Friday, June 20, 2014

Blast from the Past: Found on the Web re Iraq

Interview with John H. Brown, Ret. State Department, Foreign Service Officer
Brown | Interview
July 15th, 2004
Transcription by John D. Pearce

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Why don’t you go ahead and introduce yourself?

JOHN BROWN: Okay. My name is John Brown. I was a Foreign Service Officer for over 20 years. And I resigned from the Foreign Service over the war in Iraq.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: [Technical Sound Check] Okay. So why don’t you talk about the specifics of -- from your perception of where you were at and what you were seeing.

BROWN: Today?

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: No. I’m sorry -- You resigned on -- was it March 10th?


ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: So talk about leading up to that point and what you were seeing and what drove you to --

BROWN: Okay. I was teaching a course at Georgetown University on Public Diplomacy. And for that course, I examined very closely the statements of the administration to justify the war. And I simply was not convinced by the case that was made. And the statement that struck me the most was a statement that was one that was made in September of 2001, by Andrew Card -- who was the Chief of Staff -- who is the Chief of Staff of the Bush White House -- saying that ‘You don’t introduce a new product in the summer.’ And he was referring to the war. And that’s why they started the -- if you will -- the campaign to sell the war to the public in the fall of 2001.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: I’m sorry, I think it was 2002 --

BROWN: Oh, I’m sorry, sorry. Yeah. Thank you.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: I just want to get that right. So just --

BROWN: Thank you. Sorry. Is that all right?

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Just start from the top.

BROWN: Okay. To introduce the campaign in the fall of 2002. And for me, reducing the war to a product – or saying they’re essentially equivalent -- to me that was simply appalling. And that’s when I became really very critical of the administration. And I looked at the statements even more critically. And I became increasingly convinced that they were base propaganda, and showed all the tricks -- if you will -- of base propaganda -- Everything from constant repetition of certain phrases, to demonization of the opponent, and, of course, simplification of the argument. And, so, I was -- By the beginning of the new year, I was very, very, very critical -- very skeptical – about why we were doing this. Also, the American media did not really cover, I thought, what the outside world was saying about all this. And there was enormous criticism outside -- of what the United States was planning to do. And of course, we can’t act without -- Our country can’t act without taking into consideration world public opinion. And so finally, the straw that broke the camel’s back was the President’s press conference just prior to the war, where in this imperial White House setting, he announced before timid media representatives, that the war was just about to take place. There was no questioning of this – this kind of an acceptance on of the part of the American media -- no critical questions. And so -- After that press conference, I simply said, "I simply cannot be part of this." I am, after all, in the Foreign Service. And as a Foreign Service officer, part of my job is to support and justify American foreign policy – And there’s a point where -- this point where I simply could not do it with whatever conscience I have.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: When you -- To some extent it seems like the blame can be laid on the Executive Branch, the Congressional Branch of giving the authorization, but also the media and the public. From your sense can you kind of talk about how you see that?

BROWN: Well, I think that – And, you know, this is not an original idea, I think the shock of 9/11 was such in the United States, that people -- public, ordinary Americans -- if we can talk about ordinary Americans -- were looking for an explanation for this. And frankly, looking for who was guilty and who should be punished. And so -- That provided, if you will, the context that made it so easy for the administration to sell this war -- which as it’s become increasingly clear -- had little, if anything, to do with 9/11. I mean, the people against whom the war was fought -- namely Sadaam Hussein. So -- I think that because of the tragedy of 9/11, people forgot to put on their critical – Well, they forgot about their critical thinking -- that you have to look at things critically. And they were too eager -- too ready to accept the administration’s very simplistic case for war -- and that includes the Congress. And they really -- People should ask questions right away, and they didn’t. I think that within the State Department, I don’t think critical questions were raised early on. I think there was always skepticism among my colleagues at the State Department, but I think the higher ranking people at the State Department really could’ve asked earlier, ‘"Why are we doing this? What’s the purpose of it?" And I don’t know if that question was asked, really. It was more, "Well, we’re going to do it. Now how are we going to ‘sell it’ to the American public." And the State Department would add, "How about world public opinion, Mr. President?" But my reading of this is that it was essentially an afterthought. The decision was made to invade Iraq. "Why?" -- It’s still not clear to me. I mean, there are all kinds of speculation. My initial reading of the situation was that it was political – domestic -- as a way to make the President look good for the 2002 elections as a Commander-in-Chief – ‘Decisive. Ready to Take on the Enemy.’ But -- The more we get into this -- this tragedy of this misadventure in Iraq -- the clearer it becomes that there were more elements involved than that -- both from the neocons, if you will. But the story still has to be told exactly why we did this.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: And from your sense – Do you attribute controlling access that other people don’t get access to oil? Or Israel? Or have you looked at the thinking of the neo-conservatives who were kind of the ideological drive toward this war?

BROWN: Well again, you know, it’s very hard to tell. I think it’s going to be a task for historians. Enormous research will have to be done to understand exactly why we got into this war. My point in resigning was that, to me, it wasn’t justified properly (laugh). You know, to us Americans and to the outside world. I think – You know, one must never forget ‘Confusion.’ I mean, I was in government for over 20 years. And the amount of confusion -- lack of coordination -- is unbelievable. And, I wouldn’t cancel that element as part of the equation as to ‘Why we got into this war.’ Maybe it’s conceivable that people in this administration weren’t quite sure. Or there was a lack of coordination between the State Department, Department of Defense -- the ball got started, and here we were into war. I mean don’t -- I don’t think that should be taken completely out of consideration. The problem that’s happened, I think, is that -- Because the war was so poorly justified, it has lead -- especially in the outside world—to conspiracy theories about what was the United States -- what is the United States up to. This lack of clarity on the part of the administration in justifying what we are doing leads to these wild speculations about the United States -- which don’t help us -- especially in the Muslim world. Then it’s because "They’re after the oil." -- "It’s because of these grand theories about what we’re doing," which often lead to simplification of a United States itself. We’re not -- We’re a complex country with – So, you know, that lack of clarity has lead to conspiracy theories. And again, my question is, "I wonder if the administration itself was really sure why it got into this war."

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: When you talk about the foreign press, from your sense -- What kind of information were you gathering? What kind of sources were you looking at? And what kind of stuff did you see wasn’t being incorporated into the debate?

BROWN: Well, I think that the thing that was not incorporated into the debate was immense criticism outside of the United States regarding this war. And the dismissal on the part of the administration of critical opinion abroad about what we were doing. Part of this "You Are With Us or Against Us" mentality, that very reasonable voices abroad -- in many cases pro-American -- saying, "What are you getting yourselves into? Why are you doing this?" And a complete dismissal of that. And that, of course, led to the view that we were not paying attention to what other people were saying -- That we are hegemonic -- That we make up our minds first, and ask questions later. And I think it’s hurt the United States terribly -- our image, about how we’re seen abroad – Because -- In the past century, the United States for all its faults -- as seen by foreigners, I mean, everything from "We don’t know how to use knives and forks properly" to "We have bad manners" to (laugh) "We’re too loud" -- you know --"We drive too many cars" -- But I think, essentially, there was belief abroad -- even in communist countries were I served most of my career -- or socialist countries -- that, you know, ‘When the chips are down, the Americans are on the good side.’ And this was the experience of the 20th century -- World War I, World War II – where we came in, and – if you will -- fought the enemy. And -- In this century, with what we did in Iraq -- which we did so unilaterally without taking into consideration the views of other countries --we’re seen as the "Sheriff who shoots first." It’s a very -- It’s going to take a long time to get over that. I mean, not to speak of these dreadful images of the prison in Baghdad that have replaced the Statue of Liberty as, if you will, the American icon -- of course, images change. But I think -- We’re going to have a terribly difficult time to -- I don’t want to say to ‘remake our image’, but -- to change the perception of the United States. What I mentioned in my letter of resignation is that the policies of the Bush administration have given rise to an anti-American century -- whereas the past century was sort of the American century, if you will. We enter the world stage after World War I. In World War II, we helped defeat Nazism. We, you know, ‘Democracy.’ Confronted totalitarian countries, and came out -- I won’t say victorious -- but the world was made a safer, more democratic place, you could argue -- despite all our mistakes. But then comes the 21st century, and then this misadventure in Iraq -- Poorly thought-out -- Poorly justified -- Poorly planned -- Even today we’re seeing the results of just awful planning. We get there, then what are we going to do? I mean, (laugh) they didn’t think about that. And this incredible arrogance on the part of the White House -- the arrogance of the provincial, because it was the assumption that we’d move in there, they’d treat us as liberators. And I’d say, "But -- I mean, it’s a complicated country -- terribly complicated country." We were like innocents. We were there with our armies -- our soldiers, moving into a place we knew practically nothing about, and now we’re seeing the consequences. Not to speak of the cost of this thing. I mean, it’s costing money. And the tragic deaths of civilians -- which, by the way, the American media did not cover -- hardly covered. The terrible side of this war. I never forget when I saw that "Shock and Awe" the first time. I was just absolutely appalled. My one -- sadly enough, kind of ‘satisfaction’ in quotation marks -- was that I had left the Foreign Service, and that "Shock and Awe" -- I was not part of -- that I didn’t take part in its production. I mean, just awful. Is this the way you bring democracy to the Middle East, by "Shock and Awe?" I mean, no. If that’s the justification for what we did, which evidently is an afterthought with this administration. We all know the story now. First it’s "Regime Change" -- I mean, "Weapons of Mass Destruction" -- "Regime Change." And it was the final thing, "It’s Going To Take A Generational Commitment to Bring Democracy to the Middle East." These are just afterthoughts at most.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: From the viewpoint of public diplomacy, it seems that the United States has a different view towards the United Nations and international law with the other nations. Can you speak to how we see international law. How other countries see international law? And how it protects us versus how it protects them?

BROWN: Well, I think this administration has certainly not taken international law seriously at all. I mean, it’s made it very clear through its messages -- and especially through its actions -- that "We’re the most powerful. Might is Right." That may bring short-term advantages, but long-term, it’s disastrous. Because what we mustn’t forget -- and it’s so easy to forget that in the United States, which is such a prosperous country -- is that we are in a minority on this planet. We will have to face the demographic facts that we’re a small part of the world’s population. Right now we’re enjoying incredible wealth -- incredible prosperity, but you can’t separate yourself from the rest of the world. I think this is what this administration has done – ironically -- through this foreign misadventure. It’s created a kind of Fortress America that doesn’t pay attention to really mankind -- the rest of mankind. But whenever it feels threatened it’s going to send in the rockets and planes and blow people up. But, I mean, that’s not -- long-term -- in our national interests. Contrast this with the vision after the Second World War, of "America the Generous." I mean, defeated Germany, defeated Japan -- How generously we reacted. To make comparisons today between We in World War II and We in this Iraqi misadventure is simply disingenuous. It just doesn’t work. What this administration has shown is a singular lack of generosity, which is the best part of the American character – ‘We’re willing to help. We’re willing to share. We’re willing to –‘ And this has not at all been the mentality. It’s been "We’re the toughest. We’re the strongest. You do what we do – what we want. If you don’t do what we want, we beat you up." And long-term, that doesn’t work very well. I mean, it provides short-term satisfaction -- kind of Rambo-stuff, but --

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Can you speak to the efforts of Charlotte Beers and Margaret Tutwiller in the Middle East? And the approach to public diplomacy, it seems to be stuck on transmit and there’s no receiving or listening?

BROWN: Well, precisely. I think you’re making a very good point. Public diplomacy at its best establishes a dialogue between Americans and the rest of the world. As we take part in this dialogue, of course, we present our point of view -- the American point of view – or the point of view of the American government. But we listen and we take into consideration the points of others. This administration has not taken diplomacy seriously. This will explain why it doesn’t take public diplomacy seriously. You see -- Diplomacy is, in essence, negotiations between two parties. But this administration does not -- has not essentially believed in negotiations. It’s believed in force. It’s believed in the imposition of the American will on the rest of the world, and not really talking -- negotiating with the rest of the world. I mean, there are exceptions, of course. But I think I’m making, I think, a justifiable, general statement -- certainly as indicated by the whole Iraqi misadventure. Now, if this administration doesn’t believe, really, in diplomacy, it really doesn’t believe in public diplomacy either. Because public diplomacy is meant to compliment diplomacy. It’s meant to support it. It’s meant to, if you will, assist it. And -- So instead of public diplomacy, what we have is propaganda. And propaganda is a weapon of force, you see. Propaganda is a unilateral message that you impose upon an audience -- the target audience. And the way you make it work is by these tricks and tools of repetition, demonization, appeal to atavistic feelings of fear of ‘the other.’ And this has been what, really, this administration has used. And ironically enough, this base propaganda approach didn’t work abroad, because most foreigners just didn’t buy it. They saw it for what it was. Whereas here in the United States, we bought it. American public opinion bought this really base propaganda, which the rest of the world said, "What is this? This doesn’t make any sense." Because the administration believes more in base propaganda, than in the subtleties of public diplomacy -- which include give and take and exchange -- they have essentially dismissed it. The people who were in charge of public diplomacy -- this Miss Beers – is a person – she’s a -- she sells shampoo. I mean, she’s clever at selling shampoo. But America’s not a product. America’s an idea. America’s a very complex idea. And you don’t sell an idea the way you sell a product to get rid of dandruff. And this was the approach. And it didn’t work. Again, because the world is becoming increasingly sophisticated. I mean, people are not stupid. (laugh) The assumption of propaganda – and read Nazi propaganda -- the assumption is that people are stupid and primitive. But, in fact, I would say they’re not. Because education is becoming worldwide -- And people, you know, through mass communications -- they’re very sophisticated. If you want to reach them now, you have to be subtle. Doing stupid little videos about Muslim Life in the United States is not going to do the trick. Also, one of the best parts of public diplomacy are, of course, educational exchanges -- long-term commitment to exchange of students and teachers and professors. This administration has shown very little interest in that. I mean, the programs -- thank God -- some of them continue. But there’s been no initiative to really have major educational programs installed -- especially with the Muslim world, which is critical at this point. Even the Washington Times had a recent article saying what we really need are educational programs with the younger generation in Muslim countries today. Instead, the administration has used --- what I would call -- essentially a propaganda approach, which is television to sell to the target audience, the American policy. I won’t question the motivations of the people taking part in these programs -- creating them— Al Hurra, for example -- I think they’re doing their best. But the approach is flawed. Because -- From what I read, audiences in the Middle East consider Al Hurra propaganda. They’re not convinced by it. They’re not moved by its messages. There are all kinds of technical problems, too, when the U.S. government gets into television. Even from the point of view of just -- quotes "Good TV," the U.S. government’s not good at that. It’s always, "It’s too slow. It’s too canned." They have programs that sometimes have -- you know, they just have to fill the time, and they use silly programs. Worse, they can’t keep up-to-the-minute with news. Because that takes an enormous amount of resources. And the U.S. government really -- even though it’s put a lot of money into Al Hurra -- you need more if you really want to have an up-to-the-minute news service. I did read one very interesting article recently. There may be a way to —that’s not the word of the article—‘to save Al Hurra’ would be to turn it into a kind of C-SPAN, where Muslim – well, Arab/Muslim audiences would get undiluted footage from American democracy at work. Sessions of Congress -- just the way C-SPAN does it – with no commentary. Well maybe you’d need, of course, translations, but just undiluted. That, I think, would not be considered propaganda. It would be -- quotes "boring" at times, but imagine for an Arab audience to look at the hearings with Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld about the prisons. This would show, I think, that America is willing to show the world its deliberations on this. So that would be my way of, quote "Saving Al Hurra." And in fact, it would probably be cheaper than trying to have talking heads, programs -- that are not appealing to audiences there. There are many, many television stations there. This is not like the Cold War. We just can’t send bad television that’s considered propaganda. We have to find a new approach. And I would suggest a C-SPAN one -- for that particular.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: With the issue of government secrecy, there seems to be secret – you know, the government will make secret certain aspects of our foreign policy that may be embarrassing as opposed to protecting our actual national security. Can you speak to your experience of that? And what you’ve seen? And how we even treat disseminating information to our own public?

BROWN: Well, you know, I was in public diplomacy. My job was to open doors, not close them. There’s obviously a need to keep certain documents within the government. However, my experience has been that many -- too many documents are over-classified. One of the things about classifying a document is that it prevents its stupidity from being exposed to the public. So I’m very skeptical about classified documents. While at the same time, recognizing the importance of not making at all times everything public. But as a principle, I think, the more public, the better. What do we have to hide in many cases? And when you say, "Sure. Look at it." Again, these conspiracy theories don’t – So -- I think there’s too much classification of documents. And I hope that the government can open up. But you know -- One of the things that’s really happened with our government—I can base this on my experience—is it’s become so big, so complicated, so confused -- I mean, it’s just amazing. Even within an embassy -- a large embassy – ‘How much the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.’ It’s really unbelievable. Now people will say you need weights and balances. Maybe that’s all right. But the confusion at times --And one of the things that classification of documents does is hide this immense confusion that exists within the government bureaucracy. I just published a little piece in The Post about the new embassy in Baghdad where I raised questions about "Why does it have to be so big?" I mean, there are going to be 1600 people in there -- 1000 Americans. And my point is that if we want to send a signal that Iraqis should run the country themselves, "What are we doing setting up this mega-embassy?" -- which will be restricted in many ways to this so-called "Emerald City" -- you know, the Green Zone -- where the Americans will have hardly any contacts with the world around them. And it will be Americans talking to Americans about Americans. And that’s not diplomacy. I think it would be a wonderful signal to say, "Well, we’re setting up a small embassy here." And frankly it would probably be more efficient, because huge embassies sometimes are not very efficient. And they become a world of their own. And that’s not good.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: I’m not sure if you’ve been following techniques of public relations. It seems to be that the goal of public relations is to have one side of the debate, and not seriously consider the other point of view. What is the solution to this—both sides having these public relations techniques where they’re talking at each other -- even within our own government? And then you have the news media, in some ways not even aware of what’s going on, and then just saying things at face value? Can you speak to that?

BROWN: I think it’s a very interesting point. I think that it’s a paradox, because even though the mass communications have increased enormously -- become much more sophisticated -- as you say, people are really talking less to one another. It’s a bit like people sharing offices, but they don’t talk while they’re sending – two people share – they don’t talk to each other, but they’re sending millions of e-mails a day. That situation -- Our technological society has created a situation where simple, human one-to-one contact is disappearing. And that’s happening to diplomacy as well – that you actually sit down in a room with another person and directly talk to him or her – instead, you know, you fax, you email -- that’s good -- But I would suggest that’s one of the problems that simple human contact is disappearing. I’ve always thought it was tremendously important in diplomatic work to actually go out and meet people -- not just answer e-mails from Washington. By people, I mean people in the country where I was serving. So, I think people are talking, indeed -- even though they -- quotes "communicate" more, they perhaps don’t talk to one another. What’s the solution for that? Well, it’s a difficult question. It’s a very difficult question. I mean, people are – I mean, Harold Lasswell was talking about that -- you know, the great propaganda expert -- who wrote the first -- well, he and Lippman[n] -- Lippman [n], of course, wrote about propaganda -- But Lasswell’s book was about propaganda techniques in World War I – a very detailed analysis in saying that "People were atomized." That’s what helped to make propaganda possible. Well look at today, how much more atomized we are today than during the World War I period. People become individual little islands -- despite this increase in mass communications. And you could put this on a higher -- on a global, even national scale that even though nations talk more and more, still, there’s not this one-to-one contact. I think, though, what’s very, very important is to maintain these educational exchanges -- to expand them. It’s a wonderful investment in our country’s future. It doesn’t cost much money. It invites people here where up-and-coming people -- people who will make a difference, and shows them America as it is. It’s amazing the impact that it has, because if somebody comes to the United States in an exchange program for six months to a year, they go back to their country -- they may disagree with American policy—you know, certain policies -- however they’ve seen America. They understand America more. And they’re willing to maintain a dialogue with America, even if they disagree with its immediate policies. Now people who have not been to the United States -- who don’t know this country -- that’s much less likely, I would argue. It would be seeing America just in terms of its immediate foreign policy, and dismissing the entire country because of that. And I don’t think it’s in our national interest.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: But do you think there’s a legitimate disconnect between our foreign policy -- our motives behind our foreign policy? I do believe that a lot of Americans are sincerely kind-hearted, generous, and everything when they come here. But there is that disconnect that they do see these policies. Can you speak towards our -- Why they hate our foreign policy?

BROWN: Well, I think this administration -- That’s why I consider this administration so disastrous, because it has caused this break between us and the rest of the world. It has characterized the world in black-and-white terms -- "You Are With Us or Against Us." It has created these categories that exclude rather than include. And foreign policy should try as much as possible to be inclusive, not exclusive. Americans, I would say, are an extremely welcoming people -- They open their doors. However, this administration has painted this picture of the outside world -- And it’s made up of terrorists, of (unintelligible) -- and so on. And now there’s this fear. It’s the politics of fear. I think what this administration has done is to internationalize Willie Horton. You’ll recall in Bush I, we had Willie Horton -- this big enemy that we had to watch out for. Now the big enemy is the outside world. I have great doubts about the use of the word war -- expression "War on Terror." It makes no sense to me. Terror is a tool -- a despicable one. But how do you fight terror? I mean, It’s like Brzezinski said -- Zbigniew Brzezinski said, "It would be like saying that in World War II, ‘We should’ve fought against the blitzkrieg as opposed to the Nazis.’" (Laughs) That’s one – "How do you fight a tool?" And two— "When does this end?" How do you – "When are we going to say the ‘War on Terror’ has ended?" That’s what frightens me -- that we’re getting ourselves, in this new century, in a state of perpetual war. Now you know, the Cold War was long enough. But still, it was a Cold War. With this -- It’s not World War II or World War I -- but it’s still, I mean, your generation is facing the prospect of perpetual war. Unless the definition has changed -- unless this concept "War on Terror" is abandoned, and we say, "Yes, we are fighting certain terrorist groups. We are fighting the following terrorist groups: one, two, three, four." That, I understand. "We are fighting al Qaeda" And a third thing about creating this "War on Terror" is that now, any terroristic group feels that it belongs to this vast movement against the United States -- that it’s part of what the U.S. has characterized as this universal enemy. I would suggest that gives them encouragement, because -- And that’s not in our national interest. I think it was so flawed from the very beginning to use that term "War on Terror." It was from a PR point of view, it sounded, you know -- it strengthened, if you will -- It whipped up the national will, but look at the consequences. We’re in two countries, Afghanistan and Iraq, under the excuse -- or under the reasoning that we’re fighting the "War on Terror." When does it end? I think it’s a legitimate question to ask. War -- I mean, you fight wars to end wars. And this one -- I mean, "War on Poverty," "War on Drugs," it’s the same kind of thinking, you know, fighting concepts or states of being that you can’t really end through war.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: [Ambient Sound Reduction] I want to go back to some of the propaganda techniques, and -- How do you counter these techniques? Is it the roll of journalists to say, "Let’s take a step back and see what kind of techniques they’re using?" And can you speak to that.

BROWN: Well, absolutely.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: And also, I’m not going to be including my questions. So --

BROWN: Okay. Well -- It’s naïve to think that you can reduce propaganda to a set of techniques. There was this Institute for Propaganda Analysis that was set up in the 1930’s where they identified seven propaganda techniques -- among them "name calling" and so forth – I mean, it’s not that simple. It’s not a question of identifying certain little tricks. Rather it’s having a very critical state of mind about what is said, and to try to understand "What is the purpose behind the message?" That is the most important thing, "What is the purpose behind the message?" Now, sometimes there is a link -- and I hope there is a link between the purpose and the message -- where they jibe. Then I would say, "That’s okay." But when it’s obvious that there’s no connection between the purpose and the message, then you start -- I think a journalist should start worrying. I think in the case of the war in Iraq, journalists were not making that distinction. I mean, "What was the purpose of going into Iraq? " And "What was the message that was sent about our going there?" What was the purpose? We still don’t quite know. Now we had all kinds of messages -- He could carry Weapons of Mass Destruction -- Get rid of Sadaam Hussein -- Start a democratic revolution -- or change in that part of the world. So there was this disconnect. And I don’t think journalists were looking at it that way. They bought up the administration’s line much too easily. I’ll never forget watching the press conferences at the Pentagon during in the war. I mean, and the war was -- I mean, it was a veneration of Mr. Rumsfeld, and somebody should’ve said, "What’s going on?" This whole "embedded" business is fraudulent. It’s fraudulent. Because on a human level, I would say, no journalist who is with 15 Marines in battle situations is going to really be able to take an objective perspective on this. Humanly, I would find it impossible. Maybe some journalists can. Now. Okay. Maybe if you just want to -- quote "report from the battlefield" -- on that level it’s okay. Okay up to a point, because what are you really seeing? How much do you see when you’re embedded with a bunch of soldiers? You can report certain things, but -- and that’s important up to a point. But I think the embedded business was used as a way to muzzle the press -- to prevent it from asking critical questions about "Why are we doing this? What is really going on?" If you’re there with the American troops, do you really see what’s happened to the Iraqi civilians? Are you covering the Iraqi civilian deaths? Are you hearing what the Iraqis are saying about the American invasion? How come there were no American journalists doing that? -- You have to go to Al Jazeera for that. I think that the press was conned into that embedded business. And it’s, of course, natural in times of war to turn to the Commander-in-Chief, and to trust him -- and to hope in him. But I think the media today, I mean, it’s clear The New York Times has realized that it made serious mistakes in the coverage of the war -- serious oversights -- just accepting sources without really critically asking where they were from, and so on. And again not asking, "What’s the purpose of all this?" -- because that -- Is the message hiding another purpose? You can’t reduce propaganda to a number of techniques. But it’s important, I think, for journalists not to confuse propaganda with truth -- Truth is a difficult thing to get at -- But at least at a certain level of truth that is higher than the facts and images that are provided to you as a journalist to be – quotes "credible."

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Some of the things that I’ve discovered in this process of observing it -- is that whenever a journalist would ask Ari Fleischer "Well, is it about oil?" And they’d say, "No, it’s ridiculous to even think it’s about oil." Or I talked to some journalists who were going to go on to either "60 Minutes" or "Nightline" and say, "Well, look at the connections to Israel." But the producers were too worried to be called anti-Semitic, so you know. So there seemed to be this self-censorship of -- in a way, they didn’t want to be controversial and hurt their market. So, do you have any -- What is the connection between – Are the oil resources? Or was it to protect Israel? Or from your sense, do you have any additional insight on that?

BROWN: Well again, I think -- I don’t. My initial reading of this war was that it was strictly a political thing for domestic American politics. It got the "Okay" of the White House that, "Yeah, we were going to do this because George W. Bush will gain more votes in the Congressional elections. We need that for the image of the President. We haven’t done enough to really get the American people behind us and this is the way we’ll do it." I just don’t think that this White House thinks, you see. And I don’t think they’re capable of any kind of – quotes "Policy with a capital ‘P’" -- a really thought-out Middle East policy. I don’t think they think that way. These are people who think in narrow, political, day-to-day terms -- who are absolutely parochial in their thinking. What’s important is "Winning The Game", and the game is American Politics. I often think George W. Bush looks at politics like a game of baseball where you play very hard to win the game. But anything else doesn’t matter – ideas -- you don’t care about ideas. You don’t care about anything outside of the game -- be it France (laugh), the Vatican. And it’s a certain mentality that I see there—the joy of winning, which brings power -- kind of euphoric. But it’s not -- they don’t have -- They don’t think about concepts. So that’s why I don’t -- I’m skeptical about a Grand Strategy (laugh) on the part of this administration. And two, the incredible confusion of the Washington bureaucracy. Please remember that to get a Grand Strategy through -- I mean, be it for oil -- you name it -- I just don’t see them -- I just don’t see it -- (laugh) You know, just these hearings on 9/11 -- Clarke, for example -- People fighting one of the most -- You don’t develop a Grand Strategy with that kind of situation -- you know, an anti-intellectual White House, a completely confused bureaucracy. What you develop is a major screw-up, which unfortunately – Iraq -- which unfortunately is becoming a tragedy because nearly 1000 Americans are dead there. God knows how many Iraqis have been killed. And we -- as you know, the Pentagon doesn’t keep track of civilians killed. Here we are, we’re going to win "Hearts and Minds" in Iraq, and we don’t even know how many people have been killed there by our troops. It’s a screw-up! I’ve worked in government long enough to know that major screw-ups occur in government. In fact, I would suggest -- perhaps facetiously -- that major screw-ups occur more frequently than Grand Strategies -- in the sense of Grand Strategies being implemented, especially in our government, which -- I mean, the plus side of all this, of course, is -- It’s totalitarian countries that develop "A Grand –" because it’s a small group of people who make all the decisions, you see.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: But do you think that it may have been started with a Grand Strategy, and then just got out of control, and then the war started.

BROWN: As I say, my reading of it -- And I don’t have access to all the sources of information -- What I have is my experience in government. What I have is my close reading of the press during this period. And what I see is narrow political considerations in this war. They thought it would be neat and easy. That W. would land on the aircraft carrier – I mean, even though I don’t think they thought that far – but that it would be "Mission Accomplished" -- a perfect visual, the President and his pilot’s suit. And then all of a sudden they realized, "Wait a –" Now they’re starting to realize, "Wait a minute. But hey, it’s a country out there. It’s not – It’s a parochialism." Now they’re awfully clever people within their own categories -- they play "The Game" very well. Karl Rove plays the political game professionally, but there are no wider considerations. They’re not interested in that. They don’t want to think about the wider considerations, you see. Because that gets in the way of the narrow political considerations. And I can just see the staff meetings, "We don’t want to hear that!" -- "Stop the--" "Let’s get to the matter at hand, which is ‘What’s on the agenda?’" What happened, you see, with this misadventure in Iraq -- as I see it -- is that nobody -- from either the State Department or the Pentagon were -- most than likely -- at one point saying, "Wait a minute! Why are we doing this? What are the long-term consequences?" I don’t think that question was asked.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Or if it was asked, it was ignored?

BROWN: Or it -- I don’t think it was asked at the highest levels. I think at lower levels in the State Department. And we’ve seen this in the press, you know, there was some effort at post-war planning. There was post-war planning. But it was—as far as I know -- from what I’ve read—it was ignored.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Okay. Let’s see -- Back to International Law for a second. Can you give me a sense of when the U.S. signed on to the UN Charter, how does the hierarchy work that -- Do we have to follow the UN Charter? Or does the War Power Act supercede that? Or is -- International Law then become a part of domestic law that we have to follow? Can you give me a sense of…

BROWN: No. I wouldn’t be good at that. That’s not a question I can answer well.


BROWN: Yeah, I don’t want -- Be honest with you.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: Okay. Going from where we’re at right now, do you have a vision for where we could be with world peace? Like how could we go from where we’re at right now and really have everyone working together? And what’s not happening to get to that point?

BROWN: Well, it’s awfully hard to talk about global solutions. But in our case, there really has to -- very important – there has to be a change of attitude on the part of the U.S. government and its relationship with the outside world. I don’t like the word "Humility," which apparently was used (laugh) by Mr. Bush as he was -- well, we all know – it was going to be "The new humility in foreign policy" -- it never happened. Which again, for me, offsets this idea that there was a Grand Strategy. This administration was against nation building (laugh). What we have to be -- We have to listen more to what the outside world says. We have to show up more -- just be there—just show our interest in international organizations -- not dismiss them out of hand, be interested in them. Be critical of them, of course. The United Nations has become -- is a bureaucracy. But, consider the alternatives to the United Nations. So -- We should, at least, show an interest in these organizations. I mean, UNESCO -- we’ve joined UNESCO, and that’s a good step. So I would say -- "We have to listen more. We have to show an eagerness to be present at international conferences -- in international organizations. And then third, "We have to make a commitment to long-term international exchanges, especially in the field of education and culture." I think it’s very important. Because the world is becoming globalized, but there are reactions to globalization. And you could say, "The whole upheaval in the Muslim world today is linked to that kind of ‘cultural reaction’ to globalization." And I think one of the ways to deal with the effects of globalization -- some of which are negative – is through international arrangements, programs -- multilateral programs. And then finally, there’s this enormous gap between wealthy countries -- such as ours -- and the rest of the world. We’re not asking that question in the United States enough. Because we’re living, as Nicholas von Hoffman—I haven’t read the book, but I saw the review -- he calls it "The American Biosphere." You realize this biosphere—I think it’s a good word—in a way exists when you go back to America after having been abroad for many years -- as I’ve been in the Foreign Service -- I’d be in a foreign country, and I’d come back here -- and you realize how completely America is immersed in itself despite the fact that it expands internationally in all kinds of directions. There’s this kind of "American Reality" that is so totally American, and totally unconcerned with the rest of the world -- that you don’t find in many other countries. That because of where they are -- because of both geographically and historically -- have to take into consideration the outside. And it’s an ironic situation, because we’re a nation of immigrants -- We’ve got all kinds of people coming in all the time. And yet, we’re an insular nation in many ways, in part due to our media. It’s an amazing thing when you get back to the States and you look at the front page, and world news is below the sports news (laugh). You could say the good thing about that is that it makes Americans focus on their own country. But still, my main point is that we simply can’t afford to just live in this American Biosphere for demographic reasons. I think there should be policies that make it—and I’m not an expert in all of this—make it possible for Third World countries to be able to enter the American market. I mean, it’s very important. And from my reading of things, it’s not easy. I think that’s the big challenge for this next -- for this century, is this enormous gap between the wealthy and the poor. I think in terms of our national interest. I’m not talking about just being nice to other people. I’m talking about this country, and what’s going to happen if we get lost -- immersed -- totally immersed in our American Biosphere. We’re going to suffer the consequences. It’s almost -- sometimes I see – I’m a student of Russian history, and I see analogies between late Imperial Russia and the U.S. -- where you had this elite in Russia -- the nobility, the autocracy -- living in the capitals -- St. Petersburg and Moscow – and around them was this mass of peasants. And they essentially ignored them. And the result, we all know what the disastrous result of that was. It’s a far-fetched analogy. But what I’m trying to say is that you can’t have this kind of a gap, and expect in the long-term to survive -- I mean, the wealthy.

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: When you look at the -- Did you watch any television news media leading up to the war in Iraq?

BROWN: Oh, yeah. Well somebody -- I looked at Fox in the morning, and somebody told me, "Listen, John. Looking at Fox in the morning is like drinking in the morning. It’s not something you should do." (laugh) It has the same kind of effect on your mind as alcohol has on your stomach early in the morning—I mean, you simply shouldn’t do it. I was appalled. I’ve used that word too often, appalled. But I just – Again, it was a shock to me coming back to the States. I left before Fox and O’Reilly had been part of our media-sphere. When I came back I just couldn’t get over it: The strident tone -- America first – Dismissal -- Dismissive of other opinions -- And in a sense, Gung-Ho Nationalism. And frankly, war—leading us to war. And you know, the coverage of the war, I mean, it’s a spectator sport. "Go Team Go!" And "Look at our -- Look at the way we’re—" You know, just horrible. This is war. It goes back to what Mr. Card was saying, "A Product." And the media assisted in selling this product to the American people, "Buy It! It’s Good!" But in fact -- First of all, it’s not a product. And even if it were a product, it’s a lousy – So No. I just found it – There was no, no alternative point of view in the major U.S. media—as far as I could tell. And even the traditional "Liberal" voices -- The Post, The Times -- they all went on board. Somebody should’ve been asking, "What is -- What are we doing here?" And I didn’t see it anywhere. No, I mean, I saw it -- in the Internet, I saw it abroad, I heard it from colleagues at the State Department -- but major media? -- Very little. It was, "We gotta wipe him out. Regime change."

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: I think one thing that Sadaam played into, in a way, was that he was a human rights violator. And so he was susceptible to this "Good versus Evil." And I think -- I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the writings of Nancy Snow

BROWN: Sure, I know --

ECHO CHAMBER PROJECT: And she writes about this black/white -- Can you talk about that a little bit?

BROWN: Yeah, I think -- By the logic of getting rid of Mr. Sadaam Hussein -- by that kind of logic, we should be invading Cuba right now. The world is imperfect. There are all kinds of third-rate dictators running around. Nobody would justify Sadaam Hussein’s crimes, but the point is 1000 -- nearly 1000 Americans have died for this. Now if you weigh the moral consequences, I just -- It just wasn’t worth the cost, and that’s what I felt all along. I’m not -- I don’t pretend I predict the future, I just don’t think it was worth the cost -- to us -- to get rid of Mr. Sadaam Hussein. Even in the long term, it would have been so much more in our national interest if the Iraqis themselves had gotten rid of him. Then we would’ve -- If we had waited, eventually this regime was going to end. I mean, just as in Eastern Europe, these semi-totalitarian, idiotic regimes ended and they ended by themselves. Now we contributed to that, but we didn’t -- Can you imagine sending American troops to take down Lenin statues? We didn’t. And that’s one of the reasons we’re so popular -- were so popular in Eastern Europe, is that we never became occupiers. Because of my experience in Eastern Europe, I know how dangerous it is to become an occupier. The Soviets were finished because they were occupiers -- [END OF TAPE].

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