Selling War: A Critical Look at the Military's PR Machine

Selling War: A Critical Look at the Military's PR Machine

Selling War: A Critical Look at the Military's PR Machine

Selling War: A Critical Look at the Military's PR Machine


Failure to communicate

In the spring of 2004, army reservist and public affairs officer Steven J. Alvarez waited to be called up as the U.S. military stormed Baghdad and deposed Saddam Hussein. But soon after President Bush's famous PR stunt in which an aircraft carrier displayed the banner "Mission Accomplished," the dynamics of the war shifted. Selling War recounts how the U.S. military lost the information war in Iraq by engaging the wrong audiences, that is, the Western media, ignoring Iraqi citizens and the wider Arab population, and playing mere lip service to the directive: "put an Iraqi face on everything." In the absence of effective communication from the U.S. military, the information void was swiftly filled by Al Qaeda and, eventually, ISIS. As a result, efforts to create and maintain a successful, stable country were complicated and eventually frustrated.
Steven J. Alvarez couples his experiences as a public affairs officer in Iraq with extensive research on communication and government relations to expose why communications failed and led to the breakdown on the ground. A revealing glimpse into the inner workings of the military's PR machine, where personnel become stewards of presidential legacies and keepers of flawed policies, Selling War provides a critical review of the outdated communication strategies executed in Iraq. Alvarez's candid account demonstrates how a fundamental lack of understanding about how to wage an information war has led to the conditions we face now: the rise of ISIS and the return of U.S.forces to Iraq.


I couldn’t sleep early one spring morning in 2003. I was an Army Reserve officer sitting on the sidelines of my professional part-time military life, restlessly waiting to be called into the game: the war in Afghanistan and the pickup game the United States had started in Iraq. in the aftermath of 9/11, I knew going off to war was a question of when, not if. Even before 9/11 at the Defense Information School (DINFOS) at Fort Meade, Maryland, we were told by our instructors that if we were in the Army Reserve and serving as public affairs officers, we would likely deploy to operations in Kosovo or Haiti or to the Middle East in support of un sanctions against Iraq. More than 85 percent of the Army’s public affairs assets at that time were in the reserve.

I was a public affairs officer, known as a pao in the ranks. PAOs are public relations (PR) guys in uniform. They are charged, in a nutshell, with selling war, although most of them would offer more glamorous job descriptions if asked. From the looks of things months after Iraq’s “liberation,” there’d be a lot to sell.

I sat in my home office grading papers from a college journalism course I was teaching as an adjunct faculty member. By the glow of the television I worked, occasionally looking up to watch the Fox News report that was on the air. Fox News war coverage was on at all hours of the day, so it was by default that it was on my television. Then I saw a familiar face on the television screen. It was Fox News reporter Greg Kelly, my classmate from the Defense Information School. We had attended pao training together a few years earlier after Greg traded in his fighter-jet yoke for a handheld microphone. He decided to pursue a career in broadcast journalism, so he . . .

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