"The Zarqawi PSYOP program is the most successful information campaign to date." —Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, in an internal 2004 memo praising the propaganda campaign to hype the threat of Iraq's "terrorist mastermind" Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
I'm frankly amazed this Washington Post story from Monday hasn't gotten more play.
What it exposes is that Bush administration never stopped lying to the American people about the threats faced in Iraq. Just as it did with WMD before the war, the administration hyped the threat posed by Zarqawi during the occupation —this time to make it seem as though Iraq were a vital part of the battle with Al Qaeda.
Today, we know Zarqawi as the mastermind of the insurgency, Al Qaeda's main man in Iraq, the diabolical plotter behind all of those suicide and roadside bombs. The administration spun this line, and the American media, myself included, swallowed hook, line and sinker. But it turns out that Zarqawi's role in Iraq has been shamelessly hyped in a "psychological operations" propaganda effort —aimed both at Iraqis and, in apparent contravention of Pentagon policy, at the American public.
Last summer, Col. Derek Harvey —a top military intelligence officer in Iraq and who handled Iraq intel for the Joint Chiefs of Staff —told a gathering of Army brass that Zarqawi's violence represented "a very small part of the actual numbers...The long-term threat is not Zarqawi or religious extremists, but these former regime types and their friends."
Harvey continued, "Our own focus on Zarqawi has enlarged his caricature, if you will —made him more important than he really is."
As outlined in documents obtained by the Post, the propaganda effort to hype Zarqawi had two intended effects: To unify Iraqis, who would blame this meddling outsider for the violence in their country, and to make Zarqawi an enduring symbol stateside —one that justified continued U.S. presence in Iraq.
These Power Point slides prepared for top U.S. commander in Iraq, General Casey, are startling, in that they show just how naked and calculating this deception of the American people was, listing the "home audience" as a major target of the propaganda effort.
This text describes the "results" of operation "Villainize Zarqawi."
Through aggressive Strategic Communications Abu Musab al-Zarqawi now represents:
—Terrorism in Iraq
—Foreign Fighters in Iraq
—Suffering of Iraqi People (Infrastructure Attacks)
—Denial of Aspirations (Disrupting Transfer of Sovereignty)