Losing the Information War with Amendment 56

The Democrats are angry. Despite investing enormous effort undermining the military, things are going fairly well in Iraq. General Petraeus and the surge have been a success, not that you would know that from the media coverage, which has been, to say the least, sparse. The anti-Bush themes of an "Iraqi quagmire" and "surge failure" were premature, and all the congressional show hearings, the choreographed Code Pink performance art and the MoveOn.org smears were for naught. The president and the military did it right, and the Democrats got it wrong.

Now it's time for Democrats to change the subject, to distract the public, to pretend the dire predictions and the hysterics were about something else entirely, and hope the short memory of the electorate kills the issue by November.

It's also time for a little vengeance on the Pentagon.

The House passed Amendment 56 to the Defense Authorization Act for FY 2009 (384 to 23 in a voice vote), prohibiting the Department of Defense (DOD) from engaging in publicity or "propaganda" programs, banning funding for such programs and calling for an investigation by the Government Accounting Office (GAO) into the DOD Military Analyst Program. The justification is that Pentagon briefings on current operations presented to retired military pundits amounted to manipulating the media, and that it deceived the public with false information about the Iraq war.

"The President and members of his Administration led the country to war on the basis of unproven assertions, later confirmed to be false, and have continued to misrepresent the truth on the ground. The Hodes-DeFazio-DeLauro Amendment, which prohibits the Department of Defense from using funds for propaganda purposes and initiates a GAO and IG investigative report into past use of propaganda, is a vital step toward restoring the public's faith in information stemming from the Pentagon."
- Speaker Nancy Pelosi

The three sponsors of the Bill, Representatives Hodes, DeFazio and DeLauro, vote along party lines. Despite clear evidence to the contrary, they hold to their perspective that Iraq is a failure and the American people and the media have been deceived.

"The American people were spun by Bush Administration "message multipliers." They were fed Administration talking points, believing they were getting independent military analysis...Congress cannot allow an Administration to manipulate the public on false propaganda on matters of war and national security."
  - Rep. Paul Hodes (D-NH)

"What happened here was a violation of that law and that anybody would stand here on this floor and say that that law, which we have had in place for more than 50 years, should be repealed or undermined by one narrow-minded Administration or Vice President Cheney or anyone else who wants to manipulate intelligence to the Congress and American people to a war that should not have been initiated."
  - Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR)

"This is propaganda, it is a military and industrial complex in which military analysts, many who have ties with the contractors making money off of the war and parroting DOD talking points on the air to mislead the American public and the TV networks did nothing to prevent it". 
  - Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT)

Webster defines propaganda as the "spreading of ideas or information to further or damage a cause," it is also "ideas or allegations spread for such purpose." The popular connotation of the word is false information, or information used to deceive or mislead. The left uses the word as a negative label for information that does not conform to their view, a tool to demean and discredit, regardless of truth. Their purpose is to dominate what the public sees with their messages and to eliminate contradictory information.

In information warfare, this is called shaping the battle space.

Throughout this war, the military has been inundated with negative press. Damaging leaks were rampant, coming from the Democrats in the Senate and the House, from the CIA and the State Department, even from inside the Pentagon. Every setback was exaggerated in an unrelenting information campaign to shape public perception.

Disinformation from our enemies was accepted without critical analysis by much of the media. Papers worldwide splashed every unsubstantiated negative story they could find. Enemy agents posing as stringers were feeding false stories about American atrocities. Terror attacks were timed for the 24-hour news-cycle. The broadcast media's mantra for Iraq was "if it bleeds it leads" writ large.

The enemy knew it, and used it.

This relentless media assault frustrated and confounded the military, for whom the lessons of press malfeasance in Vietnam still rankle. How can you prosecute a war against a vicious enemy when your every action may be portrayed as criminal? How can you show success when failure is all Americans are allowed to see and hear? How do you get your message out when the press ignores or alters it? How can you tell the ground truth if no one is there to listen?

The Pentagon had to respond; the onslaught of negative press was affecting the morale of troops performing brilliantly in a very hard fight, and undermining a war effort they were duty bound to prosecute. Rather than inserting "propaganda," the military attempted to get accurate information out, and the only way to do it was to ensure former military commentators had the very best, uncorrupted information possible.

Military pundits already knew from the past that truth on the ground is seldom what's reported on the Six O'clock News. They understood the importance of that information getting through the media spin. On TV, a former officer speaks directly to the American people; the message gets through, unfiltered by the media template, from someone with experience.

The "propaganda" these honorable men presented came from good faith assessments, and verified intelligence and data from the field. Rather than these veterans being conspiratorial liars, as the authors of Amendment 56 would have you believe, some of the most accurate information about Iraq came from them, which is exactly why their briefings anger the Democrats.

There was no spin in General Petraeus' testimony on Capitol Hill. He was professional and honest about the dangers of the surge. He was also clear about the potential success. Congressional Democrats insulted this fine officer, allowed Code Pink lunatics to interrupt him, and pretended to wish him well. They then did everything they could to undermine him. The Democrats have used the men and women of our military as political props, easy targets for their anti-administration hysterics.

The military does not have the luxury of turnstile political alliances and situational ethics. They are loyal, even when betrayed by Congress. The job we have given them is to win our wars, and then they are punished for doing so.

A fact that you will not hear from the press is that military public affairs and media liaison offices stress a strict adherence to truth. Despite the myths we are fed from the left, the military understands that a lie will always come back to haunt you; while truth may be difficult at first, it is a far better and honorable course. The military still believes in honor. While individuals may break this code, they inevitably suffer for it. In each of the supposed "exposes" such as Abu Grab, Hadditha and Guantanamo Bay, the military had already conducted investigations and indicted those suspected of wrongdoing. They needed no prodding from the press.

The New York Times in particular excels at "uncovering" stories that were not hidden, and spinning them into scandal after the fact. An April 20, 2008 article by David Barstow, Behind TV Analysts, Pentagon's Hidden Hand, fueled this controversy. In cherry picked quotes, Barstow spins a dark conspiracy from what would have been called effective press relations in previous years. The hand was not hidden, and in fact was quite open,  as evidenced by the easy access Barstow apparently had to program specifics.

All told, this military effort was only a moderate success when compared to the massive message machine the left has built to gain information dominance in the media, also often using taxpayer dollars. The information dominance they enjoy corrupts all the major networks and print media.

No specifics on exactly what was misrepresented by military analysts about the Iraq war have been forthcoming from the Times.

Despite the many stories about American misbehavior eventually proven false, there are few retractions. In its arrogance, the press evidently feels it owes the public no correction or apology.

However, words and pictures are like bullets; you cannot take them back. Those words wasted American lives, encouraged and enabled our enemies, and caused untold suffering.

Much of what the American people believe about Iraq derives form images, ideas and narratives produced by people who hope for our failure and would gladly abandon Iraq to ruin. The consequence of their advocacy, as ever, does not trouble them. Our failure in Iraq would aid them politically and that is all that matters to some.

Amendment 56 is not about "propaganda." It is about controlling the information environment and hamstringing a source the Democrats cannot control. The difference between factual information and "propaganda" will be what Congressional Democrats determine it is, and ground truth, if told by the military, will require their certification. Amendment 56 is designed to strip one of the military's few defenses against political manipulation. That so many Republicans supported the amendment is more than discouraging. It shows how easily we are duped and how easily we can lose our freedoms to political sleight of hand.

To those of us who remember the last six years' media coverage of the war, the accusations made by the authors of Amendment 56 are absurd. Their claim that military pundits somehow slanted media reporting with disinformation that encouraged support for the war is a cynical political tactic and a significant exaggeration. At best, they were able in a small way to even a very uneven playing field.

In the battle for the hearts and minds of the American people, the Democrats work hard to silence information that undermines their agenda and they are winning. While the military fights for victory, Democrats plot their defeat, not on the battlefield, but in the minds of the very citizens they serve. In this, they diminish us as a nation and inch us ever closer to defeat.

The political fight for America's access to the truth, whatever the source, is one battle the military cannot fight for us. They must remain apolitical. This is a fight, we the people, must win for them.