Meanwhile, at the State Department

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A few days ago I managed to extract a few gags from the badass Putin quote that turned out to be made up.

So, just to mix things up a bit, here’s a quote that sounds made up, but is in fact 100% kosher.

Today RT ran an incredulous sounding piece about Admiral John Kirby criticising Russia for not being committed to fighting ISIS. Here’s the key part:

An appeal to expand the US-led coalition fighting Islamic State came from French President Francois Hollande three days after deadly attacks in Paris a week ago. Stating that “France is at war,” Hollande called for the creation of a “large coalition,” which could unite forces with Russia “to achieve a result that has taken too long.”

The grand coalition is going to be the focus of separate talks President Hollande will have with his American and Russian counterparts in coming days. The French leader is expected to hold talks in Washington on November 24 and in Moscow on November 26.

However, the US State Department says that Russia’s involvement in the coalition would depend on Moscow’s“commitment.”

“But in order for that to work, every member of the coalition has to have the same focus on defeating ISIL, and thus far we, talking about Russia, haven’t seen that same commitment,” Kirby said, referring to Russia’s support for the Syrian President Bashar Assad. “It’s inconsistent with the goals of the coalition, which is to defeat ISIL, if you’re also propping up the Assad regime.”

Wat lady

Well it clearly makes no sense at all, so surely it must have been taken out of context, or had some caveats removed, or been messed about in some way?

Nope.

In fact, if you go and double check the quote on the State Department website, you’ll find that RT has, if anything, been generous on this one:

There is a 65-member coalition fighting ISIL. That’s the coalition. And as we’ve said before, if other nations not in the coalition want to join it and to be a part of it and to focus on the fight against ISIL, well, then that’s a conversation that we’re certainly willing to have with them. But in order for that to work, every member of the coalition has to have the same focus on defeating ISIL, and thus far – you talked about Russia – we haven’t seen that same commitment. It’s inconsistent with the goals of the coalition, which is to defeat ISIL, if you’re also propping up the Assad regime and flying missions in support of the Assad regime and helping the Assad regime stay in power. It’s simply inconsistent with the core goal of the coalition itself.

Not that this sort of chutzpah has not worked for the State Dept and related organs before. In 2003 70% of Americans thought that Saddam Hussein had ties to Al Qaeda. Over half of respondents to a Harris Interactive Poll in 2006 thought that Saddam Hussein had WMDs (a figure that had actually risen since the previous year). As far as PR techniques go hammering home clearly untrue information until it is believed is not a hugely subtle one, but it worked extremely well because it hits several well-known plausibility heuristics that most human thinking seems to share: simply put, if you don’t think too hard about it, almost any story about nefarious Middle Easterners getting up to dark deeds does sound more or less like the sort of thing that happens in real life. (These have been discussed here frequently before under the headings of “everything funds terrorism” and “that’s just not what crime does“.) Moreover, the Bush administration was extremely good at it because they were happy to keep up the repetion over a long time and – perhaps even more importantly – to keep the message simple: a statement of fact rather than an argument.

When it comes to applying this technique, the Democrats are hamstrung by what should be their biggest asset: their committment to being the brainy-but-honest party. The key message that they want to put across here, that supporting Bashar Al Assad is also in some way helping ISIS, is both too complex and too subtly propounded to have the impact they are hoping for. If they had merely said over and over and over again that Assad is supporting ISIS there is every chance that a substantial proportion of the US public would have ended up believing it. The second you question such a statement, it does, of course, reveal itself to be entirely ludicrous, but a large proportion of the audience would not question it.

Making a clever logic puzzle out of it (defeating ISIS is the key objective, ergo if you are doing anything in the region except bombing ISIS you are insufficiently committed to the task) must have pleased the Ivy Leaguers of the State Department no end, but doing so also invited the audience to think about it for themselves – the one thing that anyone using the sledgehammer approach to propaganda must avoid at all costs. People given a fact may very well accept it unquestioningly. People given a chain of causality will check it for flaws.

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