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Is the government really planning to spread lies in the international press to influence world public opinion?


The New York Times reported last week that the Pentagon's new Office of Strategic Influence was preparing to mount an international public relations campaign aimed at promoting pro-American public opinion and government policies. That's not a bad idea. Years of inflicting 'N Sync, David Hasselhoff and cruise missiles on the rest of the world have left our overseas reputation battered.

What scares the bejesus (and the be-Allah) out of people here and around the world is the suggestion that, in order to influence opinion, the Pentagon would actively spread lies through the international press, and via e-mail and Internet chat rooms.

Naturally, that suggestion has caused a stir -- particularly in the media. Being used as an unwitting mouthpiece for government lies isn't exactly every reporter's idea of quality journalism. In addition, several officials in the Pentagon, speaking off the record, stated their fear that officially sanctioned deception of the public would completely undermine trust, both domestically and abroad, in anything the US government had to say.

What isn't being mentioned too much (at least not in this country) is that much of our bad reputation abroad isn't the result of bad public relations -- it's the direct result of our policies. In the Middle East, we support Israel with billions each year in military aid. Arabs throughout the Middle East despise the way Israel treats Palestinians in the occupied territories and therefore despise us because we support Israel. You can't punch a guy in the face over and over again, and expect his friends to like you. We can't have it both ways -- and no amount of PR magic is gonna change that.

Last week, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney "reassured" the world that our government would always tell the truth, and that the Pentagon's Office of Strategic Influence was not allowed to lie to promote pro-American opinion. But Douglas Feith, the undersecretary of defense, declined to rule out that the OSI might pay outside firms to do the lying. In other words, we'll always be truthful, but we might pay people to lie on our behalf. That's reassuring. By that logic, one could argue that bin Laden is innocent of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks because he ordered other people to do it. Clever. And the Pentagon wonders why people don't always like the US government. But it's at least somewhat reassuring that there's obvious resistance within the Pentagon itself to using a government agency for the express purpose of lying to people.

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