« Robert Waldmann's Dark Night of the Soul | Main | Why Oh Why Are We Ruled by These Malignant Incompetents Anyway? »

December 19, 2005

It Takes a Potemkin Village

Mark Thoma emails us that the New York Times is worth reading for the excellent Frank Rich:

It Takes a Potemkin Village - New York Times : WHEN a government substitutes propaganda for governing, the Potemkin village is all. Since we don't get honest information from this White House, we must instead, as the Soviets once did, decode our rulers' fictions to discern what's really happening. What we're seeing now is the wheels coming off: As the administration's stagecraft becomes more baroque, its credibility tanks further both at home and abroad. The propaganda techniques may be echt Goebbels, but they increasingly come off as pure Ali G.

The latest desperate shifts in White House showmanship say at least as much about our progress (or lack of same) in Iraq over the past 32 months as reports from the ground. When President Bush announced the end of "major combat operations" in May 2003, his Imagineers felt the need for only a single elegant banner declaring "Mission Accomplished." Cut to Nov. 30, 2005: the latest White House bumper sticker, "Plan for Victory," multiplied by Orwellian mitosis over nearly every square inch of the rather "Queer Eye" stage set from which Mr. Bush delivered his oration at the Naval Academy.

And to no avail. Despite the insistently redundant graphics - and despite the repetition of the word "victory" 15 times in the speech itself - Americans believed "Plan for Victory" far less than they once did "Mission Accomplished."... Mr. Bush's "Plan for Victory" speech was, of course, the usual unadulterated nonsense.... The specifics were phony.... Once again inflating the readiness of Iraqi troops, Mr. Bush claimed that the recent assault on Tal Afar "was primarily led by Iraqi security forces" - a fairy tale... Iraq's prime minister, Ibrahim al-Jaafari, promptly released a 59-page report documenting his own military's inadequate leadership, equipment and training.

But this variety of Bush balderdash is such old news that everyone except that ga-ga 25 percent instantaneously tunes it out.... What raised the "Plan for Victory" show to new heights of disinformation was the subsequent revelation that the administration's main stated motive for the address - the release of a 35-page document laying out a "National Strategy for Victory in Iraq" - was as much a theatrical prop as the stunt turkey the president posed with during his one furtive visit to Baghdad two Thanksgivings ago.

As breathlessly heralded by Scott McClellan, this glossy brochure was "an unclassified version" of the strategy in place since the war's inception in "early 2003." But Scott Shane of The New York Times... turned up... the document's originating author: Peter Feaver, a Duke political scientist who started advising the National Security Council only this June.... an expert on public opinion about war, not war.... [W]hat Mr. McClellan billed as a 2003 strategy for military victory is in fact a P.R. strategy in place for no more than six months. That solves the mystery of why Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey of the Army, who is in charge of training Iraqi troops, told reporters that he had never seen this "National Strategy" before its public release last month....

The Pentagon earmarks more than $100 million in taxpayers' money for various Lincoln Group operations, and it can't get any facts? Though the 30-year-old prime mover in the shadowy outfit, one Christian Bailey, fled from Andrea Mitchell... facts are proving not at all elusive... cash payoffs, trading in commercial Iraqi real estate and murky bidding procedures for lucrative U.S. government contracts.... The more we learn about such sleaze in the propaganda war, the more we see it's failing for the same reason as the real war: incompetence. Much as the disastrous Bremer regime botched the occupation of Iraq with bad decisions made by its array of administration cronies and relatives (among them Ari Fleischer's brother), so the White House doesn't exactly get the biggest bang for the bucks it shells out to cronies for fake news. Until he was unmasked as an administration shill, Armstrong Williams was less known for journalism than for striking a deal to dismiss a messy sexual-harassment suit against him in 1999....

Posted by DeLong at December 19, 2005 11:34 AM