think-tank policy laundering

The Asia Times has a two-part article by Michael Flynn on the military-media complex.

He takes the surge as an example of military policy-laundering. As Petraeus said: “far more important than the surge of 30,000 additional US troops was the surge of ideas that helped us to employ those troops”. Laundering (not Flynn’s term) because the policies originate from the military, but need the imprimateur of the think-tanks to win over the administration:

“Petraeus knew that the [George W] Bush administration’s credibility was low, that it was going to have trouble selling the surge,” said Finel in an interview, so he hand-picked a number of civilians who he knew were behind this policy and helped turn them into media “experts”. This effort sidelined critics of the surge, says Finel, who were viewed as “outsiders, people without access, and thus not to be believed”.

It’s a bit like the classic consulting scenario. The managers know what policy they want to introduce, but don’t have the authority to impose it themselves. So they hire external consultants, who (knowing which side their bread is buttered) produce glossy reports in favour of the policy. This enables the managers who hired them to win over other power centres within the corporation. Replace corporate factions with branches of governments, consultants with think-tanks, and the comparison is pretty exact.

One difference is how the public sphere gets twisted about as result. Since the media’s capacity for independent analysis has withered away, it is vulnerable to being contorted by such internal power-plays. In the absence of journalists with the time, competence or inclination to compare stories to reality, “all that is solid melts into PR” [k-punk]. We lack the resources to figure out. We’re left in Plato’s cave, sharing at the shadow-play as pundits talk to pundits, unequipped to glance at the real world outside.

This isn’t unique to the military. So many small inofficially-political groups are funded by the EU, DfiD and the like, I presume often with the (carefuly unstated) hope that they’ll influence public debate.

But the military is bigger — I recall reading that the Pentagon’s PR budget is larger than the entire budget of the state department

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