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Dod Document Dump: The Joke's On Us

Remember that Pentagon program, revealed last month, that fed talking points to supposedly objective military analysts to push the Bush administration's line on Iraq? The Department of Defense just released thousands of documents from the program, so we asked Government Executive correspondent and TNR contributor Alyssa Rosenberg to sift through the documents and see what she can find:

Reading through the 8,000 pages of documents released last week by the Defense Department is like paging through a flip book from hell. Anyone who has watched cable news for more than five minutes over the past few years won't be shocked to find that the Bush administration used self-serving talking points to promote the war. But browsing through years of spin all at once, the thing that strikes me most is that anyone actually fell for the clunky attempts at minting catch-phrases and laughably convoluted logic the military and its mouthpieces were peddling, much less booked them for tens of thousands of television appearances.

In one of its early attempts at branding, the military's talking points from the summer of 2003 push the tin-earned euphemisms "dead-enders" and "bitter-enders" for Iraqis who continued to attack American troops. The terms quickly disappear from the briefings, but not before inspiring the classically petulant you-can't-make-me-Mom statement that "the dead-enders are not driving us out of anywhere." Cue generals kicking their feet on the floor.

The futility of such willful denial has become so clear today that even one of the war's staunchest defenders, John McCain, is needling the Bush administration about them; in a May 1 event in Cleveland, he admitted that these statements about "'a few dead-enders,' 'last throes'...were contradicted by the facts on the ground."

The Pentagon was clearly grasping for straws in trying to come up with any signs of success in Iraq for these memos. "The new Iraqi army will be a force for stability," the September 23, 2003 memo declares, citing the fact that "soldiers in the new army have sworn allegiance to the Iraqi people." On January 21, 2004, the talking points touted the fact that "in addition to learning fundamental fighting skills, soldiers are taught how to function as a member of a multi-ethnic team." Looks like that worked out really well.

One 2004 memo touted a program to release non-violent offenders that sounds like it comes out of a handbook for urban renewal in American cities, relying on the stabilizing role of ministers and community leaders. As long as insurgents "renounce violence; and have a guarantor, such as a prominent person in his community or a religious tribal leader who will accept responsibility for the good conduct of the individual being set free," they could go home. Great.

The ineptitude of the memos would be really funny if the joke wasn't on us. Stay tuned for more jewels from this document dump.

--Alyssa Rosenberg