Radio Free Iraq

November 16, 1990|By William Safire

AMERICANS ARE supposed to be hotshots at the techniques of mass persuasion. In the war against Hitler, we nearly perfected "psychological warfare," a combination of propaganda, rumor-mongering and mental intimidation that helps erode an enemy's power.

In the confrontation with Iraq, however, we are spending billions on military buildup and pennies on WilliamSafirethe propaganda war. As a result, Saddam Hussein is more confident than ever of the safety of his regime at home, and more active than ever in the manipulation of our media with hostage shows, journalist tours and the parade of political dupes.

We tend to forget that dictators dependent on terror for their power get extremely nervous at attempts to reach the people in their control.

During the period of Bush-Baker appeasement earlier this year, the single event that most disturbed Saddam was the Voice of America broadcast that dared to remind the people of Iraq of the fate met by the Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. The Iraqi despot forced the Baker State Department to apologize, lest the Iraqi people get the idea that dictators can be overthrown.

Despite this evidence of high sensitivity, we have done little to exploit the resentment to Saddam Hussein family rule known to be building within Iraq.

The VOA does broadcast around the clock to Iraq, 13 of those hours in Arabic. Tuesday's editorial reminded Iraqis of Saddam's humiliating return to Iran of the Shatt al-Arab opening to the gulf, which "rendered meaningless the loss of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives in a war lasting eight years."

For three weeks, the Iraqi dictator jammed such broadcasts; now, because of the high cost of jamming (triple the cost of broadcasting) or the ineffectiveness of the Voice, he lets the signal through.

It's time to get serious about fanning Iraqi discontent. The Voice, limited by its mandate to straight reporting and the most subtle suasion, is not the vehicle for the job.

Almost everyone who has written about Saddam Hussein's predations has been approached by organizations of dissident Iraqis and Kurds. Headquartered mostly in London and Paris, these anti-Saddam patriots were driven into exile but are burning to do all they can to break the tyrant's grip on their native land.

These are the natural recruits for a Radio Free Iraq. Our immediate precedent is Radio Free Afghanistan, broadcasting its hard-hitting, anti-communist message into that country from neighboring Pakistan -- financed by the U.S. but using voices the local people know to be not American but authentic Afghan.

Why aren't the resources of Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty being pressed into service right now to organize the medium-wave and shortwave penetration of Iraq?

Answer: National Security Council bureaucrats are bogged down a scheme to amalgamate VOA and RFE, which the State Department sees as an opportunity to gobble up USIA, the Voice's administrative parent. In all the turfmanship, nobody realizes there's a war on.

Real Iraqis should be on the air right now, beamed from our transmitters in Greece, to tell their countrymen the truth about the dictator.

They should be on the scene in the Shatt al-Arab, telling of the way the Persians are treating the statues of the Iraqi generals who died there.

Radio Free Iraq broadcasters should be taping interviews with Italian sculptors near the quarry and foundry of Carrara, who are busy on assignments to create huge new marble and bronze statues of the egomaniacal Saddam Hussein and his latest generals -- Ozymandian objects that impoverished Iraqis are forced to pay for and worship.

Iraqi conscripts now in Kuwait should be told by Radio Free Iraq about the vulnerability of their home villages to invading Syrians and Turks, and even vengeful Iranians, while the main force of the Iraqi army is pinned down in Kuwait. If we are to invest heavily in preparing our soldiers to fight, we should put a few clandestine dollars in preparing theirs to desert.

This is no job for the Voice of America. The call to freedom (remember Ceausescu) should come in from voices of oppressed Iraqis in local accents. While blockade is our strategy, this will bring great pressure to bear; when the allied assault begins, these native voices will foment revolt to overthrow the dictator -- and thereby save Iraq from destruction.

William Safire is a columnist for the New York Times

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