Tuesday, October 4, 2016

PR Firm Paid $500 Million to Create US and Al Qaeda Propaganda in Iraq

We now know even more of your tax dollars have been put to a noble purpose: Spinning the Iraq War and making terrorist promotional videos.
The Story
A new expose published by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism reveals that the US government paid a British PR Firm $500 million dollars to help with communications efforts after the invasion of Iraq. The arrangement took place in the mid-2000s.
The PR Firm created 3 types of products: television commercials against Al Qaeda, pro-US news stories designed to look like they had been sourced locally, and outright Al Qaeda propaganda films. The purpose of the pro-Al Qaeda films was to track who was watching them, in order to identify potential threats. But to do so, the Al Qaeda propaganda films had to be distributed at random among the Iraqi population. I’m sure that didn’t have any unintended consequences.
The full report is a little on the long-side, but makes for an interesting read. It’s available here:
Why This Matters
For starters, this story is just in time for the latest bout of outrage about wealthy people not paying enough in taxes. Whenever this theme arises, I often wonder if the people complaining have forgotten what the government does. If we’re talking about the federal government, nearly 1/6 of the budget, or $598 billion, is dedicated to the military alone, and no doubt includes many more dubious projects like this one. Is it really the case that we should be upset these programs don’t have more funding at their disposal?
I ask this because it should be readily apparent that whatever this project’s objective was, it was not achieved. Iraq is about as unstable as ever today; an estimated 2,381 people were killed last month alone. And this wasn’t an anomaly. In fact, August came in even worse, at an estimated 4,245. Of course, there are almost certainly more committed jihadists in Iraq today than there were during the PR project. But if we attribute that growth at all to the craftsmanship of US-financed Al Qaeda propaganda videos, it seems to provide very little consolation that some of the videos “worked”.
That being said, it should be readily apparent why the US sought to engage a PR firm in the conduct of the Iraq War. The US launched an illegal (under international law) invasion of a foreign country on a false pretense and then proceeded to occupy it. When those are the facts, the truth isn’t really an option for winning hearts and minds. Propaganda is the alternative. But it didn’t work because, let’s face it: no PR firm is good enough to spin the occupation of Iraq to the actual Iraqis that lived under it.

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