“Shock Doctrine” Spin in US, Burma and Beyond

Suppose you have a controversial project you wish to push through, but you’re afraid that if you come right out and say what you’re up to, there will be so many objections from other officials and ordinary citizens that you might never get a chance to implement your agenda.

But you’re savvy about how influence-molding works and you know that with the right kind of massive publicity and P.R. campaigns, you probably can “spin” public perception in your direction.

So, on a foundation of lies and deception, you decide to launch your project, careful to keep absolutely secret the most controversial aspects. And then, under the table, you hire (a.k.a. “bribe”) numerous journalists, opinion pundits and respected “consultants” to speak on behalf of your product.

It works! The public is snowed by the P.R. momentum and by the overwhelming consensus of the “experts,” and your project takes off. This is how such things are done every day in the business and advertising world. What’s the big deal?


Well, as you’ve probably figured out, I’m talking about the way the CheneyBush Administration sold the Iraq War/Occupation to us citizens.

We’ve known for a long time about the various lies and deceptions that took America to war — the supposed “weapons of mass destruction” that Saddam was supposed to possess but didn’t, his alleged ties to al-Qaida that didn’t really exist, his supposed but non-existent complicity in the 9/11 attacks, and so on. Eventually, even the Administration was forced to concede there were no WMD, no ties to 9/11, no relationship to Al Qaida, though it vowed never to let those inconvenient facts get in the way of continuing its occupation of Iraq. (And Cheney and his minions still continue to this day to hint at the old deceptions.)

Also revealed some years back was that the Administration secretly put various conservative TV/radio/print journalists on the payroll to write/speak favorably about various programs and policies emanating from the Executive Branch.


What we didn’t know about until the New York Times broke the story a few weeks ago was that the CheneyBush Administration, to help sell the pending Iraq war to members of Congress and the citizenry at large, marshaled a huge phalanx of retired military officers and sent them out disguised as private, independent “experts” and “consultants” to deliver the pro-war spin the Administration wanted. The author of the story, David Barstow, used the term “media Trojan horse” to describe the impact of this deception.

Because the media, always eager to curry favor with the Administration, did not vet the bona fides of these “private consultants,” the public had no knowledge of the retired officers’ deep and abiding connection to the Pentagon. These ex-military officers received special briefings, including by Rumsfeld himself, on the Administration’s daily spin points, and they either had or would soon be receiving high-paying jobs with various defense contractors.

What the public now knows is that the daily commentary and advice by the “military experts” — supposedly independent analysts, free of any conflicts of interest — helped “catapult the propaganda” (to borrow Bush’s own term) in favor of war with Iraq.

And it worked: CheneyBush and their neo-con ideologues inside the Administration got U.S. boots on the ground in Iraq, controlled the oil flowing out of that country, created chaos and catastrophe from which their huge private-corporation sponsors could make huge pots of money, built the world’s largest new embassy in Baghdad, and constructed permanent military bases inside that country from where the U.S. will help control the geopolitics of the greater Middle East for generations to come, etc. etc. All this presents a perfect illustration of Naomi Klein’s thesis of “shock doctrine” and “disaster capitalism.”

This use of hired guns — all those prestigious, smart-looking ex-generals and such — to do their propaganda work for them is further confirmation of the mendacity, duplicity and illegality Bush&Co. employ to get their way.


True to form, of course, the corporate mainstream media have paid scant, if any, attention to this story of how dozens of retired officers helped shape American military policy while secretly still attached to the Administration teat. See here, here, and here.

In this instance, and many more that could be named, the mainstream press, by not mentioning or following up on such CheneyBush scandals, does democracy a dangerous disservice.

Our political system depends on citizens receiving accurate information about what’s being done in their names so that they can make intelligent decisions when voting for those who represent them.


If they respond at all, Busheviks tend to say that even if these stories are true, how we wound up in Iraq is “old news,” it’s history, we’re there, let’s just make the best of it, “finish the job” and then go home.

However, if your original reasons for invading a sovereign country were based on lies and deceptions, and a lot of incorrect assumptions and ignorance, then your occupation policies will never work and you will have alienated and angered the local population to the point of violent resistance against you. The result: You will be stuck in a quagmire of your own devising, where the most you can hope for is endless stalemate. This was the case of the U.S. screwup in Vietnam in the 1960s and ’70s, and it’s the case today with the its five-years-and-counting occupation of Iraq.

Now, it can be argued that endless stalemate is of no great concern to the shock-doctrine practitioners of Bush&Co.; indeed, it may be the desired result as it guarantees prolonged chaos and thus more need for companies like Blackwater, Bechtel, Halliburton, KBR, et al. to help keep the broken society together. The US and Iraqi dead and maimed are but the inevitable “collateral damage.”

But, as CheneyBush have learned, domestically you can push the US military, and American citizens, only so far before both begin to push back and call for a new, more rational approach to political and foreign-policy adventuring.

Key military officers within the Joint Chiefs of Staff (even, to some extent, Defense Secretary Gates) are watching their armed forces stretched much too thin around the globe. Because there is no military draft, the Pentagon is forced to use and abuse its existing troops to the point of near-rebellion, resulting in lower morale and increased psychological damage, including 300,000 Iraq veterans returning home with mental problems and a rising rate of suicides.


This abuse includes overuse of the stop-loss policy of refusing to let soldiers go home after they’ve completed their Iraq rotation, constantly recalling troops who have been sent home after completing their extended service, lowering the army’s physical, intellectual, psychological and moral standards in order to fill the recruiting gap when the services can’t meet their enlistment quotas, returning physically or psychologically wounded soldiers to battle despite their doctors’ recommendations, etc. etc.

Moreover, the citizens appear to have had enough. Since two-thirds of polled Americans believe the Iraq invasion and occupation are outrageously expensive follies and it’s time to start bringing the troops back home, the opposition party is about to nominate as its presidential candidate someone who aims to get the troops out within 16 months. The Republican Party is set to nominate someone who wants to continue the CheneyBush war even if it means keeping US troops in Iraq for a hundred years or more, and probably starting more conflagrations in the Greater Middle East.

In a fair and open election, the Democratic candidate should win that contest easily. However, there is compelling evidence that in the past eight years, US elections have been corrupted through the use of hackable, unverifiable, paperless “touch-screen” machines, and vote-tabulating computers, which utilize secret software, manufactured and programmed by companies with Republican affiliations.


All this isn’t just “old history.” CheneyBush are itching to bomb Iran’s military installations and scientific laboratories while they are still in control of the Executive Branch, and are “catapulting the propaganda” for such an attack in ways eerily similar to how they deceived Congress and the American people into bombing and invading Iraq.

There are reports that Secretary Gates has been trying to stop such attack-Iran moves, or at least to greatly reduce the scale of the operation. But other reports suggest that the decision to bomb already has been made, and the appointment of Gen. David Petraeus to take over at Central Command is a key sign that all the ducks are just about lined up in a row.

(The former head of Central Command, Admiral William Fallon, said there would be no attack on Iran on his watch; he was forced out, and CheneyBush lackey Petraeus was moved over from Iraq.)


“The shock doctrine” is not employed solely by American governments and multi-national corporations. In Burma (Myanmar), the military junta ruling that country, having just put down a potential revolt led by Buddhist monks, clearly is terrified that a coup might be organized by individuals or organizations who want to bring aid into the country to help the residents in the wake of the cyclone disaster. And so they’re keeping those aid workers out of the country, thus putting at risk the lives and health of hundreds of thousands of refugees pouring into Rangoon and elsewhere in search of medical care, food, shelter.

The effect of the disaster and the Burmese government’s insufficient response to it means that a good share of the junta’s political opposition is now dead or dealing with the aftermath of the huge, rampaging storm. In other words, the disaster offers a great “opportunity” for the ruling elite to settle old scores by continuing to repress the opposition and to remake the affected areas as they wish. (There have been reports, unconfirmed, of bodies of monks being found in the cyclone rubble — burned in a suspicious manner — mixed in with the tens of thousands of other corpses found floating in the rice fields and ditches and rivers.)

The long time-delay in getting food, water and shelter to the hundreds of thousands of displaced survivors of the cyclone is reminiscent of the way the Bush Administration dilly-dallied with regard to the post-Katrina period in New Orleans and Mississippi. In her book, Klein used the Katrina experience as a perfect example of “disaster capitalism” in the US: A government watches a natural catastrophe wipe out an entire population sector, and lets the catastrophe play out over days and weeks and months — with large numbers of citizens abandoning their homes, forced to go elsewhere for adequate assistance — and then giving no-bid contracts to Blackwater and Halliburton and KBR for the reconstruction phase, in accord with social planning as laid out by the ideologues in the White House.

In Burma, the government may not be operating out of an exactly similar motivation, but the result appears to be much the same: using a natural calamity to reshape the economic, political and social future of the affected region for their own political and economic aims.


As for the huge worldwide “run” on commodities — especially important staples such as wheat, rice, oil — already local greed-merchants and multi-national companies are salivating at the prospect of selling, at exorbitant rates, food and shelter and clothing and oil and the like. They will be literally “making a killing” on the backs of the starving, the poor, the dispossessed.

In so doing, in line with Klein’s “shock doctrine” and “disaster capitalism” theses, these elite forces will be re-shaping the politics, economies and social arrangements of these countries for generations, both to consolidate and expand their reigns of power and to benefit themselves and their rapacious, greedy supporters.

In short, when catastrophes are being dealt with, it doesn’t seem to matter what the operating governmental system is, be it fascist, communist, dictatorial, democratic, etc. By and large, the power/economic/political elites see the unfolding tragedies of their citizens as “opportunities” for expansion of control, for ways to eliminate or dilute their opposition, for fattening the bank accounts of their large-corporation supporters in rebuilding and reconstructing these devastated societies, in line with their own greed agendas.

This is the world that only will change when these elites and systems are systematically confronted, changed, or overthrown by citizens operating under a different moral system, who decide they’ve finally had enough.

It would be more effective, of course, if a strong progressive movement were to develop overnight in America to affect such wide-sweeping reforms in this country. However, removing Republicans from the White House in 2008 at least would be a significant sign of the beginnings of the public’s strong desire for significant changes.

Bernard Weiner has a Ph.D. in government & international relations, and has taught at universities in California and Washington, worked as a writer-editor with the San Francisco Chronicle, and currently is co-editor of The Crisis Papers. He can be reached at: crisispapers@comcast.net. Read other articles by Bernard, or visit Bernard's website.

7 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. hp said on May 13th, 2008 at 9:55am #

    The miscreants and their minions (our fine and dedicated public servants) have decided we can indeed survive on a steady diet of cream pies to the face.
    And that’s exactly what we shall get..

  2. KR said on May 13th, 2008 at 10:52am #

    I am curious about what we on the left can learn from “shock doctrine” tactics.

    No, I don’t mean doing it the way an authoritarian regime or a capitalist hegemon would do it – by allowing people to be killed or displaced, etc. – I mean small-scale, localized methods of destabilizing opponents and utilizing destabilizing events to acheive goals.

    I recently experienced this by accident – a series of events took a local institution’s unaccountable leadership by surprise and made it much easier for us community members to push forward a long-standing agenda for radical change in the institution. Unfortunately, we community members were not quite prepared for the sudden opportunity and therefore fell short of many of our goals, while the opposition had time to re-group and build up its defenses again.

    But it did cause me to ponder ways we could be more prepared next time an opportunity arises – or is instigated – while we continue to work away for the time being.

  3. sk said on May 13th, 2008 at 11:14am #

    The notion that when it comes to foreign policy ‘removing Republicans from the White House in 2008’ will somehow entail an diminution in overseas tension needs to be carefully considered in light of historic experience. An interesting recent book makes the case that, in reality:

    …all five Republic Presidents of the postwar period had a détente policy and that all but Reagan in his first term reduced military spending. All four Democratic Presidents prior to Bill Clinton raised military spending, each quite substantially, and all had serious confrontations with the Soviet Union.

    …The Republican Party found it politically useful to balance its pro-détente policy with hard-line rhetoric toward the Soviet Union and defense, while the Democratic rhetoric emphasized arms control and global cooperation. The difference between rhetoric and real policy in both parties was a stabilizing factor in foreign policy, but the reunification of Germany left both parties with rhetoric alone.

    The author, Jerry Hough shows how even the President most despised by liberals, Richard Nixon “favored the moderate and pro-détente foreign policy of Eisenhower” in 1960 elections. By comparison, the supposedly less bellicose John Kennedy favored a massive buildup of nuclear capability (to close the imaginary “missile gap”, and which resulted in more than 32,000 nukes under inventory by 1967) high-tech weapons systems, Special Forces deployment, and James Bond style escapades.

    ‘In one way or another, they (Republicans) had emphasized the themes of patriotism and nationalism while actually following a policy of détente when in office’. ‘Nationalism was central’ in their campaigns, ‘yet the Republicans had always supported détente in practice: Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and George H.W. Bush.’

    This foreign policy pattern–in which a “liberal” government compensates for the perception of “soft” social policies at home by wilful escalation of Manichean violence overseas–has been has been borne out over long stretches in other imperial democracies such as Britain under successive Labour governments and France under the Socialists as well.

  4. bozhidar balkas said on May 13th, 2008 at 11:23am #

    i can’t accept the thinking that it is ok for a country to attack another if warsellers of would -be attacker r telling the truth.
    “truth”? oh, what a scary word? and there is no truth out there; only inside our skins. and what a task even for me to find out the truth in my own head let alone in obama’s, putin’s, ahmad’s et al.
    so, US has TRUTH1. Iran has TRUTH2. Israel has TRUTH 3. Russia has TRUTH4, and so on.
    so, iran having truth2 could wipe out israel. no question asked; with no warning.
    and even tho israel has truth3. so, we will forever wage wars because of a symbol like the “truth” that triggers in us fear/hatred/anger because we possess this eterne verity and others eterne falsehood? thank u.
    russia having the truth ab. US could launch a preventive strike against US and vice-versa.

  5. Arch Stanton said on May 14th, 2008 at 11:58am #

    “This is the world that only will change when these elites and systems are systematically confronted, changed, or overthrown by citizens operating under a different moral system, who decide they’ve finally had enough.”

    Or when the human species becomes extinct. Whichever comes first. Better keep shopping, I guess.

  6. John Wilkinson said on May 15th, 2008 at 1:09pm #

    “Because the media, always eager to curry favor with the Administration, did not vet the bona fides of these “private consultants,” the public had no knowledge of the retired officers’ deep and abiding connection to the Pentagon. ”

    in other words, most people in the US can’t put two and two together. isn’t it obvious to anyone with a nerve cell in the brain that, indeed, the retired officers have connections and loyalty to the Pentagon and that their loyalties to the truth and their independence are suspect? and that probably something like what was described in the nyt article is indeed going on, but even if it isn’t they have connections to the military, they have their consulting business with the military, conflicts of interest etc. why do you need a nyt article to tell you that? isn’t it obvious from the get go?

  7. John Wilkinson said on May 15th, 2008 at 3:10pm #

    “In a fair and open election, the Democratic candidate should win that contest easily.”

    in any US election, it’s demagoguery (democrats and the so called left) vs. greed (the others). it actually boils down to the same thing (greed as the ultimate motive in every politician, demagoguery as the vehicle), both of these things. as a result, there’s no real democracy and corruption reigns supreme.

    so, the dems would win because they are skilled demagogues. they feel our pain. yeah, right, and i have a bridge to sell real cheap.