rogue states'--including Iraq--that are likely to harbor terrorists."

According to military analyst William Arkin, Rumsfeld's group is doing more than merely spinning rationales for attacking Iraq. Writing for the November 24 Los Angeles Times, Arkin called Rumsfeld's communication strategy "a policy shift that reaches across all the armed services," as "Rumsfeld and his senior aides are revising missions and creating new agencies to make 'information warfare' a central element of any US war."

"Information warfare" blurs the line between distributing factual information and psychological warfare. During the current buildup against Iraq, for example, the Bush administration's statements have been calculated to create confusion about whether an actual US invasion is imminent. Such confusion can be a useful weapon against an enemy, forcing Saddam Hussein to divide his efforts between diplomatic initiatives and military preparations. The confusion is so complete, however, that even the American people have little idea what their leaders are actually planning.

The Committee for the Invasion of Iraq

The anti-Hussein public relations work is also being done by a number of front groups and pundits with close ties to the Pentagon and White House. These private-sector war boosters are making the rounds of TV news programs and newspaper editorial pages. What won't be apparent to the average US media consumer are the many tangled connections that exist between them.

The newly-formed Committee for the Liberation of Iraq (CLI) sits at the center of the PR campaign, which is coordinated closely with other groups that are actively promoting an attack on Iraq, including the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, Middle East Forum, Project for a New American Century, the American Enterprise Institute, Hudson Institute, Hoover Institute, and the clients of media relations firm Benador Associations.

CLI sends its message to American citizens through meetings with newspaper editorial boards and journalists, framing the debate and providing background materials written by a close-knit web of supporters. CLI also works closely with Condoleezza Rice and other administration officials to sponsor foreign policy briefings and dinners.

"It is also encouraging its members to hold lectures around the US, creating opportunities to penetrate local media markets," reported PR Week on November 25. "Members have already been interviewed on MSNBC and Fox News Channel, and articles have appeared in the Washington Post and the New York Times."

The CLI's mission statement says the group "was formed to promote regional peace, political freedom and international security by replacing the Saddam Hussein regime with a democratic government that respects the rights of the Iraqi people and ceases to threaten the community of nations." CLI representatives have made it clear that they plan to focus the debate on regime change, regardless of what weapons inspectors find or don't find inside Iraq. Although CLI uses humanitarian buzzwords on its web site and strives for a bipartisan look, its leadership and affiliations are decidedly right-wing, militaristic and very much in step with the Bush administration.

CLI president Randy Scheunemann is a well-connected Republican military and foreign policy advisor who has worked as National Security Advisor for Senators Trent Lott and Bob Dole. He also owns Orion Strategies, a small government-relations PR firm.

CLI is ostensibly "an independent entity," although it is expected to "work closely with the administration," the Washington Post's Peter Slevin reported on November 4. "At a time when polls suggest declining enthusiasm for a US-led military assault on Hussein, top officials will be urging opinion makers to focus on Hussein's actions in response to the United Nations resolution on weapons inspections--and on his past and present failings. They aim to regain momentum and prepare the political ground for his forcible ouster, if necessary."

According to former Secretary of State George Schultz, who chairs CLI's advisory board, the committee "gets a lot of impetus from the White House," essentially serving as a public outlet for some of the Bush administration's more hawkish thinking.

CLI also has a number of direct connections with the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and other conservative think tanks that focus on the Middle East. According to reporter Jim Lobe, it "appears to be a spin-off of the Project for a New American Century (PNAC), a front group consisting mainly of neo-conservative Jews and heavy-hitters from the Christian Right, whose public recommendations on fighting the 'war against terrorism' and US backing for Israel in the conflict in the occupied territories have anticipated to a remarkable degree the administration's own policy course."

PNAC was founded by William Kristol and Robert Kagan, both of whom sit on PNAC's board of directors. Kristol edits the conservative Weekly Standard and is also a CLI advisory board member. Kagan was George Shultz's speechwriter during his tenure as President Reagan's Secretary of State. CLI is chaired by another PNAC director--Bruce P. Jackson, a former vice president at Lockheed Martin who also served as an aide to former Secretaries of Defense Frank Carlucci and Dick Cheney.

Other CLI advisory board members include:

  • former House Speaker Newt Gingrich

  • former Senator Bob Kerrey

  • Teamster President James Hoffa, Jr.

  • retired Generals Barry McCaffrey, Wayne Downing and Buster Glosson

  • Jeane Kirkpatrick, a White House and Pentagon advisor under former presidents Reagan and Bush who is currently an AEI senior fellow

  • Danielle Pletka, AEI vice president for Foreign and Defense Policy

  • former CIA director James Woolsey

  • top Pentagon advisor and AEI fellow Richard Perle, who helped sell the 1991 war in the Persian Gulf as co-chair of the Committee for Peace and Security in the Gulf (CPSG). According to journalist Jim Lobe, CPSG "worked closely with both the Bush Sr. administration in mobilizing support of the war, particularly in Congress, and with a second group financed by the Kuwaiti monarchy called Citizens for a Free Kuwait. CPSG also received a sizable grant from the Wisconsin-based Lynde & Harry Bradley Foundation, a major funder of both PNAC and AEI."

  • former New York Democratic Representative Stephen Solarz, who was Perle's former co-chair at CPSG

Trust Us, We're Experts

A number of Iraq hawks, including Perle and Woolsey, are clients of Eleana Benador, whose PR firm, Benador Associates, doubles as an "international speakers bureau." Other Benador clients, many of whom have a prior history of advancing aggressive military policies and promoting dirty wars, include:
  • conservative Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer, who criticized the New York Times in August for reporting that prominent Republicans were dissenting from Bush's Iraq war plans

  • dissident Iraqi nuclear scientist Dr. Khidir Hamza

  • Alexander Haig, former US Secretary of State under Ronald Reagan

  • Michael Ledeen, another AEI fellow and a prominent figure in the Reagan administration's Iran/Contra scandal who helped broker the covert arms deal between the US and Iran

In an October 14 article for, Bill Berkowitz reported that Benador's "high-powered media relations" company gets her clients "maximum exposure on cable's talking-head television programs and [places] their op-ed pieces in a number of the nation's major newspapers." Benador and her clients have assumed a prominent role in shaping the public debate over US Middle East policy.

Benador Associates lists 34 speakers on its web site, at least nine of whom are connected with the American Enterprise Institute, the Washington Institute and the Middle East Forum. "Although these three privately-funded organizations promote views from only one end of the political spectrum," notes British journalist Brian Whitaker, "the amount of exposure that they get with their books, articles and TV appearances is extraordinary."

The Washington Institute publishes books, places newspaper articles, holds luncheons and seminars, and testifies before Congress. Whitaker calls it "the most influential of the Middle East think tanks." Its board of advisors include Alexander Haig, along with CLI advisory board members Richard Perle, George Shultz, and Jeane Kirkpatrick.

The Washington Institute "takes credit for placing up to 90 articles written by its members--mainly 'op-ed' pieces--in newspapers during the last year," Whitaker writes. "Fourteen of those appeared in the Los Angeles Times, nine in New Republic, eight in the Wall Street Journal, eight in the Jerusalem Post, seven in the National Review Online, six in the Daily Telegraph, six in the Washington Post, four in the New York Times and four in the Baltimore Sun."

The Middle East Forum (MEF) is headed by Daniel Pipes, a frequent guest on TV public affairs shows. It publishes Middle East Quarterly and Middle East Intelligence Bulletin, an email newsletter sent free to journalists, academics, and other interested groups.

MEF also sponsors Campus Watch, a project that "monitors and critiques Middle East studies in North America, with an aim to improving them." What this means in practice is that Campus Watch attacks university professors and departments that are perceived as harboring pro-Arab sympathies, "working for the mullahs" or encouraging "militant Islam." Its web site provides a form to report on "Middle East-related scholarship, lectures, classes, demonstrations, and other activities relevant to Middle East studies" and lists academics that "Campus Watch has identified as apologists for Palestinian and Islamist violence."

Like Benador, MEF provides its own "list of experts ... to guide television and radio bookers" and to speak in other venues. Three of MEF's experts, in fact, are also listed on Benador's list: Khalid Durán, director of the Council on Middle Eastern Affairs; Michael Rubin, a AEI visiting fellow and Pentagon advisor, and Meyrav Wurmser, director of the Center for Middle East Policy at the conservative Hudson Institute and the former executive director of the Middle East Media Research Institute. MEF's list of experts also includes two staff members from the Washington Institute as well as PNAC/CLI's William Kristol.


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