Once again, we face controversies with regard to the way in which the Pentagon and its omnipresent private subcontractors obstruct open investigations in Iraq. “Muslim intellectuals have been paid to assist in American propaganda” says the New York Times. Journalists, intellectuals and religious persons take Uncle Sam’s money or, in this case, that of a Washington-based Public Relations company. From the moral point of view, this is disturbing and counterproductive. Obviously, prudent Muslims won’t be interested in listening to American advisors; the religious persons against the Sunni insurrection can now be described as the corrupted responsible ones.
There’s a serious problem with regard to these facts. From the historical point of view, it’s all senseless. The United States directed many secret and official operations known as “CA” during the Cold War. By means of the CIA mainly, Washington spent millions of dollars in the publication of books, magazines, journals; in the creation of radio stations, organizations, youth and women associations, scholarships, academic foundations, intellectuals groups and communities, apart from the direct payment to personalities who believed in the ideals the United States, considered to be praiseworthy.
It’s difficult to assess the influence of those secret programs. However, when an important Third World leader says that a very well known liberal western book had a tremendous impact on his intellectual development, it can be said that that program was effective, indeed. That should not be that hard for Americans, who are educated to support those activities, even when some can question their effectiveness.
Would it be that difficult, perhaps, to support more aggressive clandestine actions aimed at developing democracy in Iraq? Let me establish a parallel with the Cold War. It’s known that the CIA gave financial support to British journal Encounter. This journal had an influence on the debates about the Western secret services from the 50s to the 70s. When we analyzed it, we realized that it must have been the most effective non-military intellectual action organized by the United States. Can anybody seriously think that great intellectual Raymond Aron was assuming a personal commitment when he wrote regularly for those publications or for the also-founded-by-the-CIA French magazines? And moreover, although Aron or others in Encounter could have suspected that their checks were signed by the American taxpayers, their perspicacity and articles were less relevant and true?
Contrary to what’s usually admitted, the CIA funding of intellectuals for “propaganda” projects was mostly made in a very indirect way. In my experience and my knowledge of reports about the activities of the CIA in Europe and the Middle East, I never saw cases in which American agents manipulated the final product. What’s to be regretted is that CIA agents don’t have the language skills to deal with the regions they work on and, consequently, they lack the necessary elements to judge the benefits of the texts of the projects.
Probably, democracy in Iraq is as misguided as it could have been in western Europe after Hitler’s defeat. What we could truly reproach to the Bush Administration for is that it gave too much responsibilities to a public relations company (in the previously mentioned case, the Lincoln Group) and nothing could be done to protect the anonymity. Nonetheless, a recognition must be made to the Pentagon: that seems to be the only government agency that tries to, at least, educate Iraqi officials to conquer the population. The CIA seems to have abandoned its historical mission in that region.
The Bush Administration should not be afraid of making its clandestine “propaganda” in Iraq or any other country of the Middle East more intense. In these last great ideological battles, history has been on its side.
“’Hearts and Minds’ in Irak”, by Reuel Marc Gerecht, Washington Post, January 10, 2006.