By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
This was creatively produced propaganda spread not only through the Pentagon, but across a network of policymakers — the State Department, with John Bolton; the Vice President’s Office, the very close relationship the OSP had with that office. That is not normal, that is a bypassing of normal processes. Then there was the National Security Council, with certain people who had neoconservative views; Scooter Libby, the vice president’s chief of staff; a network of think tanks who advocated neoconservative views — the American Enterprise Institute, the Center for Security Policy with Frank Gaffney, the columnist Charles Krauthammer — was very reliable. So there was just not a process inside the Pentagon that should have developed good honest policy, but it was instead pushing a particular agenda; this group worked in a coordinated manner, across media and parts of the government, with their neoconservative compadres.
How did you experience this in your day-to-day work?
There was a sort of groupthink, an adopted storyline: We are going to invade Iraq and we are going to eliminate Saddam Hussein and we are going to have bases in Iraq. This was all a given even by the time I joined them, in May of 2002.
You heard this in staff meetings?
The discussions were ones of this sort of inevitability. The concerns were only that some policymakers still had to get onboard with this agenda. Not that this agenda was right or wrong — but that we needed to convince the remaining holdovers. Colin Powell, for example. There was a lot of frustration with Powell; they said a lot of bad things about him in the office. They got very angry with him when he convinced Bush to go back to the U.N. and forced a four-month delay in their invasion plans.
General Tony Zinni is another one. Zinni, the combatant commander of Central Command, Tommy Franks’ predecessor — a very well-qualified guy who knows the Middle East inside out, knows the military inside out, a Marine, a great guy. He spoke out publicly as President Bush’s Middle East envoy about some of the things he saw. Before he was removed by Bush, I heard Zinni called a traitor in a staff meeting. They were very anti-anybody who might provide information that affected their paradigm. They were the spin enforcers.
How did this atmosphere affect your work? To be direct, were you told by your superiors what you could say and not say? What could and could not be discussed? Or were opinions they didn’t like just ignored?
I can give you one clear example where we were told to follow the party line, where I was told directly. I worked North Africa, which included Libya. I remember in one case, I had to rewrite something a number of times before it went through. It was a background paper on Libya, and Libya has been working for years to try and regain the respect of the international community. I had intelligence that told me this, and I quoted from the intelligence, but they made me go back and change it and change it. They’d make me delete the quotes from intelligence so they could present their case on Libya in a way that said it was still a threat to its neighbors and that Libya was still a belligerent, antagonistic force. They edited my reports in that way. In fact, the last report I made, they said, “Just send me the file.” And I don’t know what the report ended up looking like, because I imagine more changes were made.
On Libya, really a small player, the facts did not fit their paradigm that we have all these enemies.
One person you’ve written about is Abe Shulsky. You describe him as a personable, affable fellow but one who played a key role in the official spin that led to war.
Abe was the director of the Office of Special Plans. He was in our shared offices when I joined, in May 2002. He comes from an academic background; he’s definitely a neoconservative. He is a student of Leo Strauss from the University of Chicago — so he has that Straussian academic perspective. He was the final proving authority on all the talking points that were generated from the Office of Special Plans and that were distributed throughout the Pentagon, certainly to staff officers. And it appears to me they were also distributed to the Vice President’s Office and to the presidential speechwriters. Much of the phraseology that was in our talking points consists of the same things I heard the president say.
So Shulsky was the sort of controller, the disciplinarian, the overseeing monitor of the propaganda flow. From where you sat, did you see him manipulate the information?
We had a whole staff to help him do that, and he was the approving authority. I can give you one example of how the talking points were altered. We were instructed by Bill Luti, on behalf of the Office of Special Plans, on behalf of Abe Shulsky, that we would not write anything about Iraq, WMD or terrorism in any papers that we prepared for our superiors except as instructed by the Office of Special Plans. And it would provide to us an electronic document of talking points on these issues. So I got to see how they evolved.