After you buy this one, of course: Weapons of Mass Deception: The Uses of Propaganda in Bush’s War on Iraq, by Sheldon Rampton, John C. Stauber (and, full disclosure, with a cover by your humble host).
The visual images, of course, are what most people will remember. But it is worth asking whether the toppling of Saddam was as spontaneous as it was made to appear. If this scene seemed a bit too picture-perfect, perhaps there is a reason. Consider, for example, the remarks that public relations consultant John Rendon who, during the past decade, has worked extensively on Iraq for the Pentagon and the CIA made on February 29, 1996, before an audience of cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy.
“I am not a national security strategist or a military tactician,” Rendon said. “I am a politician, and a person who uses communication to meet public policy or corporate policy objectives. In fact, I am an information warrior and a perception manager.” He reminded the Air Force cadets that when victorious troops rolled into Kuwait City at the end of the first war in the Persian Gulf, they were greeted by hundreds of Kuwaitis waving small American flags. The scene, flashed around the world on television screens, sent the message that U.S. Marines were being welcomed in Kuwait as liberating heroes.
“Did you ever stop to wonder,” Rendon asked, “how the people of Kuwait City, after being held hostage for seven long and painful months, were able to get hand-held American, and for that matter, the flags of other coalition countries?” He paused for effect. “Well, you now know the answer. That was one of my jobs then.”
Of course, we have no way of knowing whether Rendon or any other PR specialist helped influence the toppling of Saddam’s statue or other specific images that the public saw during the war in Iraq. Public relations firms often do their work behind the scenes, and Rendon with whom the Pentagon signed a new agreement in February 2002 is usually reticent about his work. But his description of himself as a “perception manager” echoes the language of Pentagon planners, who define “perception management” as “actions to convey and (or) deny selected information and indicators to foreign audiences to influence their emotions, motives, and objective reasoning. … In various ways, perception management combines truth projection, operations security, cover, and deception, and psyops [psychological operations].”
The paradox of the American war in Iraq, however, is that perception management has been much more successful at “influencing the emotions, motives, and objective reasoning” of the American people than it has been at reaching “foreign audiences.” When we see footage of Kuwaitis waving American flags, or of Iraqis cheering while U.S. Marines topple a statue of Saddam, it should be understood that those images target U.S. audiences as much, if not more, than the citizens of Kuwait or Iraq.