• Propaganda For Who? Embassy Video about PRT Success

    September 9, 2011

    Posted in: Democracy, Embassy/State, Iraq, Military

    We always want to be fair and balanced on this blog, and so present to you the World’s Largest Embassy’s (c) video describing the terrific successes of the Provincial Reconstruction Teams in Iraq.

    (If the video fails to load, you can see it here)

    If anyone is still not sure what my book is about, (and you can now read samples online) it is the polar opposite of that video you just watched.

    Though no one actually takes credit for the fetid pile, the credits (you did watch until the end, right?) all cite Army people, and the people in the video are mostly Embassy folk. The ones without the neat button downs are contractors, their love of the PRT program no doubt partly inspired by the $250,000 a year State pays them. The others are real-live State Department types: Aaron Snipes appears, milking the last drops of his PRT cred (he is now the “spokesperson” for the Embassy) and the woman displaying the un-Islamic decolletage obviously studied how to win friends in the Muslim world with the State Department.

    There are many highlights, but one to point out is the meme with “Little Yasser,” the orphan boy whose school was rebuilt towards the end of the program. The PRTs were working on Little Yasser two years ago, when I was there. Real good news was hard to find, so when it happened we tended to overdo it. Even worse was when we manufactured the illusion of good news and beat the hell out of that. Look at the story of Operation Little Yasser. A sister PRT singled out an orphan and built a whole phony project around him, something about bringing a green house to an orphanage so the kids could heal by growing squash. The kid, Yasser, was just a prop for the media to write stories about, describing him as a “sweet, fragile child, whose soulful eyes reveal some of the heartbreak he’s endured.” That line was written in a project grant in 2009, and they repeated it verbatim in the video. The kid did not get anything out of his exploitation, kids rarely do, but the Embassy sure got some major PR miles. We were like the pedophiles of PRT work.

    One feature of these propaganda videos is their crudeness, primarily in their shameless lack of objectivity and balance. It is not unexpected that the Embassy would want to put a positive spin on things, but to present the PRT program as a singular savior of Iraq seems a bit much.

    The world needed this piece of self-congratulatory crap like I need a third nipple. Who outside of the State Department and maybe the Army is the intended audience? The video is obviously too one-sided for even the fanboys at Fox, and an Iraqi audience would pee themselves laughing, sad that there went 26 minutes of their life they’ll never get back. It was then it dawned on me: the video’s audience, like the PRT projects themselves, was State. They made this video for themselves.

    Real development work is slow, hard and often unphotogenic. The Iraqis got some charity, handouts really, but mostly ended up as background actors for our fantasy that we were liberators not occupiers. Watch in the video as the stalwart PRT members hand out pencils to schoolkids. The flak-jacketed American has the kids take one pencil from his box of many, making each kid look him in the eye as the price of accepting the handout. The visual is clear: we have a lot, you have nothing, this process is to make me feel good at the expense of your self pride. The process– armed soldiers and disingenuous officials coming into a school and co-opting the kids while the cameras rolled– must have reminded the Iraqis of Saddam’s own clumsy attempts at buying love. Would Americans feel pride seeing Chinese troops handing out school supplies in some Detroit shithole neighborhood?

    Resorting to gifts to seem popular was quick and easy but, like most quick solutions, really didn’t help. Once you started down the path of easy answers, your methods tended to sabotage later efforts to try the harder way. In a counterinsurgency campaign, there were several ways to make friends, most of them slow and difficult, like building relationships within the local community over time based on trust earned and respect freely given. Each iteration of handouts caused you to lose respect from a proud group of people forced into an uneven relationship.

    Anyway, enjoy the video for the laffs. When you want the real story, read my book.

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