Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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January 2, 2006

FAITH-BASED FUNDING GONE AWRY....The idea that the Bush administration would use tax dollars to pay religious leaders to advance its agenda is, alas, not new. Throughout Bush's first two years in office, for example, the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives routinely distributed grants to ministries that, coincidentally, Republicans were trying to curry favor with in key congressional races.

The practice of paying American religious leaders with our money raised all kinds of questions about church-state separation, corruption, cronyism, and exploitation of religion for partisan gain. But when it happens in Iraq, it poses a whole new set of problems.

A Pentagon contractor that paid Iraqi newspapers to print positive articles written by American soldiers has also been compensating Sunni religious scholars in Iraq in return for assistance with its propaganda work, according to current and former employees.

The Lincoln Group, a Washington-based public relations company, was told early in 2005 by the Pentagon to identify religious leaders who could help produce messages that would persuade Sunnis in violence-ridden Anbar Province to participate in national elections and reject the insurgency, according to a former employee.

Since then, the company has retained three or four Sunni religious scholars to offer advice and write reports for military commanders on the content of propaganda campaigns, the former employee said. But documents and Lincoln executives say the company's ties to religious leaders and dozens of other prominent Iraqis is aimed also at enabling it to exercise influence in Iraqi communities on behalf of clients, including the military.

To be fair, we're not talking about multi-million dollar bribes for clerics. The NYT reported that the Lincoln Group "spent about $144,000" on this propaganda program from May to September, and details are sketchy about exactly how many religious leaders were paid and how much each received.

What's more, the program, at least on the surface, wasn't explicitly about buying political support. The Sunni religious scholars were effectively public relations consultants, advising a Pentagon contractor on how to craft appealing messages.

It's likely, however, that there will be serious political and practical implications. As the NYT explained, "Sunni religious scholars are considered highly influential within the country's minority Sunni population." Call it a hunch, but it's not likely that Sunnis driving the insurgency will be pleased to know that we're "contracting" with their spiritual leaders about disseminating propaganda. As Kleiman put it, "I can't think of a better way to (1) discredit those who are genuinely on our side or (2) express contempt for Islam."

Steve Benen 9:15 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (24)

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Comments

Lincoln is quickly looking like Haliburton-light.

Posted by: def on January 2, 2006 at 9:23 AM | PERMALINK

I'm glad God is on our side.

Posted by: Gerald on January 2, 2006 at 9:54 AM | PERMALINK

Lincoln Group:

Iraq is flourishing. The Americans have brought light into our darkness. Support the cause, lay down your IEDs.

Reality (http://www.latimes.com/business/investing/la-fg-iraqecon2jan02,1,4004949.story?coll=la-headlines-business-invest):

Wasted landscape. Corrupt officials. Fleeing rich. Fleeting electricity, sewers, and fresh water. Rising fuel prices. Dust. Sand. Depleted uranium contamination. The infidels sure have done a wonderful job of creating a messterpiece!

Posted by: Tom Nicholson on January 2, 2006 at 9:55 AM | PERMALINK

Steve Benen:

It's likely, however, that there will be serious political and practical implications.

Not to get all Joe Lieberman on y'all, but without knowing more details, Lincoln's work for the military seems to be on the up-and-up. What concerns me more are the 'other clients' alluded to in the article....

I wonder how "Wal-Mart: Good for Iraq" translates into Arabic?

Posted by: grape_crush on January 2, 2006 at 10:12 AM | PERMALINK

There aren't enough details in this story to say "that there will be serious political and practical implications". It's not clear that these imams are even in Al Anbar,let alone what sort of following they have. Do you think it's better to craft a propaganda message without some consultation? Typically the US has barged ahead with no advice except for Karen Hughes and that hasn't gone over very well.
Propaganda is a word laden with connotations,most of them bad,but since it's a fact we're going to do it,why not try and do it without inadvertently offending the group you are trying to reach?

Posted by: TJM on January 2, 2006 at 10:14 AM | PERMALINK

Steve Wrote:
"To be fair, we're not talking about multi-million dollar bribes for clerics. The NYT reported that the Lincoln Group "spent about $144,000" on this propaganda program from May to September"

This only makes much sense if you're talking purely from a US perspective. For the average Iraqi, including the vast majority of clerics, that is huge money. I'm not sure what local prevailing wages are like in Iraq, but if its anything like the rest of the third world, then from an Iraqi perspective 144,000US$ might as well be a million.

We shouldn't be looking at this in terms of how much it _cost_ the Lincoln group, but in terms of how much they were able to _buy_ for it. In this case, how much that amount of money in that place at that time was able to bend people to distort what they would have otherwise told straight. And the answer to the question of how much distortion it was able to buy doesn't come purely from the number of dollars, but from comparing the number of dollars with the standard of living now existing in Iraq. GM goes to China to make their dollars buy more widgets, the same conditions that make this possible in China allows the Lincoln Group's money to buy more corruption in Iraq per dollar than in the US.

Corruption and distortion are the issues and we shouldn't lighten our condemnation of this behavior on micron just because it doesn't sound like a lot of moeny to us in terms of political corruption in our country. Doing so is plaing into the same trap as MSM reports do when they try to be "fair and balanced" even when the two sides of the story simply aren't equal on their face.

-Liano

Posted by: Liano on January 2, 2006 at 10:19 AM | PERMALINK

Lincoln Group "spent about $144,000"

hmm, and what was lincoln group's cut of the $300 million propaganda bonanza -- $100 million. hell of a mark-up.

http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2005-12-14-pentagon-pr_x.htm

Posted by: linda on January 2, 2006 at 10:54 AM | PERMALINK

Since propaganda is part of war and probably been practiced since the first caveman spread the rumor that he could throw a bigger rock. Whay is wrong with trying to do it right? It makes sense to hire someone that can tell you if you just insulted every Sunni in Iraq or not.

Posted by: Fat White Guy on January 2, 2006 at 11:02 AM | PERMALINK

Sorry, but I think this is a silly pseudo-controversy. We're waging a propaganda war in Iraq. Is that some kind of surprise? In fact we'd be negligent if we weren't doing things like this.

My problem is this has no doubt been done in the same clumsy, ineffectual, amateurish way as everything else that this administration touches involving actual policy. Through some half-assed connected Republican contractor, rather than the CIA directly. By unserious people who couldn't keep their mouths shut.

Posted by: larry birnbaum on January 2, 2006 at 11:06 AM | PERMALINK

Fat White Guy on January 2, 2006 at 11:02 AM:

Since propaganda is part of war...every Sunni in Iraq or not.

Unless there is some other Fat White Information that we aren't hearing about, then I kinda Fat White Agree with you...even planting Fat White stories by American troops into Iraqi newspapers, as long as the stories were Fat White True...

...except about the we are at 'war' part. Fat White Major military actions in Iraq ceased a Fat While Back...You can't stop Fat White Terrorism with tanks and laser-guided bombs. This isn't War in the World War II sense; it feel more like a Fat White Repeat of the Cold War.

BTW, you Fat White Forgot your signature "I love it!"...

Posted by: grape_crush on January 2, 2006 at 11:31 AM | PERMALINK

grape_crush,

Good points, but you have to keep it in terms of the Korean War which "Coach" won single handedly (oops with an assist from Walter E)

Posted by: thethirdPa;ul on January 2, 2006 at 11:47 AM | PERMALINK

Where do these people get there scrupples.
They continue to push boundries and break
laws. Any person with a ounce of any
religion in them.
Would put as much distance between them
and this administration as possable.
I pray when they fall they fall far
and hard.

Posted by: Honey P on January 2, 2006 at 12:01 PM | PERMALINK

Oh please, while Lincoln Group is a bunch of incompetent dilettentes, this particular activity is not "bad" and has fuck all to do with "contempt for Islam" - if anything it might show just the opposite.

This is mere knee jerking.

Posted by: collounsbury on January 2, 2006 at 12:15 PM | PERMALINK

I'd say this is pretty typical of the administration in as much as they seem to regard any faith as a political tool, which tends to show contempt for the faith itself. Is it any wonder that they would view Sunni religious scholars through the same lens of political expedience?

Posted by: Matthew on January 2, 2006 at 12:32 PM | PERMALINK

It's typical of getting things done, not "this Administration" you silly whinging knee jerking Bushophobes.

Good lord, the facts merely indicate LG consulted on messages with the "clerics" (aka theologians as there are no clerics in Sunni Islam). The whinging is nothing but Lefty ideological knee jerking. Bloody save it for when its justified - the incompetent fools in the Bush Administration will provide you with your ammo soon enough without you whiinging on like little children over nothing.

Posted by: collounsbury on January 2, 2006 at 12:40 PM | PERMALINK

thirdPaul on January 2, 2006 at 11:47 AM:

...the Korean War which "Coach" won single handedly

He only has one hand? Remind me not to make fun of his typing...

Posted by: grape_crush on January 2, 2006 at 12:50 PM | PERMALINK

It seems the folks who believe killing "bad" guys (along with 30,000 others) are selling their war similar to the way "born agains" sell their faith-based views.

Religion is not about how loud you proclaim to have "seen" the light,etc., it's about living your faith. No amount of shouting from a pulpit or knocking on doors results in real religion.

War is the same. How can you offer peace when you are dropping bombs all over the countryside?

We have been proclaiming loud and clear our ability to make war, Shock and Awe as you will.

Peace is more than the absence of war.

Those who hear the words about Iraq from journalistic mercenaries listen for the bombs as well.

Posted by: Tom Nicholson on January 2, 2006 at 2:11 PM | PERMALINK

To the credit of African American ministries, opposition in that community to the war in Iraq has not abated, even with faith based bribe money being distributed by the GOP to "key congressional districts". Or so it is rumored.

Posted by: parrot on January 2, 2006 at 3:25 PM | PERMALINK

Well said, Tom Nicolson!

Posted by: Mazurka on January 2, 2006 at 5:14 PM | PERMALINK

Isn't this an example of the kind of story that somone who is an American first and a newsman second would have killed?

This isn't something that the American people needed to know. It is something that America needed the insurgency not to know.

Posted by: Michael Friedman on January 2, 2006 at 10:18 PM | PERMALINK

This isn't something that the American people needed to know.

And you were put in charge of that exactly when?

Posted by: SnarkyShark on January 2, 2006 at 11:24 PM | PERMALINK

I was put in charge of that about the same time the NYT was - never.

The people who run the war were put in charge of that... and the NYT should have remembered that.

Posted by: Michael Friedman on January 3, 2006 at 2:23 AM | PERMALINK

Friedman:

It's hardly that bad. The insurgency already believed the same regardless. However the story was rather overdone to say the least.

The real harm was done when Lincoln Group engaged in amateurish payoffs to the press. Amateur hour, and their own bloody fault they got caught. Keep in mind there are other journos out there besides American, and US navel gazing with respect to its own media reporting is not all that enlightening (however much the idiotic whinging on by the Left [regardless of what happens, it's wrong] is equally unenlightening).

Posted by: collounsbury on January 3, 2006 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

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Posted by: 歌曲 on January 5, 2006 at 3:09 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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