July 30, 1999


It wasn’t enough for the Clintonians that virtually the entire news media marched in lockstep to the beat of the war-drums during the “liberation” of Kosovo; it wasn’t enough that television broadcast nothing but endless loops of fleeing Kosovars, with close-ups of their tear-streaked faces; it wasn’t enough that the pundits (the approved ones, anyway) only dissented to the extent that they wanted more Serb blood, and sooner. What the War Party wants is not majority support, but unanimity: no dissent is their goal. Toward that end, the Clinton gang has come up with – what else but a new government agency!


Citing a former administration insider, the Washington Times [July 29, 1999] has revealed that "a new multiagency plan to closely control the dissemination of public information abroad is really aimed at 'spinning the American public.'" What really sticks in the Clintonians' craw is that, in spite of an unprecedented barrage of war propaganda masquerading as news unleashed during the recent war, "the U.S. public has refused to back President Clinton's foreign policy." According to this unnamed official, the Clintonians are miffed that coverage of foreign news is "distorted" and are convinced that "they need to fight it at all costs." How? By "using resources that are aimed at spinning the news." And due to the extra-constitutional magic of Presidential Decision Directives, whereby the President can conjure new policies and the agencies to carry them out, the Congress is powerless to stop him.


And please don't tell me about the congressional "power of the purse." The recent revelation that the Pentagon has been spending money hand-over-fist on programs not authorized by Congress has shattered that myth hopefully forever.


This new addition to the federal nomenklatura, the International Public Information (IPI) system, created by Presidential Directive 68, is to be chaired by Morton Halperin, formerly "Senior Director for Democracy" at the National Security Council, and now head of policy planning at the State Department. The IPI working group, which met for the first time on Wednesday, is nothing if not ambitious: the IPI charter, still classified Top Secret, blends the functions of agencies like the old USIA and Radio Free Europe, ostensibly aimed overseas, with the scope and spirit of such World War II era organizations as the Office of War Information, which blanketed the US with pro-New Deal propaganda. The leaked text of the draft charter is written in typical bureaucratese, but the meaning is unmistakable: overseas propaganda will "be coordinated, integrated, deconflicted and synchronized with the [IPI] to achieve a synergistic effect" at home. Translation: American taxpayers will be footing the bill for the their own indoctrination..


While all administrations since FDR's have used the governmental apparatus to make propaganda, they have usually done so under the rubric of selling the American line abroad. Especially during the Cold War, when the American elites saw the US locked in an ideological conflict with the Communist bloc, such institutions as Radio Free Europe and the USIA were justified as a method of selling "the American way" to the wavering Europeans and the Third World masses. Such programs had definite domestic political uses, but were rationalized as essential to the war against Communism. With the Clintonians, however, even this kind of pretense has been dropped, and we are going back to the era of Woodrow Wilson.


It was Wilson who first mobilized American intellectuals in a whole series of government-created and financed organizations whose sole purpose was to hector Americans into supporting his holy crusade to make the world safe for capital-'D' Democracy. The Committee on Public Information, created by Wilsonian decree, flooded the country with pamphlets, leaflets, and posters designed to inflame the war spirit and anathematize the Germans. Our noble allies, the British and the French, were depicted as angelic upholders of the human spirit against the demonic depredations of the Huns.


Wilson and the Wilsonians virtually militarized academia in an all-out effort to indoctrinate Americans in the justice of the Allied cause. Even the professional historians were enlisted: the National Board for Historical Service, a government agency, recruited American historians to the task of proving German war guilt and documenting the Huns' inherent barbarity. In their secular evangelism to spread the Word of Progressive Uplift to every corner of the earth, America's intellectuals did not have to be drafted into the army of war propagandists. They volunteered gladly, and their enthusiasm did not wane until the scales fell from their eyes and they saw the horrific results of their labors: a Europe decimated, and a Versailles Treaty that legitimized the old imperialism instead of abolishing it. By then, of course, it was far too late to reverse course.


In Wilson's day, it was possible to jail the antiwar opposition. Vigilante groups worked in tandem with government to smash the midwestern populist and left-wing movement against the war. In FDR's time, the New Dealers took care to be a bit more subtle, lest they make themselves easy targets of their Republican opponents – who hated FDR's wartime dictatorship, and looked for every opportunity to subvert it. Today, however, the vigilance of the Republicans is considerably reduced. After fifty years of the Cold War, during which the boundary between foreign and domestic operations was often blurred, the Old Right's fierce fight against FDR's Soviet-style propaganda machine was largely forgotten. The Cold Warriors, many of them ex-Communists (often of the Trotskyist or other dissident variety) imitated the Comintern in setting up numerous "front" organizations, which functioned both internationally and on the home front.


Who can forget the escapades of the infamous CIA-funded Congress of Cultural Freedom and its satellite groups, including the prestigious Encounter magazine, which nurtured (and paid out of taxpayers' pockets) such neoconservative intellectuals as Irving Kristol to combat alleged Communist Party influence at home and abroad? But they had to be careful to do it covertly, and when the CIA link to the CCF was finally exposed, the group was discredited, along with its affiliates.


In our own time, however, government officials have no such qualms. The old adversarial relationship between the government and the media is gone, replaced with a new collegiality. Indeed, the ascension of former Time magazine editor Strobe Talbott to high office in the State Department dramatizes the startling fact that they are increasingly one and the same.


The Washington Times quotes the unnamed ex-official as saying that the IPI charter not only fails to make the traditional distinction between propaganda operations at home and abroad, but also "talks about a news war." He adds: "This has been in the works a long time. The target is the American people." Yes, as we have seen, it has been in the works a long time. But more importantly this illustrates a point that we have been making at Antiwar.com since its founding: the recent assault against Yugoslavia was also a war on the American people, who were subjected to a heavy bombardment of lies. Given the revelations that most of the military ordnance dropped on Serbia failed to hit military targets, and instead blasted fake tanks and other decoys, perhaps it can be said that the war at home was far more successful than the war in the field – and that it did more damage.


In this war, Clinton's lapdog media lost any sense of its responsibility to reflect on what it was reporting. The result was that the daily newscasts soon took on an Orwellian tone: one particularly grotesque example was the blatant exaggeration and manipulation of the numbers of Kosovar casualties. First it was reported that the Serbs had slaughtered as many as a million, or even more; then the estimate was unobtrusively lowered to half a million. A few weeks later, reporters were confidently asserting that 100,000 were surely killed in a frenzy of ethnic cleansing. That figure was then halved, and finally reduced to . . . 10,000. What is astonishing is not so much the successive reductions – after all, the "fog of war" is not only generated by government spinmeisters, but also by the sheer confusion that is the hallmark of any military conflict. What was striking was the complete lack of acknowledgment that anything had changed.


I keep coming back, in this column, to a passage from George Orwell's classic book, 1984, a novel that becomes more timely with the passage of years, and never more so than in the era of Clintonian "spin":

"Day by day and almost minute by minute the past was brought up to date. In this way every prediction made by the Party could be shown to have been correct; nor was any item of news, or any expression of opinion, which conflicted with the needs of the moment, ever allowed to remain on record. All history was a palimpsest, scraped clean and reinscribed as often as was necessary."


As the numbers associated with stories of alleged Serb atrocities began to change, there was, however, no lessening of the hyperbolic rhetoric being used to describe Milosevic as the new "Hitler." If anything, as time went on, and the casualty estimates dropped, the denunciations reached new heights of hyperventilated hysteria: there began to be talk, reflected in administration pronouncements, that all Serbs were guilty of war crimes, because, as the war-maddened New Republic put it, they were "Milosevic's willing executioners." Is there is a lesson in this – some larger point about the nature of what Robin Harris, an advisor to Margaret Thatcher, calls "New Left Globalism (in yesterday's London Times)? Surely this is a case study in the unreality of evil, its pure subjectivity, its complete antipathy to the world of facts.


The response of the administration to accusations that the IPI will be used to influence opinion on the home front shows that at least they haven't lost their sense of humor: "We are very cognizant of the history of the 80s," said one official, whose acquaintance with history of any sort seems tenuous at best. "There are congressional controls now." Is this the same Congress that rejected the rationale for the war – and then voted to give the President more money than he requested in order to fight it?


The Congress of the United States has not exercised its foreign policy prerogatives since Harry Truman sent troops to Korea, and notified the representatives of the people after the fact. The idea that they will suddenly rise up and assert their constitutional authority is so unlikely that the administration is probably welcoming this "leak" to the Times as the best way to discredit the potential opposition – if they didn't leak it themselves. After all, the spinmeisters will say, consider the source.


Worse than the cruel jests of administration flacks are the protests of what passes for the opposition: "This... indicates a measure of desperation in President Clinton's foreign policy," said Seth Ackerman of Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). "When it is not received well abroad, he resorts to propaganda." This misses the point completely, in that the real target, as the leaker made clear to the Times, is the American people. But the lefties over at FAIR, being lefties, have no real objection to that, at least in principle: they only regret that they are not in charge of the government-funded propaganda apparat.


Even worse is the "criticism" coming from the Right: The Times reports the remarks of one Ariel Cohen, of the Heritage Foundation, who worries that "the IPI system could be used by the party in power to push its own agenda, rather than the national interest." Cohen avers that "it would be a mistake to turn the US public information system into a tool of a partisan agenda. It cannot be driven by any political-correctness agenda that will not be representative of what the American people think or that will reflect only a social-change agenda of extremist activist groups." Huh? Cohen is hardly that naive. His pious protestations to the contrary, he surely realizes that there can hardly be such a thing as nonpartisan government. Democracy is always partisan, because that is what electoral politics is all about. The folks over at Heritage have this much in common with their opposite numbers over at FAIR: they, too, pine for an International Public Information system they can call their own, albeit one that is non-"extremist," ostensibly nonpartisan – and operates by a different standard of political correctness.


Now that the Cold War is over, and the need for a government propaganda machine aimed at foreigners and Americans alike can no longer be justified in terms of national security (or survival), how is it that the bureaucracy not only survives but expands? No sooner is the old USIA (United States Information Agency) practically abolished and folded into the State Department; no sooner is Radio Free Europe and the other "liberation" radio stations defunded or cut to the bone; no sooner is the National Endowment for Democracy – that welfare program for out-of-work Social Democrats and renegade ex-Trotskyists – zeroed out in the Senate version of the budget, then it reappears in another form. Like one of those science fiction creatures – the Blob – that reconstitutes itself even as it is destroyed, it comes back bigger and stronger. After decades of abuses, of secret slush funds, dubious covert operations, and a continuous stream of lies, will no one rid of us this monster?


The leaker told the Times that the Clintonians believe that the American media's reporting of international news is "distorted." The administration, he said, is convinced that "they need to fight it at all costs." But why? Why is it such a priority for this administration to set in motion a propaganda machine designed to manage the news from abroad and hoodwink the American people into supporting Clinton's globalist agenda? Could it be that there are plans in the works for another intervention, sooner rather than later? Perhaps the second phase of the Interrupted War, maybe something bigger. Whatever the New Left globalists have in mind, you can bet the IPI will play a major role.

Check out Justin Raimondo's article, "China and the New Cold War"

"Behind the Headlines" appears Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, with special editions as events warrant.

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Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of Antiwar.com. He is also the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement (with an Introduction by Patrick J. Buchanan), (1993), and Into the Bosnian Quagmire: The Case Against US Intervention in the Balkans (1996). He is an Adjunct Scholar with the Ludwig von Mises Institute, in Auburn, Alabama, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Libertarian Studies, and writes frequently for Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (forthcoming from Prometheus Books).



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