Branding Iraq with al-Qaida

With every passing Iraqi death we lose another piece of our humanity. How can we or Washington justify the mass murder of thousands?

by Nathan Paulsen

The desperate attempt of government officials to brand the Iraqi insurgency with al-Qaida is part of a deliberate misinformation campaign aimed at dissuading the American public from demanding an end to the Iraq war.

“Branding” is a sophisticated form of mind control that involves the manufacture of public perceptions to achieve predetermined objectives. Normally, branding is employed to sell a product or service to consumers by associating it with positive images. For instance, when I think of Nike, Michael Jordan is the first thing that pops into my mind. And who wouldn’t want to be like Mike? By successfully branding its product with one of the most revered sports heroes of all time, Nike has virtually guaranteed an endless stream of semiconscious consumers wandering into the nearest Foot Locker to buy new pairs of $100 shoes.

Of course, the corporation isn’t the only powerful organization that uses branding to further its strategic goals. The Pentagon also has delved into the dirty craft of manipulating public opinion to tempt us into buying unnecessary crap. The only difference is that instead of selling cheap goods at inflated prices to increase profit margins, the Pentagon sells death and destruction on a wide scale to maintain the global domination of United States elite.

Shortly after 9/11, the Bush administration realized it had a serious problem: Decades of U.S. foreign policy aimed at pillaging other countries’ resources had sparked an abiding sense of resentment and anger among the world’s masses. With the stark reality of the United States increasingly precarious economic and military position impossible to ignore, administration officials did what any wealthy political clique with close ties to multinational corporations would do ” they assigned one of the nation’s top advertising executives to improve the United States image abroad. The Pentagon also gave a four- month, $397,000 public relations contract to Rendon Group, charging it with the unenviable task of covering up the real human toll of the war in Afghanistan. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell responded to criticism by asserting, “There is nothing wrong with getting somebody who knows how to sell something. We are selling a product. We need someone who can re-brand American foreign policy, re-brand diplomacy.” Four years later, the Bush administration’s efforts to “re-brand” American foreign policy can be seen on the nightly news in the hard contours of Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi’s face.

Zarqawi is the purported leader of al-Qaida in Iraq. Excepting the brutalities inflicted on the Iraqi people by American military forces, his organization is credited with some of the most atrocious acts of violence committed to date in the Iraq war, ranging from suicide bombings of civilians to videotaped beheadings of collaborating truck drivers. In public speeches and news conferences, Bush administration officials consistently highlight the role of Zarqawi’s network in the Iraqi resistance that has killed and wounded more than 17,900 U.S. soldiers. In typical uncritical fashion, major news corporations have joined in the hysteria by splashing images of Zarqawi on television screens throughout the nation whenever an American soldier is killed in Iraq (which is every day).

This is in spite of the fact that most experts agree al-Qaida represents only a miniscule fraction of Iraq’s armed resistance. U.S. military commanders suggest that no more than 5 percent to 10 percent of the resistance is composed of foreign fighters, and there is good reason to suspect that even these numbers are inflated. According to the nonpartisan Center for International and Strategic Studies, the majority of those participating in the Iraqi resistance are neither al-Qaida operatives nor Saddam loyalists. They are members of Sunni Arab Iraqi tribes who are opposed to the foreign occupation of their country and the specter of a fundamentalist government allied with Iran taking power in Iraq with U.S. assistance. The leaders of Iraq’s anti-occupation movement routinely denounce al-Qaida for targeting innocent men, women and children.

“The enemies” that U.S. military forces are fighting in Iraq are ordinary Iraqis struggling for national independence from a foreign aggressor. They are 12-year-old Iraqi girls and boys, working people, elderly men and women, high school and college students. Indeed, the enemy is almost “anything that moves,” as U.S. military officers conducting offensives are quick to point out.

Why then has the Bush administration gone to such lengths to tie al-Qaida to the Iraq war in the popular American mind?

Simply put, 9/11 left an indelible neuronal impression in our brains that predispose us to react with anxiety and anger whenever the events of that day, or anything associated with them, are brought to our attention. Haunted by the memory of 9/11, and dangerously unaware of our emotional states, our glorious leaders have manipulated strong cultural undercurrents of fear and revenge to sever the natural empathic bonds that we might otherwise feel for an oppressed and suffering people. By branding the Iraqi resistance with al-Qaida, Washington’s public relations experts have “justified” the cold-blooded murder of 100,000 Iraqis and the daily humiliation of an entire nation.

Nathan Paulsen welcomes comments at [email protected].