Imperial Imagemaking

- Dennis Small

" . . . for large democracies, the home front is the critical theatre and words and images are the key weapons" (General Wesley Clark, a contender for the Democrat Party’s nomination to contest the 2004 US Presidential election, Press, 7/11/03).

"Every government is run by liars, and nothing they say should be believed" (American journalist IF Stone).

"All Bush wants is Iraqi oil" (Nelson Mandela).

When Saddam Hussein's statue in Baghdad was toppled on April 9, 2003, by US Marines using an armoured vehicle and chain, the Bush Administration got a carefully calculated image to beam around the world. This image was intended to signal the fall of the dictator and so the liberation of the Iraqi people. Whether also carefully calculated or only a relatively spontaneous decision on the spot, an American flag was momentarily wrapped around the dictator's head just before the statute was pulled down (a Freudian slip?!). It was however noted that the gesture provoked an unfavourable reaction from the Iraqis present, and an Iraqi flag was then quickly found to replace the American emblem. This whole episode was a most revealing instance of imperial imagemaking in the so-called "war on terror". It symbolised both the regime change desired by Bush and co. and at the same time the underlying agenda of the American Administration. All in all, it amounted to a graphic example of the US's penchant for blundering public relations (PR).

The incident, in fact, sent a shock wave around the Arab world. While it might have again demonstrated American power to inflict "shock and awe", its long-term effects will be undoubtedly inimical to the superpower's imperial objectives. For some of us who watched the event on TV, it was all so very obviously a contrived attempt at perception management. Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber in the introduction to their book, "Weapons of Mass Deception: The Uses of Propaganda in Bush's War on Iraq" (Center for Media and Democracy, Tarcher/Penguin, 2003), focus on this particular moment of media drama. They analyse it well. As they note, even the Boston Globe observed that there was a "self-conscious and forced quality" to the images (p3). Indeed, there was only a relatively small crowd of about 200 people present. Firdos Square, where the action took place, was in fact largely empty as a Reuters long-shot photo showed. Furthermore, it was "ringed by US tanks and Marines who had moved in to seal off the square before admitting the Iraqis" (ibid.); and even among this crowd there were men and women who cursed Bush and America.

As time has proved, with mounting and more devastating attacks on the invaders of Iraq since the officially declared end of the war on May 1, 2003, the American Administration has become deeply mired in its own imperial imagemaking. Its grasp on reality has got locked into its own mythology and mythmaking. Appropriately enough, during President Bush's visit to London in November 2003, protesters toppled a giant mock effigy of Bush in Trafalgar Square.

Perception Management And Terrorist Control

As nationalist resistance deepens in Iraq in late 2003, the Bush government is getting increasingly concerned about how to manage international perception of the war and, more especially, to counter the growing disillusion among the American public. While opinion polls still indicate majority support for the Administration's policy in Iraq, there has been a definite fall-off in such support. The Pentagon has "begun to prevent news organisations from taking footage of coffins arriving home", as well as suppressing publicity about funerals, along with the numbers and injury details of the many wounded (e.g., Press, 7/11/03).

Meantime: "The US dismisses the notion that it is a threat to world peace, as a majority of European Union [EU] citizens believe" (Press, 5/11/03). A State Department spokesperson rejected these perceptions as reflective of reality, claiming that the US "is motivated by a desire to expand stability, expand peace, and expand freedom throughout the world in partnership with its friends and allies" (ibid.). Yet, ironically, a survey has found that over half of people in the EU see the US equal with Iran and North Korea. For sure, the "axis of evil" propaganda has badly backfired for the US in various parts of the world. "Only [American ally] Israel fared worse in the poll . . ." (ibid.). Furthermore, polls have shown that over half of the British public believes that Prime Minister Tony Blair lied about the threat posed by Iraq. In Aotearoa/NZ, a survey has found that positive feelings towards the US have clearly declined to quite a significant extent. To be sure, a study of world opinion by the Pew Research Centre for the People and the Press indicates that most people are concerned about the US as a threat to peace.

The State Department commented that "it was working on its image problem" (ibid.). To this end, the Department spokesperson declared: "The best way to deal with perception is to put out the facts as you know them and to state your policy and stick up for what you believe in and let your actions speak for you" (ibid.). The trouble for this approach is that there is too much information available from American strategists and policymakers at the highest level disclosing the imperial nature of US aims; and, moreover, the unfolding consequences of the superpower's actions have often become overly visible. From Morocco to Bali, from Iraq to Saudi Arabia and Turkey, US military intervention has been instrumental in spreading terror across the globe.

Without doubt, such intervention has been for many years the prime source of the globalisation of terror, both directly and indirectly. Completely devoid of any sense of irony, the State Department actually cites the US occupation of Iraq, widely portrayed in Europe as a mess, as an emerging success story - certainly "not nearly as bad as it looks"! (ibid.). So, more than ever today, we have Shakespeare's greatest and most pervasive theme - the conflict between reality and appearance - played out on the world stage with real life and death results. The battle for the mind is central to this.

If September 11, 2001, was the trigger that sent some commentators formerly on the Left like Christopher Hitchens scuttling off to join the Bush/Blair/Howard bombing brigade, it also prompted some of the more thoughtful on the Right to weigh in on the anti-imperial side. One prominent such voice is that of Chalmers Johnson, a conservative politics professor and Asia expert who has also been a US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) consultant. Johnson is the author of "Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire" and of the forthcoming "The Sorrows of Empire". He has been so bold and provocative as to remark that: "It is possible to think of the suicidal attacks of September 11 as a contemporary version of the Sepoy Mutiny" (Harper's Magazine, November 2003, "The War Business: Squeezing a Profit from the Wreckage in Iraq", pp53-58, quote on p55). The Sepoy Mutiny was the 1857 mutiny against British rule in India.

Johnson goes on to observe of American geopolitical strategy that: "Particularly since the end of the Cold War, the military has developed close relationships with myriad governments and officer corps in what used to be called the Third World and has put immense effort into military-to-military training programmes. During the 1990s leaders in both political parties concluded that many foreign policy goals could better be fostered through such contacts than through traditional economic and diplomatic ties. One programme for implementing such policies, the State Department's International Military Education and Training Programme, has increased fourfold since 1994. In 1990, it was offering military instruction to the armies of 96 countries; by 2002 that already impressive number had risen to 133 countries. There are 189 countries in the United Nations (UN), which means that this single programme 'instructs' militaries in 70% of the world's nations" (ibid). Currently, the US trains each year about 100,000 foreign soldiers - mostly officers - who then pass on American doctrine and methods to their troops. As in the past, much of this training is deployed into internal repression in many of the countries concerned.

PR And Military Profitmaking

"The Pentagon has, since 1991, been by far the largest single salesman of munitions on earth. From 1997 to 2001, the Pentagon exported $US57.8 billion in arms, more than three times as much as the United Kingdom, the second largest exporter" (ibid., p56). With the huge boost from the "war on terror", the globalising militarisation of the planet is proceeding apace. As this process reaches ever new levels of governmental market subsidisation, the two self-styled leaders of the "war on terror" - the US and Britain - are rapidly expanding their operations in peddling death and destruction. Johnson fingers Vice President Dick Cheney as the person who has done more than anyone to make war profitable. Cheney is truly the godfather of the privatised warfare mafia. During the presidency of George Bush Senior, "Cheney was Secretary of Defense when [the firm] Brown & Root first began to supply logistical services to the Army. It was his idea. In 1992, the Pentagon paid Brown & Root $US3.9 million to produce a classified feasibility study on private outsourcing as a way to reduce the military's dependence on troops for basic logistics" (ibid., p57). The Pentagon then actually more than doubled its payment to the firm and got Brown & Root to implement its own plan " - namely, a five year logistics contract from the Army Corps of Engineers to work alongside GIs in places like Zaire, Haiti, Somalia, Kosovo, the Balkans, and Saudi Arabia" (ibid.). Brown & Root's full name today is Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR).

It has a history of close political involvement. Brown & Root is a "Texas company that, long before its merger with Kellogg, bankrolled Lyndon Johnson's political career, and that is today a subsidiary of the Halliburton Corporation" (ibid., p56). Cheney was the chief executive officer (CEO) of Halliburton, an energy holding company and the world's biggest oilfields services firm, from 1995 to 2000 and "continues to receive payments from Halliburton in excess of $US150,000 annually in deferred compensation" (ibid., p58). The revolving door practice embedded in the military-industrial complex means that political office-holders can technically resign from a company where there is an obvious conflict of interest, help award the company contracts while in office, and then later, in turn, be rewarded by this same company for services rendered upon retirement from political office. This constitutes a corporate legal way round what is tantamount to gross corruption, thus once again demonstrating the principles of capitalist good governance. Under George I, Cheney helped blow up Iraq's oilfields, and then later rebuilt them in the late 1990s as the CEO of Halliburton. In 2003, under George II, Cheney has been at it again - a most capital way of making money.

In March, 2003, KBR got a contract from the US Army Corps of Engineers to provide for all the logistical needs of the US forces in Iraq. This contract is "expandable up to $US7 billion over two years" (ibid., p54). Besides military support, the company is tasked to restore Iraq's oil industry. Parent corporation Halliburton, along with other corporates like Bechtel that are closely connected to the Bush Administration, have been generous political campaign donors to President Bush. They were therefore rewarded with rich contracts to rebuild Iraq and Afghanistan. A report by the Center for Public Integrity, a Washington-based organisation, found that "most of the ten largest contracts went to companies that employed former highranking government officials, or executives with close ties to members of Congress, and even the agencies awarding their contracts" (Agribusiness Examiner, no. 298, 31/10/03).

Among its worldwide activities, KBR maintains the super-luxurious military Camp Bondsteel in the Balkans, a camp also built by the same company. Sited on land seized from its original farm owners, Camp Bondsteel is the largest and most expensive base constructed since the 1960s and 70s Vietnam War. Its main purpose is evidently to protect the proposed Albanian-Macedonian-Bulgarian Oil (AMBO) Trans-Balkan pipeline. Hence its special status. Cheney can certainly be called a godfather of the "military-petroleum complex" in particular. Camp Bondsteel nicely illustrates this in more ways than one. "The initial feasibility study for the AMBO pipeline was done in 1996 by Brown & Root, which updated it in 2000" (Harper's Magazine, op. cit., p57). As well, the company provides similar services for bases in Kuwait, Turkey and Uzbekistan, covering the Middle East and Central Asia, regions primarily targeted by the military-industrial complex for their energy reserves in the new imperial expansion. All this is what the State Department in its PR considers to be expanding stability, peace, and freedom throughout the world.

US Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, was once President Ronald Reagan's special envoy to the Middle East. In 1983, he visited Iraq on a goodwill mission, and shook President Saddam Hussein's hand there in extending US support for Iraq's war against the revolutionary, fundamentalist Iranian regime. The Reagan Administration consequently saw fit to block moves in Congress aimed at imposing sanctions against Saddam for horrendous human rights abuses perpetrated on Iraqi Kurds and other groups within Iraq. In addition, in 1985, another model of terrorism for the region was set by the CIA and British Intelligence: a car bomb planted by these agencies in Beirut (Lebanon) "was placed outside a mosque and timed to go off when people were leaving the mosque, so as to kill the maximum number of people. It did. It killed 80 people and wounded 250 others. It was a powerful bomb that killed babies in their beds down the street. Most of those killed were women and girls leaving the mosque" ("Power and Terror: Post-9/11 Talks and Interviews" by Noam Chomsky, ed. J Junkerman & T Masakazu, Seven Stories Press/Little More, 2003, p54). This bomb was intended for a radical Muslim leader who escaped. Israel reinforced that act of terrorism shortly after with an air attack on Tunisia * the same year. Israel, in fact, had already set a regional model of state terrorism with its 1982 invasion of Lebanon, which killed some 20,000 people. * Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation were then based in Tunisia, having been driven out of Lebanon by that 1982 Israeli invasion. Ed.

Free World Militarised Repression

The US-led militarisation of the planet and repression outlined by Chalmers Johnson above is of course deeply rooted in previous American policy. Noam Chomsky cites research by scholars like human rights and Latin American specialist, Lars Schoultz of the University of North Carolina, and Edward Herman, an economist at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, who found about 20 years ago that there was a very close correlation between US military aid and human rights abuses, including the systematic use of torture (ibid., pp46-49). The records of Amnesty International and other independent human rights organisations confirm these findings. In the Reagan/George 1 era, such repression got even worse with US State terrorism against Nicaragua actually being condemned by the World Court.

In 2003, with the collapse of the case against Iraq for alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), the Coalition of the Killing's propaganda campaign has increasingly stressed the repressive nature of Saddam Hussein's rule as justification for the invasion of this country. Freedom and democracy are the watchwords. But with the terrorist attacks in May and November 2003, against the authoritarian Saudi Arabian regime, US rhetoric has again had to adapt markedly, speaking more obviously with a fork tongue. Today, American support is being further marshalled behind the harshly feudalistic Kingdom.

One of the main targets of the al Qaeda terrorist attack in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on May 12, 2003, "was the apartment building of some 70 Vinnell [Corporation] employees" (Harper's Magazine, op. cit., p56). The Vinnell Corporation has long been one of the main American companies that keeps the totally undemocratic Saudi regime in power. A branch of the large arms conglomerate Northrop Grumman, Vinnell "was created by retired American military officers and, since 1975, has been licensed by the [US] Government to train the Saudi National Guard, the 100,000 man force used to protect the monarchy and to serve as a counterweight to any threat from the regular armed forces" (ibid.); and, it can well be added, to suppress any democratic aspirations of the Saudi Arabian people. Average per capita income in the Kingdom has actually fallen by two thirds since 1980.

"Vice President Dick Cheney's old company, Halliburton, has done more than $US174 million in business developing oil fields and other projects for the Saudis" ("Weapons of Mass Deception", op. cit., p105). As well, the President's father, George Bush, "works as a senior adviser to the Carlyle Group, which has financial interests in US defence firms hired by the Saudis to equip and train their military" (ibid.). Yet another significant connection, among more that could be cited, is the fact that "National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice is a former longtime member of the board of directors of Chevron, which does extensive business with the Saudis" (ibid.). Totalitarianism, especially if judiciously and continually refurbished by propaganda via a compliant media, can certainly have a lot of practical benefits for those fighting in the cause of freedom.

Democratic Doublespeak

However, Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber point out that the well-established lack of credibility in the US propaganda programme in the Middle East is undermining the Administration's current efforts to promote itself as "brand freedom". Not only do actions speak much louder than words but American "newspeak" is full of glaring contradictions and inconsistencies. "Even in the 1950s, US propaganda efforts ran into problems with their own contradictions. In Saudi Arabia, the US Ambassador noted that US materials had 'the double objective of promoting and encouraging democratic government on the one hand while presenting the dangers of Communism on the other'. However, 'since Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy its government cannot be expected to welcome propaganda of the first category'. The embassy advised against offending the Saudi leadership in order to obtain Saudi cooperation internationally and 'protect US oil investment'. In other countries as well, US efforts to promote democracy were contradicted by the US government's mutually beneficial relationships with repressive regimes" (ibid., p16).

Writing in 1995, Rutgers University Political Science Professor Benjamin Barber remarked that: "In nearly all Muslim nations, democracy has never been tried or has been pushed aside after unsuccessful experiments" ("Jihad vs. McWorld: How Globalism and Tribalism are Reshaping the World", Ballantine Books, p207). Barber further observed that: "Nations like Pakistan and Afghanistan and Sudan have become, or seem likely to become, even less democratic than they were as Islamic fundamentalists become more powerful, while American allies like Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the oil emirates are hard-pressed to keep up the pretence of being democratic as they pursue their antifundamentalist struggle, even though it is in the name of democracy that they do battle" (ibid.).

Following the latest terrorist attack on November 9, 2003, in the Saudi Kingdom, US Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage remarked that "he believed that Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network wanted to topple the pro-Western Saudi royal family" and the country's government (Press, 11/11/03). Saudi Arabia, of course, has usually been labelled in Western establishment parlance as a "moderate" state, i.e. standard code for "pro-Western". It has never really mattered how horrible such a state's human rights record might be.

Even a Press editorial (11/11/03) has opined that the US now has a big contradiction on its hands. While Saudi Arabia is "a human rights nightmare", it is in the frontline of the "war on terrorism" in a number of ways that crosscut one another. A major problem is that: "Islamic extremists can find ready converts to their cause" given the gross inequalities in Saudi society (ibid.). The Press, a longtime backer of American imperialism and a fervent supporter of the Western takeover of Iraq, advises the Bush Administration to promote more democracy in the Kingdom. However, the major problem here for the American Administration, as for loyal editorial writers like those at the Press, is that the whole imperial project is covered by a lie. The US can no more afford genuine democracy in Saudi Arabia than it can in Iraq.

Capitalist Contradictions

If there were to be genuine democracy in the Middle East then the peoples of these countries would reject foreign control in favour of sovereignty over their own resources, above all oil, in order to benefit the nation in general. The Iraqi people, for the most part, clearly want to get rid of the occupying forces. Commentator Gwynne Dyer observes that, even in terms of declared policy, official US support for democracy in Arab countries marks a huge public U-turn ("Ignorant Armies: Sliding into War in Iraq", McClelland & Stewart Ltd., 2003, p173). Dyer goes on to note that Richard Haas, Director of Policy Planning at the State Department, has qualified the rhetorical American position "by warning that 'unrestrained zeal' for democratic change on the part of the US could 'make matters worse rather than better'" (ibid., p174).

Dyer then goes on to drily comment: "To put it more plainly, if there were genuinely free elections throughout the Arab world later this year (i.e. 2003), they would produce an unbroken sweep of anti-American governments from Morocco to Yemen. This is not because Arabs support the terrorists who 'hate our freedoms', as Bush likes to put it. The terrorists couldn't care less about America's freedoms, and the broad majority of Arabs actually admire and envy them. What they hate is America's policies in the Middle East: its reflex support for Israel, and its perennial support for corrupt, oppressive Arab regimes that do America's bidding" (ibid.). Regimes like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, the Gulf States, etc. would be transformed in ways highly damaging to US/British interests. What Bush and Blair really mean is more of the pretence of democracy, not its substance. A whole complex of contradictions is closing in on their Middle Eastern strategy.

Popular democratic control is actually the very last thing that the US government wants for the Middle East, or anywhere else, where it is intent on ripping off resources. At present, it desperately wants to crush the spectre of popular control as expressed in the form of the Chavez government of Venezuela to cite just one instance. In late 1991, the year of the Gulf War, a democratically elected Islamic government seemed on the verge of coming to power in Algeria but the Algerian military subsequently intervened to stop it. This military takeover was backed by France and the US, resulting in a long period of vicious bloodletting.

Back on the home front, thought control is paramount. "The enormous distances between freedom of speech and freedom to be heard are partial explanations for why fervent belief in Uncle Sam's global benevolence remains so widespread among Americans. Laid on thick by the dominant voices of mass communication, the latest conventional wisdom flowing from the font of Pentagon Correctness swiftly hardens and calcifies. The mainstream news outlets are saturated with corporate sensibilities" ("Target Iraq: What the News Media Didn't Tell You" by Norman Solomon & Reese Erlich, Context Books, 2003, pp26/7). In these times, psychological warfare is actually a systemic component of most of the American media - a component which is directed internally as well as externally. Yet the propaganda spin on Iraq is starting to unravel somewhat for the Bush Administration even in the homeland itself, with the brand proving counter-productive overseas.


"The contradiction between rhetoric and reality has remained a pattern throughout…decades of US involvement in the Middle East. The Shah of Iran came to power in 1953 when a CIA-backed coup overthrew Mohammed Mossadegh, the democratically elected president who wanted to nationalise Iranian oil" ("Weapons of Mass Deception", op. cit., p.17). "Operation Ajax", as the coup was called, was a US-British project to secure oil reserves and keep out any Soviet influence. A new book by New York Times journalist Stephen Kinzer traces the rise of violent Muslim radicalism from this date (see his "All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror", John Wiley & Sons, 2003). In 2003, there has been great tension between the Iraqi National Congress (INC) - basically the present puppet government of Iraq in the form of the Iraqi Governing Council - and the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution, which wants the country's oil nationalised.

Washington's hand-picked man, who in effect heads both the Congress and Governing Council, is the corrupt and venal Ahmed Chalabi, wanted by the Jordanian Government for a US$70 million banking rort. Chalabi notoriously cut a deal with American oil companies before the 2003 war was launched. He is intensely unpopular among many groups in Iraq and protesting crowds have shouted "No, no, Chalabi" in opposition to what he represents. What the US always wants is some corrupt, Rightwing, authoritarian figure who will facilitate foreign exploitation. All the better if a facade of democracy can be projected at the same time for the West's media to utilise. Vice President Cheney and the Pentagon have been very strong supporters of Chalabi and his INC provisional government. But a British relief organisation, Christian Aid, has rattled Coalition Provisional Authority boss, Paul Bremer, with its accusation that up to $US4 billion of all the funds that have been transferred to the Authority after the (official) war "has effectively disappeared into a financial black hole" (Focus on Trade, number 94, November 2003). Meantime, US House of Congress Representative Henry Waxman has accused "Halliburton of importing oil to Iraq 'using the Iraqis' own money'" (ibid.). This is just one of a barrage of "explosive accusations of corruption" being made against the US Administration and its contractors.

The INC was actually a creation of the Rendon Group, the PR firm, which - among other things - supplied the American flags waved by Kuwaitis in the 1991 Gulf War to greet US troops. Rendon came up with the organisation's name, backed and promoted Chalabi, and funnelled US$12 million of covert CIA funding to the organisation between 1992 and 1996. The INC's self-serving and grossly over-optimistic estimates of potential Iraqi support for the invasion and its agents helped induce the Bush Administration into its present predicament and so betrayed Iraq into its present agony.

The festering situation in Saudi Arabia is a direct outcome of US policy too. As the Press notes: "Of the 19 terrorists involved in the (September 11, 2001) airline hijackings, some 15 were from Saudi Arabia, while the architect of that atrocity, Osama bin Laden, is also a Saudi" (11/11/03). Some within the Bush Administration, or closely connected with it, have been very critical of Saudi funding for radical and even terrorist groups, whether or not this funding has been intentional. There were even suggestions made that the US should try and transform the Saudi regime - by force if necessary. Again, the hugely complicated and messy problem for US strategy is that this militant religious fundamentalism is something that the US (and Israel) has fostered. Another great case of blowback! For years, American policy not only allowed but even encouraged very strong religious expression as a useful substitute for seemingly more dangerous socialist and nationalist sentiments. In recent times, however, this deeply conservative religious expression has flared into radical anti-Western and anti-imperialist movements. Religion has become the vehicle for this antagonism and, moreover, has evoked a worldwide resonance among many Muslims. The supposed opiate of the people has in fact sparked violent militancy.

Ominously, with the growth of suicide bombing and the inspiration provided by al Qaeda, the perpetrators of violence within such movements have become especially murderous and indiscriminate in their methods. Much of this cycle of violence continues to be fuelled by the escalating violence of US/British forces and their allies, including in particular the brutal Israeli government. The whole Middle East region, spilling over too into Central Asia, is increasingly threatened with huge destabilisation. In early November 2003, US Deputy Secretary of State Armitage told a news conference in Baghdad that Iraq was still a "war zone. We are involved in an insurgency, and that's pretty close to war" (Press, 10/11/03). His remarks came after yet another US helicopter had been destroyed - Black Hawk down! US, and North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), forces are confronted in Afghanistan too with a resurgent Taleban.

Contrast Armitage's acknowledgement with the spin on the Iraqi situation offered by the State Department spokesman quoted earlier, let alone President Bush's official declaration of the end of the war on May 1, 2003. A few days before Amitage's admission, this State Department spokesman had declared that perceptions and reality do not match up in criticism of American foreign policy. He claimed that when people actually visit Iraq they get a more congenial picture of what is happening there (Press, 5/11/03). It was all a matter of getting out the right information. Another State Department spokesman, when visiting NZ, gave the same sort of message (Radio NZ, Nine To Noon, 18/11/03). Clearly, the Department's PR is spinning out of control.

As another old Reaganite, Richard Armitage might well reflect on his and his mates' achievements to date. During the Reagan Administration, US strategists knew that for their imperialism to work, i.e. to be able to plunder the planet's resources, and to repress and exploit the poor peoples of the world, an ideological cover was essential and so they devised the "war on terror". For various reasons, the ideological imperative for this war lapsed during the 1990s but of course, it was then revived on an enormous new scale after 9/11. In a sense, the neo-conservative hawks have succeeded in their aims. These days, tragically enough, the news media bring us notice of one horrific bombing incident after another. The resource war is worsening. Iraq is a disastrously wrecked country. US surrogate Israel seems to be in deepening confrontation with Syria. The "war on terror" is spreading to Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and other places… We’re looking into a hellish black pit of interminable human suffering and agony.

"Operation Iraqi Freedom"

As we have seen: "Throughout the latter half of the 20th Century - and recently as well… - attempts to market the US as 'brand freedom' came into conflict with a US tendency to talk rather than listen, combined with US support of undemocratic regimes whose own political objectives contradicted America's stated principles" ("Weapons of Mass Deception", op. cit., p14). Marketing an appealing "corporate image" - whether of a company, a country, a group, or a person - is integral to the capitalist process. It is the sort of thing so well analysed in Naomi Klein's "No Logo". Ultimately, it reflects the superficiality of capitalist consumerism and produces what we may well call "junk politics" - the politics of ritualistic game playing, of appearance and empty, emotional posturing: i.e. the mainstream politics of the US, of Blair's Britain, and of so much of the rest of the Western world, including NZ (Harper's Magazine, op. cit. see pp35-43).

"Operation Iraqi Freedom" is running off the pre-programmed rails, just like the proclaimed "road map" to peace in Israel/Palestine which has almost literally run into a concrete wall, namely the Israeli barrier cutting off the West Bank. On April 15, 2003, only a matter of some days after the toppling of Saddam's statue in Firdos Square, Baghdad, about 20,000 people rallied to oppose the US military presence in the town of Nasiriyah. There were similar marches and rallies in other Iraqi towns during that month, including a mass protest in Baghdad calling for the occupying troops to leave the city. Open violence has become common since. In late 2003, the Coalition forces are frantically rounding up or killing more Iraqis but the resistance goes on and appears to be gathering strength as media reports are now indicating.

Resistance is blamed on Baath Party loyalists, criminals, and infiltrated foreign fighters. The Western media, including naturally the NZ component, faithfully follow this Coalition line, unable to recognise openly that some of the armed resistance stems from deep nationalist anger at an occupation, which so obviously has no basis in any real concern for the Iraqi people themselves. Indeed, we have the truly Orwellian situation where the invaders of a country intending to plunder its resources can freely label all the opposition fighting back as "terrorists" or "bad guys". Imperialist assumptions are so culturally ingrained into the Western media that this sort of thing is just routinely assumed as conventional thinking, with any critics to be duly marginalised accordingly. At bottom, perceived material self-interest is the dominant operative principle at work.

The US has made it quite plain that its objective is to set up an avowedly capitalist, privatised, free market state. In a Radio NZ Insight session on the resistance to the Coalition occupation of Iraq, the reporter questioned "experts" from outfits like the ultra-Rightwing Heritage Foundation and American Enterprise Institute (AEI). She took their statements about creating democracy in Iraq at face value (2/10 & 3/10/03). Is this just naivety? Some of the attacks in Iraq can well be denounced as "terrorist" in nature. For those of us who have donated to aid organisations for humanitarian work in Iraq, it has been heartwrenching to learn of the savage assaults on the Red Cross and other such groups. A most disturbing aspect to all this is how US/British geopolitical strategy and military attacks on countries like Afghanistan and Iraq have made Western aid agencies a target as well for reprisals. In Iraq, there has been the terrible suicide bombing of the UN headquarters. But at the same time, UN-imposed sanctions, driven by Western interests, cost the lives of over a million innocent Iraqis, especially children. The latest independent estimates of the impact of the war in Iraq indicate many thousands are dead, and many more injured. Suffering and deprivation still pervade the whole society. Yet the main concern of the Western media is the death toll of the occupying Coalition forces.

The White Man's Burden

The overall picture is murky and complicated. When an NZ soldier was unfortunate enough to be caught in an ambush, Television New Zealand (TVNZ) reporter Ewart Barnsley portrayed this soldier as the victim of a terrorist action when only engaged in trying to help rebuild a shattered country (TVNZ, One News, 29/10/03). The soldier was injured when "an explosive device was detonated close to a three-vehicle convoy he was travelling in through Basra" (Press, 30/10/03). However, so far as this particular event is concerned, it could be considered from the point of view of an obviously considerable number of Iraqis as a classic guerrilla action against an invader come to help loot their country. TVNZ, in particular, is constantly imposing on us the American/British definition of the situation. As an example out of so many that could be cited, TVNZ political reporter Guyon Espiner commented in one recent news item that NZ is helping the US in the "war on terror" in Afghanistan, and helping the US to "rebuild Iraq". While in Iraq, Barnsley's repeated theme was of the work in Basra and other places to "rebuild Iraq": you cannot get a simpler and more benign "sound bite" than that for the imposition of Western imperialism.

So much of "news" presentation, especially on TV, consists of simply quoting official sources. For instance, presenter Judy Bailey in introducing a TVNZ item about an Iraqi attack on a US Chinook helicopter, said that President Bush would not retreat from America's "mission" in Iraq (TVNZ, One News, 3/10/03). While there was a shot of the people of Fallujah celebrating the downing of the helicopter, the official view was then presented of the Iraqi resistance to this illegal invasion: i.e. Saddam supporters, criminals, and foreign fighters (ibid.). Sometimes there is a variation on the Coalition's triad of foes, e.g. Saddamites (Baathists) and foreign jihadists again, but with al Qaeda-affiliated terrorists instead of just criminals. The idea of there being genuine freedom fighters among the diversity of Coalition foes is just too unsettling.

Thus the imperialist project is standardly portrayed on TVNZ and other media as a selfless project to assist the peoples of Iraq and Afghanistan. This is the kind of Orwellian crap we regularly get from such mainstream sources. Don't mention the oil and gas! But not to mention the ongoing war is getting more and more difficult all the time as even US Deputy Secretary of State Armitage has had to admit. Over the years, one of Rumsfeld's favourite sayings has been that the US "doesn't do nation building" ("Ignorant Armies", op. cit., p98). This will surely be demonstrated once again - destroying nations is a more accurate description of what the US does.

It was interesting then to see one very revealing report from Barnsley in Basra, a town that had been expected to welcome the Coalition troops. This report showed that security had become the priority of the NZ contingent there (TVNZ, op. cit., 12/11/03). Guns have to be at the ready at all times while vehicles need mesh screening to stop stones which are regularly thrown at the Kiwis. Basra in Iraq is obviously proving to be a far different posting in terms of local acceptance than the Kiwi experience of peacekeeping in East Timor. There are some media signs, too, of a greater appreciation and acknowledgement, of the roots of the resistance. For example, an article in the Press, titled "US Sowing Seeds of Hatred", stated that: "While the US authorities maintain that resistance attacks are carried out by former Baathists and supporters of Saddam, they continue to ignore the tribal nature of the insurgency which has grown steadily over recent months" (12/11/03). As well, the emergence of a post-Saddam, Islamic and pan-Arabic ideology of resistance has been registered, something which is very worrying for the Coalition (Press, 5/11/03). Furthermore, a leaked CIA report says that increasing numbers of Iraqis are supporting the resistance because they increasingly believe that the Coalition can be defeated. Existing resentments are being more readily expressed in resistance action. The oil could be at risk! Revealingly enough, it has been reported that the Coalition is recruiting "key former members of Saddam Hussein's feared security service, Mukhabarak" (Press, 26/8/03).

Information Wars

At present, the information war rages over the justification, and the success, or otherwise, to date of the invasion of Iraq and its aftermath, and more generally, of the "war on terrorism". According to the US military: "Information operations apply across the range of military operations, from peace (sic) to all-out conflict… It is important to stress that information warfare is a construct that operates across the spectrum, from peace to war… " ("Weapons of Mass Deception", op. cit., p68, quoting from "Information Operations", US Air Force, 1998). One of the defining images of the 2003 Iraq War - at least from the standpoint of the US Administration - was the arrival of President Bush on the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, on May 1, to announce the end of the war. A fighter jet brought the President out from just offshore San Diego on the American west coast to get a carefully orchestrated picture that cost $US1 million to get just right. A big banner proclaimed "Mission Accomplished". However, now that the total of US soldiers killed since the official end of the war has exceeded those who lost their lives in the formally defined period of the war, Dubya is keeping silence on the mounting death toll - after all, elections are on the horizon (Press, 7/11/03).

At this stage, a big question centres on the extent of the capacity of the Bush Administration to keep manipulating the American public. In October 2002, polls showed that some two thirds of Americans believed that Saddam Hussein was involved in the 9/11 attacks on the US while even more believed that Iraq already possessed, or was close to getting, nuclear weapons. Leading lights in the Bush Administration had cunningly made repeated associations between al Qaeda and Saddam's regime. For instance, a number of statements to this effect were made by Cheney and Rumsfeld about an alleged meeting in Prague in 2001 between Mohammed Atta, the leader of the 9/11 plane hijackers, and "a senior Iraqi intelligence official" ("Weapons of Mass Deception", op. cit., pp94/5). Significantly enough, the more informed people were the less likely that they were to support war on Iraq. The US "free press" - using this term in the broad sense to cover all forms of the mainstream media - failed the public abysmally.

The lies and media manipulations that the US, Britain and Australia used as justifications for the war on Iraq, and which have now been exposed as such, add up to a very impressive list. Many of these lies and fabrications related to the charge that Iraq had WMD; others related to the alleged threat that Iraq supposedly posed. The more important matters have included the following:

* The British Government plagiarised a PhD. student's thesis, and already published material, to pass off as MI6 top intelligence in its "dodgy dossier" on Iraq; and it deliberately worded this dossier to convey the sense of an imminent threat requiring speedy, pre-emptive action;

* The charge that Iraq had obtained uranium from Niger (west Africa) was disproved;

* Allegations about various types of delivery systems for WMD have been rubbished, as have alleged sites supposed to contain these weapons;

* Former British Cabinet Minister Robin Cook has said he heard Prime Minister Tony Blair admit to lying about Iraq's supposed WMD, while another former Minister, Clare Short, has accused Blair of greatly exaggerating the Iraqi threat; as well, former Environment Minister Michael Meacher has charged the Bush Administration with knowing beforehand about the 9/11 attacks but doing nothing to prevent them as they provided the perfect excuse to implement a long-planned strategy to secure oil reserves by armed force;

* Alleged links between Iraq and al Qaeda have been blown away (ironically enough, however, the invasion of Iraq has probably forged some sort of working alliance between the remnants of Saddam's Baathists and al Qaeda terrorists);

* Aluminium tubes seized en route to Iraq and touted to be intended for use in gas centrifuges to enrich uranium had evidently nothing to do with WMD. This particular charge was apparently an artifact of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) and an example of the Australian government's manipulation of intelligence for war as alleged by former intelligence officer, Andrew Wilkie, who resigned in disgust at such tactics;

* Cynically blatant lies included President Bush's reference on September 7, 2002, to a purported report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which he said proved that Iraq was very near to developing nuclear weapons. There was never any such report and, in fact, the latest one on the subject in 1998 had found the exact opposite.

Co-ordinating The Coalition Of The Killing

In "Weapons of Mass Deception", Rampton and Stauber ably document the propaganda campaign and its agents leading up to the 2003 war on Iraq. A range of groups was involved from the far Right. Central to them was the explicitly imperialist and militarist Project for the New American Century (PNAC), which was formed in 1997 by a clique of neo-conservatives. It planned for war on Iraq, coining the term "regime change". Indeed, Iraq is only one country on its list: PNAC is also targeting Iran, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine (in the form of the Palestinian Authority). Besides the usual suspects like hardline hawks Cheney, Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, and Richard Perle, PNAC members include people like the billionnaire publisher and former Republican presidential candidate Steve Forbes; Jeb Bush, the governor of Florida and Dubya's brother; and Francis Fukuyama, author of the "The End of History and the Last Man" (an expression of triumphalist capitalism [coded as "liberal democracy"]), and a recent guest of the Business Roundtable to NZ - birds of a predatory feather flock together!

John Pilger has described how: "On September 17, 2001, six days after the attacks in America, Bush signed a document, marked Top Secret, in which he directed the Pentagon to begin planning 'military options' for an invasion of Iraq. In July last year [2002], Condoleezza Rice, Bush's national security adviser, told another Bush official: ‘That decision has been made. Don't waste your breath’ (Washington Post, 12/1/03; New Yorker, 31/3/03). On July 2, 2003, Air Marshall Sir John Walker, the former Chief of Defence Intelligence and Deputy Chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee [in Britain], wrote a confidential memo to MPs to alert them that the 'commitment to war' was made a year ago. 'Thereafter', he wrote, 'the whole process of reason, other reason, yet other reason, humanitarian, morality, regime change, terrorism, finally imminent WMD attack . . . was merely covering fire'" (from an article published in ExPANd [an alternative quarterly publication of the Peace Action Network, Box 1913, Christchurch], number 87, October 2003, p7).

Once the PNAC had control of the White House, other groups came fully into play, whether already in existence or specially created for the war campaign. Prominent among the existing groups were the Center for Strategic and International Studies at Georgetown University; the Hudson Institute; the Hoover Institute; the Heritage Foundation; and the AEI. Cheney was a fellow at the AEI from 1993 to 1995. "Appointed chief executive of Halliburton Corporation in 1995, he doubled the size of the company both through a series of mergers and through business deals with the Pentagon. Under Cheney's reign, Halliburton became one of the nation's largest weapons contractors…" ("The New Nuclear Danger: George Bush's Military-Industrial Complex" by Helen Caldicott, Scribe Pubs., 2002, p35). Now that is real American enterprise!; " . . . as much as one third of the rapidly expanding cost of the Iraq war is going into private US bank accounts", Harpers Magazine, op. cit., p53). War is thus increasingly profitable for many of the corporations which sponsor "think-tanks" like the AEI. PNAC has rented its office space from this Institute as well as having other close ties. Here in NZ the Labour government heartily promotes the so-called NZ Defence Industry Association.

Another element in the American warmongering strategy was the Advertising Council, which brings together the Government, big business and the media. It emphasised US policy as "brand freedom" for international consumption. Rumsfeld set up a special informal media/PR/lobby group - a "strategic communications" unit - to make the link between terrorism and Iraq. When he was asked about previous US assistance in biological warfare for Saddam Hussein during the Iraq-Iran war, Rumsfeld denied this help despite clear evidence to the contrary. US State terrorism relies on systematic propaganda and, given the collaboration of the corporate media, is still largely successful - certainly at least within the US itself. For the 2003 invasion of Iraq, a network of PR firms - comprising the Rendon Group, Weber Shandwick Worldwide, Benador Associates, and others - was influential in orchestrating the mainstream media. Among this media, Rupert Murdoch's Fox News Network, a cable TV company, was to the fore in drumming up war fever and hyper-patriotism. It won the ratings war.

To complement Rumsfeld's group, the White House created the Office of Global Communications (OGC) "to co-ordinate the Administration's foreign policy message and supervise America's image abroad" ("Weapons of Mass Deception", op. cit., p38). Then there have been the specifically devised Iraq-oriented groups, e.g. the State Department initiated and sponsored the Iraq Public Diplomacy Group, "which includes representatives from the CIA, National Security Council, Pentagon, State Department, and the US Agency for International Development (AID)" (ibid., p40). The US Information Service (USIS), which has long cultivated NZ decision-makers and opinion shapers - whether politicians, media people, etc. - is, of course, a significant agency in the information war.

Operation Backfire

But the Administration's use of commercial advertising techniques have been too crude, simplistic and transparent in many parts overseas. For the invasion of Iraq, it chose the name "Operation Iraqi Freedom" but even an advertising industry commentator had serious reservations: "In PR Week, columnist Paul Holmes examined the significance of the term. 'It's possible, I suppose, that Iraqi freedom might be a by-product of this campaign', he wrote, 'but to pretend that it's what the exercise is all about is intellectual dishonesty at its most perverse'" (ibid., p119). Contrast the views of this particular American PR industry commentator with those of his NZ media namesake, the country's most prominent news presenter: the latter's pro-invasion views on Iraq moved him sufficiently to make racist remarks about the UN Secretary-General. Except for the Rightwing element, most Westerners have seen through the transparent motives for this illegal war and rejected them. The Rightwing, of course, identifies with these motives.

In the US, post-9/11, the far Right programme is still on track but starting to wobble, and with elections looming the pressure is on the Bush Administration to somehow extricate themselves from the mess in Iraq, or at least to try and work out some facesaving formula as much as possible. Hence the classic imperial strategy of talking up a handover of sovereignty to the Iraqis while trying to blast the armed opposition, or suspected opposition, with increased firepower as in "Operation Iron Hammer". It is surely sobering to recall that the US's imperial partner, Britain, was bombing the Kurds and other dissident tribespeople back in the 1920s.

A diverse host of Establishment critics has taken the Administration to task. Dire warnings have come from people like Republican Richard Lugar, chairperson of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, to General William Nash, former commander of US forces in Bosnia and UN Civil Affairs administrator in Kosovo. The latter, currently a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, slammed the Administration, saying that it had "failed to understand the mindset and attitudes of the Iraqi people and the depth of hostility towards the US in much of the country" (Press, 28-9/6/03). The American war machine had blundered into the country without planning properly for so-called regime change. Various reviews of the Administration strategy and use of intelligence have found the White House badly wanting, e.g. that by Congress's permanent select committee on intelligence.

"Rand Beers, who served four presidents on the National Security Council, said that the White House was making the US less secure, alienating allies, and had failed to understand its terrorist enemy" (Press, 18/6/03). He commented that: "Many of his former colleagues thought the Iraq war was 'ill-conceived and poorly executed'" (ibid.). Beers had actually been Dubya's special assistant on combating terrorism. Similarly, a group of former US Intelligence officials - Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity - consisting of mostly former CIA analysts, has claimed that "the US Congress and American public were misled before the war about Iraqi WMD" (Press, 2/6/03). They have charged that the manipulation of intelligence material has produced "a policy and intelligence fiasco of monumental proportions" (ibid.). Their contacts still working within the US Intelligence agencies have told them that analysis was "cooked" to pave the way for war. In a letter to President Bush, the group said that: "While there have been occasions in the past when intelligence has been deliberately warped for political purposes, never before has such warping been used in such a systematic way to mislead our elected representatives into voting to authorise launching a war" (ibid.).

Back in early February 2003, former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter, in criticising "the US case against Iraq as based on 'circumstantial evidence'", rightly warned "that invading the country would be a 'long and horrific' invitation to terrorism" (Press, 6/2/03). Ritter had deemed that Baghdad had got rid of almost all its WMD. Likewise, Steve Allinson, a Christchurch engineer who was on the UN weapons inspection team, has declared that: "Faulty allied intelligence turned the hunt for WMD in Iraq into a 'wild goose chase'" (Press, 13/6/03). He has said that "'every single site' the team went to that had anything to do with American or British intelligence was 'absolute rubbish'" (ibid.).

As Dr. Jeff Sluka, an American expert on terrorism at Massey University, pointed out: the failure to find WMD has demonstrated the degree to which the US and Britain "thought they could bluff the public" (Press, 4/6/03). We can well appreciate today how this has backfired so badly for the ruling politicians of the Atlantic alliance. Dr. Sluka went on to say that while the "war gave the US the ability to control Iraq's oil…The US government was either ignorant or stupid in its understanding of Iraq's ethnic and religious make-up and the problems this would pose in restructuring the country" (ibid.).

A Times journalist has commented that: "The invasion was opposed by almost every Arabist expert in Washington and London, not to mention the Middle East" (Press, 15/11/03). Only Rightwing front groups like the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and the Middle East Forum advocated war.

Being Pre-emptive

The 2003 invasion of Iraq was in essence a private, buccaneering venture run by the arms/oil/media mafia centred on the Bush dynasty, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Perle & co., who had usurped their country's government - a venture, in Dubya's own words, run by "a band of thugs and assassins". As Chalmers Johnson warns, the privatisation of governmental defence procurement and development means the increasing profitability of war (Harper's Magazine, op. cit., p58). Consequently, "we can certainly expect more of it" (ibid.). Yet, at the same time, the growing worldwide distrust of US militarist unilateralism could eventually choke off this warmongering strategy. In the end, the ultimate key to unlocking the global cycle of violence is the realisation as to where capitalist globalisation is taking us all - into a chaotic future of deepening conflict over resources.


In 2001, the National Council of Teachers of English in the US gave Sheldon Rampton and John Stauber, the authors of "Weapons of Mass Deception", the Council's annual George Orwell Award for exposing the use of doublespeak in American life. John Stauber is the founder and director of the Center for Media & Democracy, Madison, Wisconsin. He and Rampton are also the authors of "Toxic Sludge is Good for You!", "Trust Us, We're Experts", and "Mad Cow USA". They write and edit the quarterly PR Watch: Public Interest Reporting on the PR/Public Affairs Industry. See their website:

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Foreign Control Watchdog, P O Box 2258, Christchurch, New Zealand/Aotearoa. August 2003.


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