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Author on war in Iraq: We got snookered

'Best War' picks apart the selling of invasion to American public
by: , ‘Best War’ picks apart the selling of invasion to American public

Author and media watchdog John Stauber saw all he needed to know about the marketing skills of the current administration in the results of a recent Harris Poll.

Fifty percent of the Americans who responded to the July survey said they believe Iraq had weapons of mass destruction at the start of a U.S.-led war there in 2003 - this despite the fact that none have been found.

Shockingly, Stauber says, the poll number is considerably higher than the 36 percent who believed that a year earlier.

'They sold this war so well, the inclination is to keep believing the propaganda,' he says.

Stauber and writing partner Sheldon Rampton, co-authors of five books, pass along what they've observed about the Bush administration's promotion of the war in their latest, 'The Best War Ever,' published last week. (Their other works include 'Toxic Sludge Is Good for You!' and 'Mad Cow U.S.A.') Stauber will be in Portland Wednesday night to promote the book.

'What's so frightening is that they continue to wage successfully this propaganda campaign,' he says. 'No one has been held accountable. People come up to me and say, 'I'm so ashamed. I bought into it.' '

Stauber, who lives and works in Wisconsin, where he founded the Center for Media and Democracy, says the American public was sold the invasion of Iraq by some of the most sophisticated public relations professionals in the business.

In 'The Best War Ever,' the authors describe a feeding frenzy for taxpayer dollars that began long before no-bid contracts were awarded for Iraq's reconstruction.

The book says the Defense Department spent hundreds of millions of dollars on third-party public relations firms that not only shaped information in Iraq, but placed news stories of dubious origin on the pages of America's most influential dailies.

The dramatic images of joyous Iraqis toppling a statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad's Firdos Square, the authors say, was orchestrated by the U.S. Army's psychological operations unit.

'It's very dangerous,' Stauber says of the administration's ability to massage the message. 'We're going to spend a trillion to a trillion and a half dollars. It's going to be a worse debacle for our nation than Vietnam.'

Not all of the authors' ire is reserved for the government. Stauber says a compliant mainstream media raised little objection to administration claims on Iraq both before and during the war.

'The major news media just echoed it and repeated it,' he says. 'I think it's a completely different news environment right now because of how horrifyingly the war has gone. Now, for people who are critical thinkers, there is this realization, 'My God, we got totally snookered.' '

Stauber says the American public is finally getting a broader accounting of the Iraq conflict from voices that range from veteran war correspondents to retired military officers.

He lauds the work of Washington Post reporter Thomas Ricks in Ricks' 2006 book, 'Fiasco,' and points to a 2004 interview with retired Army Lt. Gen. William Odom.

'The invasion of Iraq may well turn out to be the greatest strategic disaster in American history,' Odom told Katie Couric. 'In any event, the longer we stay, the worse it will be. We have already failed.'

Stauber says: 'The people who deceived us into this war say, 'You have to trust us, we've got to stay the course.' What they really want to do is expand the war into places like Iran. You have an administration and a neoconservative movement saying, 'Let's keep going full throttle down this disastrous course because we have to.'

'What people have to do is trust their instincts. Things are getting worse in Iraq day by day. It's drawn our attention away from Afghanistan. It's stuck the U.S. in a situation where we're creating terrorism. I think we just have to bite the bullet and say, 'How do we extricate ourselves?' '

Stauber says getting out is a straightforward matter of organizing around an established timeline and working with allies and other countries in the region.

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