Steven Baum over at Ethel the Blog is doing an excellent job throwing out links to articles I’m unlikely to stumble across on my own. I think many of the articles he links to are wrong, but they’re almost uniformally thought-provoking. I have to disagree vehemently with this one, though. Steven links to a story in The Guardian describing the life cycle of propaganda. I’ll be the first to admit that the U.S. has a long history of fighting a propaganda war; Richard Hofstader‘s essays on the roots of American imperialism are convincing. Propagandizing is not always shameful. Should the U.S. have held back from printing "Loose Lips Sink Ships" posters? Should Edward Bok have resisted turning the Ladies’ Home Journal into an unofficial arm of Herber Hoover’s Food Administration during the First World War? Should Hoover’s government have locked up Eugene Debs and other war protesters? (Although the first one is innocuous and the second one only mildly disturbing, I’ll side with Mencken on that last one; H.L., no friend of socialists, wrote that Debs was misguided and dangerous and foolish, but a gentleman and in his own way a patriot, then laid into Woodrow Wilson as only Mencken confronted with censorship could.) But beyond that, the article in the Guardian makes a few risky assumptions. The revelations of freewheeling Iraqi baby-slaughtering were clearly disingenuous at best, calculated lies at worst. We were being innudated with dire pronouncements about the skills of the Iraqi Republican Guard, and perhaps — in preperation for the biggest American military excursion since Vietnam, after our warmup exercises in Grenada and Panama — people felt it was necessary to stir up some "Brave Little Belgium" feelings about the Kuwaiti plutocracy. But that doesn’t make the Kurd-slaughtering Saddam Hussein any more appealing. When the U.S., as part of its foreign policy, chooses to deal with what it dubs the lesser of two evils, that doesn’t make either party any less evil, Reaganesque nonsense about the Contras being the "moral equivalent of our Founding Fathers" notwithstanding. And to say that the U.S. needs to manufacture lies about why Afghanistan is a wretched place in utterly unbelievable; it’s one thing to ask whether we’re ignoring equally egregious crimes elsewhere, and another to say that the two-year-old reports of torture under Taliban rule were conveniently made up in advance. People better informed than me have been concerned about the authoritarian and medieval rule of the Taliban for years. That kind of equivocating alienates potential supporters, and it’s a rank insult to people who have been agitating for change in Afghanistan in Europe and America well before anyone in the larger world gave a damn (not to mention the adulturers stoned to death, homosexuals crushed under walls, and women given public beatings for venturing out of the house uncovered.
Are the Taliban going to be demonized? Sure. But rather than wasting one’s time defending the indefensible, aren’t there better things to do? Focus on the murderous allies we’re acquiring in Central Asia, the thuggishness of the Russian-backed Northern Alliance, or the bizarre request by Condi Rice that American television not air bin Laden’s message. That one is particularly odd. We’re fighting a war not just for the rather useless (but geographically important) land in Afghanistan but for the hearts and minds of Islamic youth around the world — and quite possibly losing, as every misprogrammed bomb becomes a propaganda victory for bin Laden. The idea that bin Laden is incapable of getting coded messages out without the assistance of ABC is ridiculous; the idea that Americans shouldn’t be allowed to see the propaganda being spewed out by its enemies is both ridiculous and dangerous. Who does Rice think she’s protecting, and what does she think she’s protecting them from?