Profile: Tom Engelhardt
Tom Engelhardt was a participant or observer in the following events:
Tom Engelhardt. [Source: Mother Jones]General David Petraeus, the commander of US military forces in Iraq, writes an op-ed for the Washington Post entitled “Battling for Iraq.” Petraeus praises the Iraqi security forces for standing up and taking much of the burden of securing the country from the US troops on the ground, writing: “Iraqi security elements are being rebuilt from the ground up. The institutions that oversee them are being reestablished from the top down. And Iraqi leaders are stepping forward, leading their country and their security forces courageously in the face of an enemy that has shown a willingness to do anything to disrupt the establishment of the new Iraq.” There has been significant “progress” made, he writes, and there is “reason for optimism.” He concludes: “With strong Iraqi leaders out front and with continued coalition—and now NATO—support, this trend will continue. It will not be easy, but few worthwhile things are.” [Washington Post, 9/26/2004] Perhaps coincidentally, the op-ed appears in time for the Bush re-election campaign to make much of it. Columnist Tom Engelhardt will note in 2008 that the op-ed is “just the sort of thing a president trying to outrun a bunch of Iraqi insurgents to the November 4 finish line might like to see in print in his hometown paper.” Perhaps just as coincidentally, Petraeus will soon be awarded his third star. [Asia Times, 4/29/2008]
Author Tom Engelhardt explores the connections between the retired military analysts recently exposed as part of a Pentagon propaganda operation to manipulate public opinion regarding the war and occupation of Iraq (see Early 2002 and Beyond) and “America’s General,” David Petraeus. Petraeus, slated to become the commander of US Central Command (CENTCOM), has long been a media darling, Engelhardt notes. For the last three years, Petraeus has been touted as virtually the only hope for an American victory in Iraq. Engelhardt writes, “Petraeus is the president’s anointed general, [President] Bush’s commander of commanders, and (not surprisingly) he exhibits certain traits much admired by the Bush administration in its better days.”
Petraeus Turns to Analysts to Promote Surge - In the New York Times article exposing the Pentagon propaganda operation (see April 20, 2008, one event has as yet gotten little attention: the fact that when Petraeus was appointed the commanding general in Iraq in January 2007, one of his first acts was to meet with a group of the Pentagon’s military analysts (see January 2007). Engelhardt explains, “In other words, on becoming US commander in Iraq, he automatically turned to the military propaganda machine the Pentagon had set up to launch his initial surge—on the home front.” Petraeus was by then a willing, and a key, participant in the Pentagon’s propaganda operation, which itself dovetailed with the Bush administration’s attempt to market the escalation of US troops—the “surge” (see January 10, 2007)—as the latest attempt to turn the corner in Iraq. President Bush himself was, by that point, “a thoroughly tarnished brand,” Engelhardt writes, not the person to launch such a marketing campaign.
Petraeus Is Administration's "Face" - Bush and the Pentagon both looked to Petraeus, who quickly “became the ‘face’ of the administration (just as American military and civilian officials had long spoken of putting an ‘Iraqi face’ on the American occupation of that country).” In the following months, Bush cited Petraeus over 150 times as part of his attempts to paint the US occupation as a success. Petraeus himself quickly turned to the Pentagon’s cadre of retired military officers, now network analysts reliably providing the administration’s talking points on the news broadcasts, to help him promulgate the surge. Engelhardt notes that one of those analysts, retired Army general and ABC News analyst Jack Keane, was himself the co-author of the “surge” strategy (see January 2007). Between the president, the administration officials, the military analysts, and the enthusiastic media reporters and talking heads, establishing the surge as a putative success and Petraeus as a name brand with a positive image was achieved in relatively short order. [Asia Times, 4/29/2008]
Author Tom Engelhardt, reflecting on the recent exposure of the Pentagon’s propaganda campaign using retired military officers to promote the Iraq war (see April 20, 2008 and Early 2002 and Beyond), writes that this is but one of possibly many such operations. The others, if they exist, remain to be exposed. The military analysts operation is “unlikely to have been the only one,” Engelhardt writes. He has his suspicions:
Selling the 'Surge' - “We don’t yet fully know the full range of sources the Pentagon and this administration mustered in the service of its ‘surge,’” he writes, though he notes how quickly General David Petraeus, the commander of US forces in Iraq, was to turn to the analysts for support in their nightly news broadcasts (see April 29, 2008).
Sunnis and Shi'ites - Engelhardt notes that it is possible that a similar propaganda campaign helped transform Iraqi Sunni insurgents into heroes—“Sons of Iraq”—if they joined the “Awakening” movement, or members of “al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia” if they did not join the movement. Similarly, it may have been a propaganda campaign that encouraged the media to quickly label every Shi’ite rebel as an Iranian agent.
Iran's Influence - “We don’t know what sort of administration planning has gone into the drumbeat of well-orchestrated, ever more intense claims that Iran is the source of all the US’s ills in Iraq, and directly responsible for a striking percentage of US military deaths there,” Engelhardt writes. The New York Times recently reported that, according to “senior officers” in the US military in Baghdad’s Green Zone, 73% of attacks on US troops in the past year were caused by roadside bombs planted by so-called “special groups,” a euphemism for Iraqi Shi’ites trained by Iran.
Guided Tours - Many influential Washington insiders have been given carefully orchestrated tours of Iraq by the Pentagon, including former military figures, prominent think tank analysts, journalists, pundits, and Congressional representatives. Many of them have been granted a special audience with Petraeus and his top commanders; many have subsequently lauded the “surge” (see January 10, 2007) and praised the US policies in Iraq.
Successful Marketing Campaign - Engelhardt writes, “Put everything we do know, and enough that we suspect, together and you get our last ‘surge’ year-plus in the US as a selling/propaganda campaign par excellence. The result has been a mix of media good news about ‘surge success,’ especially in ‘lowering violence,’ and no news at all as the Iraq story grew boringly humdrum and simply fell off the front pages of our papers and out of the TV news (as well as out of the Democratic Congress). This was, of course, a public relations bonanza for an administration that might otherwise have appeared fatally wounded. Think, in the president’s terminology, of victory—not over Shi’ite or Sunni insurgents in Iraq, but, once again, over the media at home. None of this should surprise anyone. The greatest skill of the Bush administration has always been its ability to market itself on ‘the home front.’ From September 14, 2001, on, through all those early ‘mission accomplished’ years, it was on the home front, not in Afghanistan or Iraq, that administration officials worked hardest, pacifying the media, rolling out their own “products”, and establishing the rep of their leader and ‘wartime’ commander-in-chief.” [Asia Times, 4/29/2008]
Second Author Concurs - Author and Salon commentator Glenn Greenwald concurs with Engelhardt. Greenwald writes, “It should also be noted that this military analyst program is but one small sliver of the Pentagon’s overall media management effort, which, in turn, is but one small sliver of the administration’s general efforts to manipulate public opinion. We’re only seeing these documents and the elaborate wrongdoing they establish because the [New York Times] was so dogged in attempting to compel the [Pentagon] to disclose them, even while the Pentagon fought tenaciously to avoid having to do so, to the point where they were threatened with sanctions by a federal judge. But this is just one discrete, isolated program. Most of what this government has done—including, certainly, its most incriminating behavior—remains concealed by the unprecedented wall of secrecy behind which this administration operates.” [Salon, 5/12/2008]
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