October 9, 2008 – A key senator is asking the Pentagon to halt a $300 million program to produce pro-American news and public service messages in Iraq.
Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., a member of the Senate armed services and foreign relations committees, wants the program halted until next year, when a new administration will be running the White House and after the Senate Armed Services Committee can review the proposal that would have civilian contractors produce news stories, entertainment programs and advertisements intended to influence Iraqi citizens’ views about America.
Webb has two basic objections to what the Defense Department is calling its “strategic information” initiative: He does not believe the program and the contracts are getting adequate review, and he thinks there are better uses for the $300 million.
“At a time when this country is facing such a grave economic crisis, and at a time when the government of Iraq now shows at least a $79 billion surplus from recent oil revenues, it makes little sense for the Department of Defense to be spending hundreds of millions of dollars to propagandize the Iraqi people,” Webb said in a statement.
He called the Iraqi government “capable, both politically and financially, of communicating with its own people” and warned that messages paid for by the U.S. might prompt complaints about foreign interference in internal matters.
Webb sent Defense Secretary Robert Gates a letter on Tuesday asking that contracts be “put on hold” and sent another letter to Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman, asking for a committee hearing to be held early next year to take a closer look at the contracts and the program.
There was no immediate response from Gates or Levin.