I was too busy yesterday to get to this story in the Washington Post. The headline states, “Military Plays Up Role of Zarqawi — Jordanian Painted As Foreign Threat to Iraq’s Stability.” The first paragraph states:
The U.S. military is conducting a propaganda campaign to magnify the role of the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, according to internal military documents and officers familiar with the program. The effort has raised his profile in a way that some military intelligence officials believe may have overstated his importance and helped the Bush administration tie the war to the organization responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
This is the Post at its worst, trying to portray perfectly legitimate action by our government in a bad light. The U.S. should be emphasizing Zarqawi’s role in Iraq by “painting” him for what he is — a “foreign threat to Iraq’s stability.” We should be doing so in order to drive a wedge between Zarqawi’s crew and Iraqis who may be hostile to the U.S. but who are also hostile to foreign terrorists. As the Post grudgingly acknowledges, some tribal insurgents have attacked Zarqawi loyalists. Every time Iraqis attack Zarqawi loyalists or provide information about their whereabouts, our troops become safer. Thus, it would be scandalous for the U.S. military not to stress Zarqawi’s role and his status as a foreigner.
But, astonishingly, the Post seems scandalized that we’re engaged in a “propaganda campaign” against Zarqawi. To give the scandal legs, it informs us right out of the box that “some military intelligence officials believe that [the military] may have overstated [Zarqawi’s] importance.” (emphasis added). The Post goes on to identify one intelligence officer who says that, although Zarqawi and other foreign insurgents have conducted deadly bombing attacks, they remain “a very small part of the actual numbers.” (It’s not clear whether this means the actual number of bombing attacks or the actual number of terrorist-insurgents). The same official also opines that “former regime types and their friends,” not Zarqawi, represent the real long-term threat in Iraq. But the Post eventually admits that the significance of Zarqawi is the subject of a “running argument among specialists in Iraq.”
So here’s the situation: (1) Zarqawi, a foreign terrorist, indisputably is conducting deadly bombing attacks, (2) there’s disagreement about his precise level of activity and overall significance, (3) playing up his role is reasonably calculated to create deadly conflict among Iraqi terrorist-insurgents. Under these circumstances, should the U.S. “play up” Zarqawi’s role or give him the benefit of the doubt? Unless one is on Zarqawi’s side or is suffering from Bush Derangement Syndrome, the question answers itself.
But there’s a larger issue for the Post — the military’s “propaganda campaign” may have (stop reading if you’re highly sensitive) “spilled over into the U.S. media.” Yet the Post does not claim that information provided to the U.S. media overstated Zarqawi’s role. In the instance it cites, the military “leaked” a letter purportedly from Zarqawi boasting of suicide attacks in Iraq. Again, no one disputes that Zarqawi is responsible for such attacks. So unless one thinks it’s somehow improper to provide the media with facts that may make Americans see that our enemies in Iraq include important foreign terrorists, it’s difficult to find a scandal here either.
Nonetheless, any hope that the Post might forgive our military for supportable utterances designed to help it defeat Zarqawi in Iraq went out the window once it appeared that similar utterances might cause Americans to view the war as related to the fight against terrorism.
UPDATE: There they go again. Now our propagandists say that more than 90 percent of the suicide attacks in Iraq are carried out by fighters recruited, trained and equipped by Zarqawi. Does the Post have a basis for believing otherwise? If not, it’s difficult to see how the military is overstating Zarqawi’s importance.